Sargent Gallery is home to art with environmental leanings

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Updated July 26

The Sargent Gallery in Aquinnah is unique among Vineyard art spaces in that owner Megan Ottens-Sargent has a clear-cut mission that is reflected in both the artwork she exhibits as well as the talks and other events that the gallery hosts throughout the year, and Sargent’s efforts to pair with nonprofit conservation organizations.

As stated on the gallery website, “Sargent Gallery, formerly the Gay Head Gallery, is a contemporary art venue dedicated to promoting environmental stewardship. Our mission is driven by the power art has to impact positive change, specifically art’s power to connect people to the environment and the natural world.”

Two of the newest additions to the gallery’s fold honor nature with their paintings, yet each has a very different stylistic approach.

Marielle Bisson, a Hudson Valley–based artist, uses her striking images of nature as a means to represent many of the facets of humanity, nature, and their interaction. “What I’m trying to convey are some large, powerful, yet simple concepts having to do with life, death, time, forces of nature, and forces of human interaction,” says the artist. “Yes, they’re landscapes, but there’s always a thought behind them. There’s always a point of tension.”

For example, a painting titled “Ravine Waterfall with Log Jammed into Rocks” depicts exactly that, yet Bisson sees far more than a scene of pristine nature in the image. As she explains, “The painting is about flow and resistance. How did that log get there? At one point that log was growing. It was alive, then it was a fallen tree, then it was floating down the river, now it’s jammed between rocks. Haven’t we all felt that way about our lives? Once we were saplings, then we were trees, then what?”

The painting, offered as a monoprint at the Sargent Gallery, is done in a somewhat expressionist style with bold brushstrokes and sharp outlines. The jagged rocks and stark white of the water are contrasted with the soft hues of the foliage. It’s a striking image. “While the paintings stand on their own as images of nature, they are a means for me to imply and suggest a lot of what I think about,” says Bisson.

The artist finds inspiration in the abundant wilderness areas of the Hudson Valley. She works onsite as much as possible, and tends to avoid referencing photographs. Water and waterfalls are often used as subjects.

“Water is a big theme in all of my work,” says Bisson. “The preservation of water and land. I’m concerned with the complex issues of public land — appropriate use and overuse. This area has become overpopulated and endangered.”

Bisson’s work is shown at galleries throughout the East Coast. Currently, she is the subject of a solo show at the Momentum Gallery in Asheville, N.C. She has been awarded a NYFA (New York Foundation for the Arts) fellowship, and was honored with three grants from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation. A book of her work, titled “Setting Shapes,” is available through the Momentum Gallery website, momentumgallery.com.

Margo Balcerek, born in Warsaw, Poland, and now residing in North Carolina, uses a soft-focus approach in her paintings of nature. She works with soft, muted colors and indistinct outlines for a moody, ethereal look.

As she writes in her artist statement, “I have always been fascinated by landscapes, gardens, plants, and flowers, and never wanted to reproduce my subjects as I see them, but rather as I ‘feel’ them. Enjoying the journey from impressionism to pure abstraction, I treasure each and every point on the way. With color as my main object of interest, I explore, trying to pinpoint the mood, the essence, the soul of what I paint rather then how it looks, trying to save on canvas my own personal view of the world.”

Balcerek’s love of nature was originally expressed in her studies in landscape design and in her work in the horticulture department of a university in Washington State. Currently she is represented by several galleries in the South, including the oldest gallery in Atlanta, the Lagerquist Gallery.

Although the Sargent Gallery’s focus is very specifically on environmentalism, the artists represented create work in a wide variety of media and styles. The gallery exhibits paintings, photography, mixed-media work, sculpture, glass, and pottery. This eclecticism is exemplified by artists as diverse as impressionist painter Julia Puritan and John Sabraw, who combines art and science in his very contemporary mixed-media works. Sabraw often incorporates things like minerals and wood in his work, and he uses paint that he has created from iron oxide extracted in the process of remediating polluted streams.

Sargent Gallery, 832 State Rd., Aquinnah. Open weekends 11 am to 4 pm, often by chance and always by appointment. Call 508-645-2776 or 508-560-7911, or visit sargentgallery.org.

This article was updated to correct the spelling of Marielle Bisson’s name.