Artists and the environment at Sargent Gallery

"Leaf" photography matted 9x12. — Melissa Knowels

For her final show of the 2017 season, Saturday, Dec. 16, Megan Sargent of the Sargent Gallery in Aquinnah is spotlighting a few artists new to the gallery. “Because it’s the off-season, I am showing local artists whom I have wanted to promote,” says Ms. Sargent. In many cases, the new artists are Islanders who have approached Ms. Sargent throughout the year expressing interest in her gallery, which focuses on work that is environmentally conscious.

The new artists are Juliana Healy, Melissa Knowles, and Paul Lazes. Each works in a different medium — oil painting, photography, and watercolor respectively.

Along with these three, Ms. Sargent will also include new work by some of the artists she has represented for years, including watercolorist John Nickerson Athearn, ceramicist Lainey Fink Scott, woodcut artist Ruth Kirchmeier, and jeweler Jannette Vanderhoop, who will be offering some new contemporary beadwork.

Melissa Knowles only very recently relocated to the Vineyard from Westchester County, N.Y., although she has family here and has been coming to the Island since childhood. Her beautiful nature images capture small scenes — a single fallen leaf, a close-up of some blades of grass against a fiery orange fall backdrop, a cluster of seaweed emulating a wreath on a sandy beach. Some images are black and white, others feature the colors of nature, but even in these, Ms. Knowles has eschewed any color manipulation.

“What you see is what I saw through the viewfinder,” she says. “I think that a lot of photography, a lot of art for that matter, has become distorted. We’re so accustomed to seeing nature in these saturated colors. It’s not real. How can we expect to develop a relationship with nature and be encouraged to become custodians of the natural world if these images are not based on reality?”

Ms. Knowles’ ideology matches well with the Sargent Gallery’s mission of “promoting environmental services and protecting rare and endangered species.”

As well as creating art, Ms. Knowles has spent many years teaching visual arts and hosting community singing programs for children and adults, including those with physical and mental health issues. She will be joining the West Tisbury School staff this winter. Ms. Knowles also believes in educating and inspiring people through her work.

“I’m very interested in using photography to help people,” she says. “That’s why I approached Megan. There’s a different approach to her gallery. She’s interested in conservation. I wanted to use photography to have a positive impact and encourage people to look at and relate to nature in a different way. The things that pass us by all the time have intrinsic beauty. I want to help people develop a slightly different perspective.”

Ms. Knowles only recently started creating her work, though for the past five years she served as assistant to artist Dr. John Diamond, who is known for using photography and other creative forms for healing. “I’ve worked on thousands of photographs on a daily basis,” she says. “It’s probably the best training you could have.”

Like her mentor, Ms. Knowles uses art for positive change, and she has found the Vineyard to be the perfect setting for her artwork, as well as her interests. “It’s a photographer’s paradise,” she says. “I only came a couple of weeks ago. I wasn’t expecting there to be a community with so many nonprofits and people working on far-reaching projects.”

“West Tisbury Field” oil on archival board 6×8. — Juliana Healy

Juliana Healy, also new to the Sargent Gallery, creates painterly landscapes, making good use of a palette knife to build up texture and motion. “My objective,” she says in her artist’s statement, “is to express the feelings of joy and awe that nature inspires in me. I believe that painters have a vocabulary of color, texture, and other elements of design at their disposal that can be more powerful than words or even music in evoking an emotional response.”

Previously, Ms. Healy has shown her work at the former Dragonfly Gallery in Oak Bluffs and at galleries in Connecticut, California, and Nova Scotia. While studying on a graduate fellowship in the Netherlands, Ms. Healy developed both a passion for nature and a love for the work of Van Gogh. “I felt a great connection with his free and emotive style of painting,” she writes.

More recently, Ms. Healy has experimented with painting on bluestone rock. With these, she is actually using nature as both a medium and a collaborator. She explains the process: “First I carve a little into the stone and apply layers of inks to it, including an ink I made from berries, and walnut ink. Then I let it sit on the breakwater at Squibnocket. The waves crash over and the colors fade in places to create a weathered effect. I scratch in certain shapes with an old file rasp, revealing different layers underneath.” A few of her bluestone works are included in the Sargent Gallery show.

“Three Trees” watercolor 12×13. — Paul Lazes

The other new artist, Paul Lazes, has contributed watercolor landscapes done in a very simple, primitive style. Mr. Lazes is currently showing his large-format photographs at A Gallery in Oak Bluffs. Painting is his latest endeavor.

All three of the recent additions to the Sargent Gallery roster have a strong connection to and a passion for nature. That’s what attracted the gallery owner to their work. In the invitation for the show, Ms. Sargent writes, “Sargent Gallery specializes in contemporary art, and is dedicated to promoting environmental stewardship by featuring nonprofits, and by curating themed shows that relate to their important work. The aim is to inspire action — through donations, membership, and the purchase of art.”

Every year Ms. Sargent hosts events relating to conservation. This holiday season the gallery features the Fund for Wild Nature and the Center for Biological Diversity. Information will be available at the gallery on how to support their work, especially considering the policy decisions by the current administration in Washington regarding public lands, national monuments, and environmental policy and agencies.

Islanders are invited to join the advocacy group Ignite Change; it will meet monthly during the off-season. The first gathering was last weekend, when the group came together at the Sargent Gallery to discuss policy and then raised flags and signs of protest at the Gay Head Cliffs. Contact the gallery, 508-645-2776, if you would like to participate in the next Ignite Change meeting.

Sargent Gallery is open Thursday-Sunday, 11 am to 4 pm, through the rest of 2017. The next artists’ reception is Saturday, Dec. 16, from 2 to 5 pm.