Edgartown painter Jeanne Staples has 10 new works on display at West Tisbury’s Granary Gallery. Titled “Fish Gutters and Gas Jockeys,” this handsome new show captures the working lives of Vineyarders and Island landscapes. It will be on view through August 3.
“I’ve lived here full-time for 25 years,” Staples said in an interview last week. “These aren’t the things that jump out at one. But when you’ve lived here a long time, they’re part of what makes the Island special to you.” A member of Boston’s Copley Society of Art, she has exhibited at the Granary for seven years.
Staples’s American Realist style has long focused on narrative series and connected portraits. “I like to work in series,” she said. “I find one idea leads to another, and I see how those ideas connect and develop into new ideas.” Particularly compelling is the artist’s use of light in contrast to shadows and darker forms. She often sets her work at dusk, giving buildings, streetlights, car lights, and fading sunlight a potent effect.
In “Along Inkwell Beach,” houses on the bluff overlooking Nantucket Bay in Oak Bluffs are lit up by lowering sunlight, sending shadow patterns onto the beach below. “Cows Near Sengekontacket” is a classic landscape of fields and cattle below water and a pastel sky. “Brookside Farm” creates a portrait of barns and outbuildings. “Who hasn’t driven by there and been knocked out by that barn?” Staples says. “It evokes that rural past, the tradition of the land, and farming. It was really what the Vineyard was all about. It is part of our present, too.” She doesn’t, however, want such depictions to be sentimental; nostalgic, yes.
“I tend to put a lot of buildings in my landscapes to convey a human connection,” Staples says. “For a long time, I never put any people in my work. Then I started to feel I wanted to tell more [of a] story.” A painting from her gas station series provides an example. “Up-Island Mobile” includes an attendant filling up a lit-up red station wagon with gas, balanced by the light in the gas shack, the overhead lights next to it, and the windows and soda machine in the nearby station.
In the case of “Twilight Ferry,” the artist had done a smaller version, but felt the subject matter would benefit from a larger scale. “I hope I can convey that emotional connection and more [of a] story connection,” she says. “Bella Gaff Sloops in Vineyard Haven Harbor” depicts a group of the little boats in the middle ground of the painting, with a ferry in the background. “I just love the way they’re in the shadow of the ferry,” the artist says. Gray clouds run along the top of the work, but the sun shines through, evoking a particular moment.
“I like to mix it up,” Staples says of her portraits; she does not often do commissions. The portraits on display illustrate the working world of fishermen. “Man Filleting Fish” and “Young Man Cutting Fish” both place figures at tables with their fish in the annual Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. “Oscar Pease” is a new version of an old painting, and includes the artist’s easel with a cluster of paintbrushes. “I love this idea of engaging the viewer interactively,” she says. “One works with the others to kind of build out the story.”
She plans to continue the “Working Vineyard” series, going next to watch the pressmen at the Vineyard Gazette. The newspaper is still printed on-Island, so it’s the working Vineyard behind the scenes. “I find those things really fascinating,” she says.