Liz Dexheimer debuts abstract art at Behnke Doherty Gallery

— Liz Dexheimer

The Behnke Doherty Gallery on Main Street, Vineyard Haven, is hosting its first focused exhibit since opening its doors this past Memorial Day weekend. Gallery owners David Behnke and Paul Doherty are currently spotlighting Liz Dexheimer, an artist whom they represented for many years at their former gallery in Connecticut.

Although the artist shows her work at a number of off-Island galleries, the paintings in the current show at the Behnke Doherty Gallery are being exhibited to the public for the first time.

Ms. Dexheimer creates large, soft-focus oil paintings which have a chimerical quality. Although the work is abstract, each appears to be a hazy landscape featuring water and a clearly defined distant shoreline. Often a patch or horizontal bar of intense color is used as a focal point. The effect is soothing, but also an invitation to extrapolate something familiar from an indistinct scene. There’s an almost déjà vu effect to the work.

In her artist’s statement Ms. Dexheimer writes, “The illusory and transcendent qualities of light and atmosphere ceaselessly captivate me, and serve as a source of inspiration in my work. I’m interested in conveying a sense of place that goes beyond any particular location. In my recent paintings I’ve been focusing also on the intangibility of the ethereal, the feeling of limitlessness and forever in the far view.”

Also available at the Vineyard Haven gallery are a number of Ms. Dexheimer’s monoprints. These are more representative scenes, many featuring waterlilies and wild vegetation in tranquil koi ponds. Although the subject matter is discernible in these often monochromatic prints, the style is still dreamlike and largely abstracted.

The co-owners of the Behnke Doherty Gallery discovered the work of Ms. Dexheimer while they were operating a gallery of the same name in Washington, Conn. “We first got to know her because of the monoprints,” Mr. Behnke said. “A lot of our work is Japanese and Pan-Asian in feel. These monoprints have a very strong Asian influence to them, both in subject matter and in the execution. Her work goes very well with the sensibility of the gallery.”

Along with the Koi Pond prints, Ms. Dexheimer has created other series titled variously “Through Water,” “Tidal Pools,” and “Swamp Series.” The artist’s fascination with water is in evidence. “In both my paintings and my works on paper, I’m drawn to water imagery,” she writes in her artist’s statement. “The ambiguity of reflections and the multiple horizon lines they create, the contrast between flow and stasis.”

For her latest series of oil paintings, Ms. Dexheimer has tried a new approach to distill the abstract from scenes from life.

“Lately I’ve been deconstructing found man-made imagery as a point of departure, reinterpreting it to suggest natural light, reflection, what lies beyond,” she writes. “I’ve always translated everything into a more reductive state, regardless of my source of inspiration, eliminating anecdotal markers, distilling information to try and get at the essence, the idea of it.”

Mr. Behnke explains the appeal of the new work. “The inspiration for this series is often photos or magazine advertisements — both urban and coastal — where she has been struck by some particular element. These paintings express those elements in a very abstract way. Reducing these photographs to their essence makes them very universal.”

Also on display will be new photographs by Mr. Doherty from his “Reflective Abstraction” series. The work complements the paintings and prints of Ms. Dexheimer in that Mr. Doherty also focuses on water and translates — through the lens of a camera — life into abstraction.

“I think the selection that we show differs from other galleries,” Mr. Behnke said. “Aside from A Gallery, there isn’t a lot of abstract contemporary art being shown on the Island. A different aesthetic hopefully adds variety to the local gallery scene.”

Mr. Behnke is pleased with the reception that the new gallery has received. “The reaction to the work has been very strong,” he said. “Equally important, we have sold something by every artist that we represent.”

The current exhibit will set the standard for the gallery’s schedule for next summer. “When we reopen, we will adopt this new format, featuring one of the artists each month,” Mr. Behnke said. “I think this is a good way, not only to focus on one artist, but to get people in to look at other new work. We get new work in all the time.”

For more information, visit or