In an exhibit titled “Chris Murphy, Black Oaks and Other Covid Diversions,” Jeanne Staples responds to the pandemic in a show at the Granary Gallery. It runs through Sept. 13, and selected works will continue to be on view.
“We’re all isolating because of the pandemic,” Staples said in a recent interview. “That brought about time to do some kind of reflection.” It gave her a new appreciation of the beautiful, as well as of an inside-outside view of the world. Her painting of lilies, titled “Still Point,” provides an example. Behind the lilies is a window that offers a harbor scene and reflects her sense of being inside while the view remains outside. It also left her feeling a little melancholy.
Returning from Puerto Rico in March, Staples took a lot of walks before the leaves were out. “This is one of the great treasures of the Island,” she said. “It was right at the beginning of the pandemic.” She had never particularly noticed the Island’s black oaks, but they led to a series of paintings. “I was seeing starkness in the early spring light, the gnarled, structural trees, and the light on the trunks,” she said. “It showed they had personality.”
Alfred Eisenstaedt’s iconic photograph of an old tree inspired “Black Oaks — North Tisbury.” The photo was taken in 1968, and she felt it showed how much the tree had changed. “It really struck me as a powerful image,” Staples said. Her painting reflects the time of year and the early spring light. The second painting, “Black Oaks — Featherstone,” is of a tree at Featherstone Center for the Arts in Oak Bluffs, and the third, “Black Oaks — Chappy,” is at Cape Poge on Chappaquiddick. She found the tree in Cove Meadow Preserve there. “She calls it a marvelous preserve. “I’m still discovering little hidden gems on the Island, moments of great beauty, even after 25-plus years,” she observed.
A photograph of the artist with Chilmark resident and M.V. Museum volunteer Chris Murphy puts in context her painting of the catboat Vanity, now owned by the museum. “That’s the Chris Murphy connection,” Staples said. Edgartown poet laureate Steve Ewing wrote a poem about Vanity that is especially beautiful to Staples. “I love the connection among things,” she added. Going out on the Vanity gave her an idea for a painting, so she followed the Vanity in another boat. “I took a zillion photographs,” Staples said, and the painting resulted.
The artist also loves to draw, and often makes drawings as studies for paintings that sometimes are narrative. One of her drawings is “Study of a Young Man,” done in pencil. The oil painting that resulted is called “Summer Boy.” The drawings are in service to the paintings, she suggests.
“Midnight in Oak Bluffs” continues a series called “Night Painting.” She thinks the building shown is not iconic but utilitarian. The painting mixes the artificial illumination hitting the building and the car’s headlights and taillights with the moon. “I love the interaction between the manmade and the natural light,” she says. “Those are the kinds of things you might not notice. They’re what I often connect to.”
Granary Gallery, 636 Old County Road, West Tisbury. Open from 10 am to 5 pm daily, and 11 am to 4 pm on Sundays. Works can be viewed online at granarygallery.com.