The annual Memorial Day opening at the Eisenhauer Gallery saw visitors, both regulars and those new to the space, streaming in and out all evening while Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish entertained the crowd outside in the courtyard. “It was really, really busy,” says Elizabeth Eisenhauer. “A lot of people I’ve never seen before stopped by.”
Along with the music and refreshments, the draw was two new artists and one who has proven a perennial favorite with gallery visitors. “I always mix it up,” says Eisenhauer. “I always put somebody in there who is an established artist. I try to be careful not to put things that are very similar together. I like to keep it interesting. I try to make it as diverse as possible.”
To those ends, Eisenhauer is featuring three artists whose work ranges from representational images of farm animals by Cheri Christensen to landscapes and still lifes by Anne Harney to purely abstract work by Chase Langford.
The gallery has represented Christensen for 22 years. “We have a wonderful long history,” says Eisenhauer. “She has a really great collection of reference material from Island farms. People just love the paintings. They’re always fascinated by the light in Cheri’s paintings.”
In her biography, Christensen writes, “I am inspired by the simple everyday interaction of the animals in their environment: the way the light dances across the form, the harmony of color relationships and the shapes of light and shadow. I prefer early-morning light or late afternoon settings, with extreme backlighting. My focus is on the farm animals, their character, and the use of color, light, and texture to convey a mood.”
For one of her most recent paintings, Christensen was inspired by the Belted Galloway cows at the FARM Institute. She has created a long horizontal image (20 x 50 inches) called “Vineyard Oreos,” featuring a lineup of grazing cows in a russet field, with one of the animals staring straight at the viewer. It’s a striking scene that will ring true to anyone familiar with the FARM Institute’s unique herd.
Eisenhauer introduced abstract artist Chase Langford to the gallery just last year. His story is as interesting as his work. Langford has had a fascination with maps since early childhood. He went on to study cartography, and spent a lifetime creating intricate maps. This focus led to his first series of paintings inspired by his work. In his own words he explains the transition from mapmaker to fine artist: “Their purpose was not to explain the geography of a place but rather to use the essence of geographic forms to re-express them in an entirely new way.”
Since then he has switched to further abstracting the elements of a variety of natural formations, including water and sand to create works that isolate color and form and turn them into very attractive design-influenced images that clearly have an organic point of reference.
The newest addition to the Eisenhauer stable of artists is Anne Harney of Boston. Harney has been spending summers at her family home in Oak Bluffs since the 1960s. Memories and photographs of those early years on the Island have inspired a series of Vineyard landscapes, rendered in a partially abstract, partially representational, somewhat primitive style with the focus on shape, composition, and interesting color combinations.
“I really feel like all of what is inside of me is coming out when I’m painting,” says Harney, who often creates studies en plein aire before completing the work in her studio. “I just feel the history of the Vineyard looking at the landscapes.”
Harney explains her process, saying, “I start with underpainting patterns. I take one of my mother’s old photos, and I just remember when I see them. She always used to make me look at sunsets and water.”
The artist also creates lovely naturalistic still lifes of flowers and other scenes that she arranges in her studio in the South End of Boston. These are done in a more representational manner, but are as unique as her other work. The Eisenhauer Gallery is showing examples of both of Harney’s styles.
However, it’s the Vineyard views that have truly captured the local public’s interest. Eisenhauer already sold a number of Harney’s paintings online before they could even be hung in the gallery, and at the opening, guests snapped up two scenes of the Island — one of fishing shacks in Menemsha, and one of the Reading Room in Edgartown.
“I feel like each section of the Vineyard has a different story, and I get a good feeling from each one of them,” says the artist.
Harney started painting later in life, after pursuing a career and raising a family. “I took my first drawing class at 50,” says says. “I totally fell in love with it.” Encouraged by various mentors, Harney went back to school and earned a B.F.A. from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2011. She has won a number of awards, and her work has been featured in galleries and venues around Boston and the Cape, as well as in New York City, North Carolina, and Kansas City. She has certainly made up for lost time, earning a résumé that rivals that of career artists. This is Harney’s first time showing on the Vineyard.
She is thrilled to have discovered a passion for which she obviously has ample talent, as well as enthusiasm. In her artist’s statement she writes, “Never taking anything for granted, I am so grateful to be able to paint every day.”