For the past seven years, Vineyarders have been treated to an intimate look into the world of the artist Gretchen Feldman. Every summer the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center hosts a show of the accomplished artist’s work, with paintings selected from the more than 700 that Feldman left behind when she died in 2008.
The show, as always, was curated by Louisa Gould, who is the director of the Feldman Family Foundation which oversees the sale and exhibition of the artist’s work. Every year Gould selects images from the vast collection located at Feldman’s studio at the Chilmark home that she shared with her husband Sam Feldman and their two daughters for over 30 years.
For the current show, Gould selected 22 images from various periods of the artist’s career. The work combines layers of transparent and iridescent watercolor with thickly applied, opaque layers of crayon, colored pencil, and pastel.
Gould has titled the show “The Poetry of Trees.”
“The subject of trees really stood out to me as a continuing theme throughout her body of work,” says the gallerist/curator. “Gretchen invites the viewer to stop, look, feel, and think about the role of trees in our collective landscape.” Gould adds that with the growing awareness of climate change and the increased incidence of wildfires, the honoring of trees has taken on added significance.
“Gretchen was known for her unique and sophisticated sensibility,” says Sam Feldman. “From her studio in Chilmark, Gretchen captured the seasonal landscapes and soul of Martha’s Vineyard.”
What really strikes the viewer upon entering the lobby/art space is the explosion of color. Feldman had a fondness for — and an eye for — color, and was expert at exploring unusual combinations. In one long horizontal piece, a copse of trees, represented by some simple lines and a soft focus cloud of muted green, inhabit a landscape ablaze in oranges, reds, and purples, with a slit of vibrant blue ocean in the background. The effect is an ode to the majesty and mystery of nature.
In other work, Feldman veers more and more towards abstraction. “She started out with realism,” says Gould, who has shown the artist’s work at her eponymous Main Street Vineyard Haven gallery. “Over time, her work became looser and experimental as she gravitated to pure abstraction.”
In one of her most abstracted paintings in the exhibit, the trees have become less distinct and secondary to color fields that feature interesting combinations — a vibrant pink and red alongside more muted shades of purple and turquoise. The jagged shapes still give the impression of a landscape of hills, fields, and ocean that the artist was drawn to.
Prior to commencing a career as a painter, Feldman worked as a textile conservator. Her work draws from the rich textures and colors of textiles, while clearly influenced by her love of nature. She managed to translate the Vineyard landscape into something very contemporary and visually arresting.
Although she only started painting when she and her husband moved to the Vineyard in 1985, Feldman soon made a name for herself as an artist, both on the Vineyard and beyond. On the Island she was represented by the Carol Craven Gallery, and her work was exhibited at various venues around the country, including at the National Institute of Health and in a solo show at the Nevin Kelly Gallery in Washington, D.C. Feldman’s work continues to command attention from the art world at large. She recently was honored with an extensive retrospective of her work at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. Gould continues to curate rotating shows of the artist’s work for galleries and institutions around the country.
“For this particular show I wanted to exhibit work that hasn’t been shown before,” says Gould. “I’ve worked with different themes over the years and this time it was the presence of trees that just sort of jumped out at me.”
“This show is particularly striking,” says Sam Feldman. “It’s all about trees — the poetry of trees and reaching for the sky. As her husband, I think of the trees reaching to the heavens. She’s thinking of us with all sorts of poetry and metaphors with her gorgeous sense of style. It gives me such great pleasure to be able to share her view of the beauty that she found in the natural world with the people who are similarly passionate about nature and the Island. That’s why we continue to show her work.”
Work in a wide variety of different styles can currently be found at the Louisa Gould Gallery, where the current show, “Midsummer,” features paintings by a handful of the gallery’s most popular artists. Gould will host a series of meet-and-greet events with artists. Next up, Linda Besse will talk about her work on August 6 during the Vineyard Haven First Friday event. There will be a reception with a number of the artists in attendance.
“The Poetry of Trees,” a selection of work from the Gretchen V. Feldman Collection, will hang through August 15 in the lobby of the M.V. Film Center, Tisbury Marketplace, Beach Road, Vineyard Haven. Viewing is available during film times, daily from 6:30 to 8:30 pm, or you can make an appointment by contacting Louisa Gould at 917-327-9229. A third of all proceeds will benefit the nonprofit M.V. Film Society.