Still lifes, photographs, and abstract paintings by three Vineyard artists are sharing space at West Tisbury’s A Gallery. West Tisbury’s Barbara Kassel uses Hermès scarves as the backgrounds for 15 still lifes filled with figurines and personal objects. Her husband, Jed Devine, displays 10 black-and-white photographs, including a panorama series. Leslie Baker, also of West Tisbury, floods her seven abstract canvases with color. This three-person exhibit remains up through August 28. Sharing space with other artists gives people a chance for a bigger experience, Baker suggests.
“They’re so beautiful, the scarves,” Kassel said in an interview last week. She received her first Hermès scarf from a friend and began collecting them on Ebay. She started the series of oil paintings on view in 2013 and continued with it through 2016, working on them exclusively.
In “Chasse on Bois in the Autumn,” a rabbit dominates the foreground on top of a brown-bordered scarf that is filled with deer and other animals, as well as a platter of fruit and a small green Depression glass pitcher. A landscape with trees is visible in the upper right corner, situating the scarf and its objects. Another equally charming painting, “Des Fleurs pour le dire,” has cattle wandering across a lavender scarf that fills the frame and is decorated with envelopes and orange poppies as well as real poppies.
Kassel has loved Greek mythology since childhood. Hermes as a god of transitions and boundaries particularly interests her. “I like the cross-pollination between cultures and nature,” she says. “I like to be able to move through the world that way.” Kassel’s work is a feast for the eyes.
One black-and-white set of photographs on display by Devine dates back to 1972, and they are grids of images. One set consists of images of dancers from a piece choreographed by Nancy Lewis and performed by the New Haven Dance Ensemble. The repetition of 30 small images keeps the eyes absorbed. In the panoramic series he’s been working on for the past 15 years, Devine blends from four or five images to as many as 15 to create panoramic black-and-white scenes. They are very labor intensive, he points out, and he tries to hide the process as much as possible so it doesn’t dominate the image. “I want them to look in the moment,” he says of viewers, “but they’re actually time collages.”
The launching of a boat by Ross Gannon of Gannon & Benjamin Marine Railway in Vineyard Haven actually shows the same boat several times, once on land, once ready for launching, and still another time in the water. People also appear more than once, including Gannon, and Devine said it was the hardest one to do. Another set on the Vineyard’s south shore illustrates a wooden stairway down to the beach. “It took a tremendous number of exposures, and it was a lot of work getting them together,” he says. “It’s among my five favorites of the panoramas.” He says he never intended to do the panorama process but it became a response to specific realities suggesting those outcomes. The panoramas offer the viewer a powerful vision of the world.
“Color is the focus of my work,” says Baker, who teaches color theory at Featherstone Center for the Arts.
“I’m interested in how one color can influence another color.” She describes the process as like a vocabulary or form of visual reading. While she is no longer doing the landscapes she was well known for, she says landscape continues to influence her. Nature is important for this painter, whose current work is mostly in oil. “All my work begins with observing and focusing on nature. To me there is a very direct influence,” she says. Baker also observes how light can affect form. “You see a lot of that when you’re outside,” she says.
For the past year, Baker has kept returning to the notion of boundaries as a way to establish a compositional scaffold or grid, even in her more minimal pieces. “The structure started to emerge,” she says. “Shapes appeared and disappeared while linear elements sometimes disturbed the otherwise quiet expanses of color.”
She adds that she is intrigued by how a minimalist geometry, or organic form, can trap color but then allow it to disperse. “Color can both invigorate and subdue,” the artist says. “I’m most interested in what one color does to another, even on a fairly monochromatic field.” She calls herself an artist who thrives on change, motivated to move in unexpected places. “I’m considering going back to landscape, but in a different way,” she says. “Also back to watercolor.”