It won’t just be the artwork, but the artists themselves who will be the focus of a unique exhibit at the Grange Hall this weekend. Elizabeth Whelan has put together a group show featuring the work of 24 local painters and illustrators, accompanied by portraits of the two dozen artists painted by Ms. Whelan. Every 15 minutes during the day, she will unveil a portrait — displaying it for the first time to the public as well as to the subject.
“I had the idea about a year and a half ago,” says Ms. Whelan. “I wanted to do it as a sort of thank-you to all of the artists who have given me help over the years — showing up at openings or giving me advice on hanging work or just generally being supportive. I thought that the best thing that I could do to help out the artists was to give them a little promotion.”
Among the participants are established professionals such as Ken Vincent, Jeanne Staples, and Max Decker, as well as up-and-coming painters like RISD student Jack Yuen. Also included are a couple of illustrators — Omar Rayyan and Dan Cooney — whose work is not the usual gallery fare.
The styles range from abstract to representational, and the media include oils, acrylics, watercolors, and mixed-media. Ms. Whelan’s only criteria for selecting the artists was that they all be year-round Vineyarders. “It has been a very interesting educational experience for me,” she says. “I’ve met some really fantastic people I didn’t know before, and I’ve learned something from every one of them.”
Since devoting herself full-time to portrait painting, Ms. Whelan has already hosted a number of unveiling events. Starting in 2014 with a portrait of Stina Sayre, which she introduced at the designer’s boutique, Ms. Whelan has hosted unveilings of a number of other local figures such as boat builder Ross Gannon and author Geraldine Brooks. In each case, the subject was viewing their portrait for the first time along with the public. “One of the reasons that I keep to that format is because it’s fun,” says the artist. “It’s entertaining to see the portraits unveiled. It’s a little different from a normal show.”
This time around, with so many portraits to complete, Ms. Whelan has simplified things a little by creating less time-consuming work. “These 24 are not like my other portraits, which I spend around 100 hours on,” she says. “They’re more mixed media — acrylic and oils — and far looser and sketchier. This is definitely a departure for me, but I knew I’d be doing this at the last minute.”
Ms. Whelan does commission work, creating portraits done in a contemporary realism style. She takes the time to get to know her clients first to help determine what setting would be most appropriate, and to be able to capture the nuances of personality. After an initial sitting and sketching, a portrait can take from three to six months to complete.
One of the 24 unveilings will be of a self-portrait. The artists will receive 100 percent of the profits from their own work, and Ms. Whelan will be donating a portion of the profits from the portraits to two local charities, the Martha’s Vineyard Center for the Visual Arts and the high school radio station WYOB. There will be food from the Scottish Bakehouse for sale.
As well as helping to promote the artists, Ms. Whelan wants to support the galleries that represent local artists. She approached each of the galleries connected to the individual artists before committing to showing their work, and she will be talking about the galleries at the event. The website for the exhibit includes information on where you can find more of each artist’s work, along with a short bio and an image for each participant.
Ms. Whelan only recently relocated to the Vineyard from Nashawena, one of the Elizabeth Islands, where she and her partner boatbuilder Bill Benns were working as caretakers. She used the time and isolation to develop her portrait-painting skills. Although she visited the Vineyard, her former home, frequently during the six years that she was away, Ms. Whelan is happy to be back and among friends.
She plans to step up her efforts to support the local art scene. With the upcoming show she would like to set an example for others to find new ways to attract business. “By promoting something like this before, during, and after the show, I hope to encourage other artists to try something different,” she says. “We have a terrific arts community here, and the visual arts is just one tiny part of it.”
“Artists in Art” will take place on Sunday, July 22, from 1 to 8 pm at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury.
Participating artists (in order of unveiling): Marjorie Mason, Dan VanLandingham, Kenneth Vincent, Margot Datz, David Tierney, Jeanne Staples, Oman Rayyan, Anthony Benton Gude, Harry Seymour, Elizabeth Taft, Suesan Stovall, Jack Yuen, Dan Cooney, John Holladay, Deborah T. Colter, Mary-Louise Rouff, Terry Crimmen, Max Decker, George Brown, Donna Straw, Colin Ruel, Darcie Lee Hanaway, and Traeger di Pietro.
For more information and the time schedule, visit artistsinart.com.