Take a look at the work of Anna Lowely Finnerty, now on display at the West Tisbury library, and you might think that her medium of choice is oils. However, the striking colors, subtle play of light, and defining detail were created with pastels, a less popular medium that Ms. Finnerty has mastered through much research and experimentation.
“About 15 years ago I took a pastel class at Featherstone,” said Ms. Finnerty, who has a B.A. in art and photography from Hampshire College, but had not seriously pursued art since. “The medium resonated with me so profoundly. It’s so immediate. You don’t have a brush between yourself and the canvas. There’s no waiting for it to dry. The process of pastel paintings is very rewarding. It’s immediately gratifying. The colors are amazingly vibrant.”
This newfound love led Ms. Finnerty to focus on painting, and the current exhibit gives a good overview of her past few years of work. She refers to the selection in the show as “scenes both off-season and off-Island.” The former, snowy landscapes depicting quiet, untrammeled Island locales, give a sense of the Island’s tranquility, which most tourists never experience. The off-Island landscapes include stunning scenes from Yosemite, Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher, and other locations that Ms. Finnerty has explored during her yearly fall trips.
“Two years ago, when I was offered the slot at the library in January, I decided since it would be the dead of winter, I wouldn’t show summer scenes,” Ms. Finnerty said. That decision will allow viewers to enjoy the artist’s fondness for — and expert execution of — the effects of gentle slanting light on quiet scenes.
“The water is my biggest inspiration,” said Ms. Finnerty, who has lived on the Vineyard for 45 years. “I love to paint reflections of clouds or trees. It’s really nature that gets me excited.”
The artist finds that pastels lend themselves perfectly to her painting approach. “I do many, many layers,” she said. “With old school pastel painting, people would use paper that was very smooth. These days, most pastel painters use sanded paper or sanded board that provides a tooth, makes it gritty. That tooth allows the pastels to grip. It allows you to do multiple layers. The whole world of pastel painting has really changed over the years. It’s called a painting if the entire surface is covered, a drawing if there’s still some paper showing. There’s a trend toward pastel painting over the past 20 years.”
“My process involves doing an underpainting,” she explained. “Then I wet that down with alcohol and proceed to paint on top of that. It gives me a road map for where I’m going with my values. Sometimes I’ll put a complementary color in the underpainting, and it will make the color in the sky or wherever really vibrate.”
Ms. Finnerty has a tendency to get into the science of her medium, which is not surprising, since she has a master’s in education. She recently taught pastels at the Old Sculpin Gallery, where her work is often featured. Her paintings are also exhibited at the Meghan Candler Gallery in Vero Beach, Fla., and she is a juried member of the Pastel Society of America, the Martha’s Vineyard Art Association, and an active member of the Pastel Painters Society of Cape Cod.
“What makes each medium different is the binders that they add,” Ms. Finnerty said. “With pastel, it’s pure compressed pigment crystals. Crystals reflect light because of the sharp, crystalline edges. The colors you can obtain with pastels are probably the most vibrant you can attain in any medium.”
However the molecular structure and chemical composition of her materials affect her process, Ms. Finnerty clearly has the outlook and instincts of an artist, as evidenced by the striking work on display at the library.
“I’m solely a landscape painter,” Ms. Finnerty said. “I think part of the attraction for me is loving where I’m living and going around the country and witnessing the beauty of places like Yosemite and wanting to put that down on paper for others to see.”
As Ms. Finnerty writes in her artist’s statement, “My passion is to paint every day, to express through the vibrant pigments of pastel the luminosity of light as it interacts with form. My paintings are an invitation to share in a reflective moment, to rekindle a memory, or to see something old and familiar from a new perspective. “
Check out Ms. Finnerty’s work at the library to experience both Island scenes and some less familiar but equally stunning locales as seen through the eyes of a very skilled and accomplished artist.
The work of Anna Finnerty will be on display at the West Tisbury Library through Jan. 31, with an opening reception on Jan. 7 at 4 pm. For more information, visit westtisburylibrary.org.—