An exhibition premiered at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center on July 24, with artwork by Gretchen Feldman that presents views of Martha’s Vineyard behind her bold lense of vibrant colors and movement. Her collection ranges from realistic landscapes to abstract shapes, but throughout the exhibit, her colors are most notable. Ms. Feldman’s use of exotic colors is obvious, but what is perhaps most ambiguous are the telling stories behind the colors.
The past of Ms. Feldman, who died in 2008, as a textile conservator is linked to her colorful style. The artist’s interest in textiles is seen most blatantly in three abstract works which reside in the Film Center lobby, a space that doubles as the Feldman Family ArtSpace. The space, which was founded several years ago, is supported with the help of Featherstone Center for the Arts. It displays new work each month from different artists around the Island, and Ms. Feldman’s work appears every July. This year’s collection will feature art not for sale.
Curating the show is Louisa Gould, who owns the Louisa Gould Gallery in Vineyard Haven, and manages the Feldman collection by working with the Feldman family to curate exhibitions around the Island, as well as in the Northeast. Ms. Feldman’s work has appeared in galleries in Washington, D.C., and the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore.
Gould reasoned that Gretchen’s personality was shown through her colors. Though she never met Ms. Feldman, she feels that by becoming so familiar with her work, she can imagine who she was. For this showing, she sought works by Feldman which hadn’t been seen before, and with Ms. Feldman’s diverse collection, she was able to choose a style that used bright colors to display Vineyard scenes, giving the viewer a sense of space and place. She talks about the works as an escape from the digital age, saying, “These works are providing a space for the viewer to step into, and giving their mind a break.” These earlier works show the beginning stages of her transition to increasingly more abstract art.
Sam Feldman, Gretchen’s husband, provides the most intimate look into her use of color. He may actually be her No. 1 fan. He loved her, he loved her work, and he loved her at work. He describes Ms. Feldman as being in her studio all the time, not knowing what she would paint, and then painting scenes from memory, “filtered through her very active and artistic brain.”
Feldman may have been inspired by her work in textiles, her bright vision of her surroundings, or her garden, which she used to refer to as her best friend, but in the last year of her life she used her diagnosis of lung cancer to make a direct connection to the colors in her art. After her diagnosis, she looked through the lens of her microscope to see her brightly colored cancer cells. Sam remembers her first painting after her diagnosis, a bright orange abstract painting, which she finished by writing underneath, the words “Bad News.” That year she continued her bright paintings, mimicking what she saw in the microscope. Her last painting, however, was only black and grey. Sam recalled, “That was the only one that was dark. It was sitting on her easel when she died.”
After this experience with cancer, the Feldman family decided to display Gretchen’s art at cancer centers along the East Coast. They have worked closely with Louisa Gould to be sure that the art is seen far and wide, which it has been, since her death. “Our hope is that her work will bring joy, pleasure, and inspiration to people who see it, which is really her legacy,” Sam said. “We feel a great responsibility to share it with other people.”