From Chilmark to South Africa

Kara Taylor’s artwork reflects her love of both places.


Kara Taylor had a very busy summer at her Chilmark gallery. Not only did she show her own work, she hosted two different exhibits featuring the paintings of other artists. In early August, the gallery was devoted to the work of Ndume Olatushani, a painter who spent two decades on death row in Tennessee before being exonerated in 2012. The MV BLM (Martha’s Vineyard Black Lives Matter) group wanted to help Olatushani, and to raise money for the Free Pervis Payne Campaign and the Innocence Project, so they asked Taylor if they could use her gallery for the exhibit and fundraiser, and she accepted enthusiastically.

Also in August, Taylor hosted an all-portraits exhibit of her work, along with that of Brooke Adams and Robert Davies.

“It’s so much harder to show and sell other artists’ work, I find,” says Taylor. “I’m not used to it. And I don’t like taking a commission from other artists. It feels wrong. Giving Ndume Olatushani his first solo show was a full donation on my part, and that felt good. He is an incredible man, one to learn from. It was a sold-out show.”

All along the artist and gallerist has been busy painting and selling her own ethereal landscapes and dreamlike figurative paintings, as well as work she created while spending the winter in South Africa, a place she considers her second home.

With the Kara Taylor gallery closing for the season after Columbus Day weekend, now is the last chance to view some of the new paintings that Taylor has created this summer.

Among these are a couple of landscapes. One depicts a nighttime scene with storm clouds partially obscuring a huge full moon.Taylor says, “These stormy ’scapes push the boundaries of light and dark — I lose all sense of time when working on these. They really are my natural state of painting, I suppose; my imaginary, intrinsic self meets my vision of my native homeland — Martha’s Vineyard. “

In another stormy seascape, clouds dominate, giving a sense of the power and majesty of nature.

One of the more interesting of Taylor’s new works is a very large mixed-media piece titled “The Four Winds,” inspired by the book of the same name by Kristin Hannah. The novel is about migrant workers picking cotton in the Dust Bowl region of the Great Plains during the Depression. “This current pandemic somehow feels comparable to what our country went through both economically and emotionally during the Great Depression,” says Taylor. “It’s been a hard few years, but we are resilient, just as these migrant workers were.”

The 86- by 36-inch piece is made from collaged South African fabrics called shweshwe, paint, and encaustics. “Shweshwe fabric was originally only available in a blue print, brought to South Africa by German or possibly French immigrants around the early 1800s,” explains Taylor. “The largest producers of this cotton print are in Zwelitsha Township, outside King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape region of South Africa, where the cotton is also grown. They say the name comes from the ‘swishing’ sound made when women are walking. I feel this painting narrative really speaks to the material medium used to create this image.”

Shortly after closing the gallery for the season, Taylor will head back to South Africa, where she has been spending winters for the past several years, painting scenes of the people and landscape. There she has made a name for herself in the art world. Most recently she was accepted into the prestigious Everard Read gallery in Cape Town, said to be the oldest gallery in South Africa. The four Everard Read galleries — three in South Africa, and one in London — feature contemporary art from the African diaspora.

Taylor talks about what drew her to South Africa in the first place. “Martha’s Vineyard has natural beauty and its own greatness, but it does lack diversity. Geographically, South Africa has so much diversity to offer. There are endless hiking opportunities, and the climate is divine, at least during the months that I’m usually there.

“South Africa should be on everyone’s bucket list,” she adds. “The exchange rate is in favor. It’s a very affordable place to visit. Maybe it’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely for me. People don’t sweat the small stuff. They push the limits of their opportunities, which are often not many. They work harder than any people I’ve seen — without complaint. It may take a while for people to trust you, but once they do, you’re in for life. I love South Africans. They’re sarcastic in the best way, so quick-witted. They keep you on your toes.”

Since establishing herself in her second home on the other side of the world, Taylor has evolved as an artist in many ways. “The work I have been doing there addresses societal concerns and efforts to effect change,” she says. “We cannot rewrite history, but we can certainly learn from our historical wrongs. Art can be a powerful testament to this.”

The Kara Taylor Gallery, located at 24 South Road, Chilmark, is open for one last weekend — Friday through Sunday, Oct. 8 to 10, from 11 am to 5 pm.



  1. This was so interesting to me. I spent summers in Menemsha Bait with the Dan and Christine Larsen family. Even traveling on their swordfish boat. In January I will be traveling to Cape Town with a group of people to cruise. Will the Everard Read Gallery be close enough for us to visit from Cape Town? We have some days to spend there. It would be special to visit you briefly in Africa.

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