Art for art’s sake

Artist Nina Lisa Maria has a new exhibit at the West Tisbury library.


Artist Nina Lisa Maria, who also goes by Nina Gordon, whose work is the focus of an exhibit at the West Tisbury library this month, didn’t particularly select work for the show that she thought would sell. Instead, she gathered up paintings from her personal collection — work that was hanging in her home, and selected ink drawings from her sketchbooks, making for a very eclectic exhibit, and one that represents work that people may not necessarily associate with the artist.

“The reason they’re on my walls at home is that I love abstract art,” says Nina, who formerly owned and operated the Cobalt Gallery in West Tisbury. “Most of them have some sort of abstract quality to them, although I generally paint and draw representationally.”

“These particular works are dear to me,” adds the artist, who is perhaps best-known for her plein air paintings of favorite Vineyard scenes. “I’m excited to show some of my favorites. This is a more intimate show for me.”

One of the most dramatic of the paintings, “Where Stars Are Born,” has all the elements of a work of abstraction — swirling colors contrasting with a pattern of tiny dots, although it’s quite clearly a galactic scene. The artist’s “Beach Stones” triptych further stylizes the subject by using unusual colors and dimensions and distorting the sand and waves, giving the images a suggestion of an anatomical subject. Similarly, a colorful diptych featuring milkweed pods is a highly stylized rendering of a subject from nature. Although the painting “Gay Head” is more representational than some of the others, Nina has heightened the colors and simplified the lines to create a very different perspective on the iconic Vineyard scene.

The artist really shows her skill as a draftsman in the series of small drawings featured in the show. As with the paintings, Nina had no intention of ever showing the drawings publicly. For the most part they are the output from an initiative called the Inktober Challenge that the artist participates in every year. During the month of October, artists nationwide are encouraged to create an ink drawing a day and post them on Instagram. Given her mastery of the medium and the intricacy of the drawings, it’s hard to believe that many of these are drawings the artist completed in a day, with no real agenda.

Many of the images reflect on Island life and the ocean. Most impressive are a series of wave drawings, focusing on the motion of an individual wave in sharp detail, down to individual drops of water from the wave’s spray. These drawings are both highly evocative and stylistically beautiful — reminiscent of Japanese renderings of the same subject.

Nina uses a technique called sumi-e, or Japanese ink painting. It is actually a cross between painting and drawing, utilizing a special brush and an ink wash with the emphasis placed on the beauty of each individual stroke. Nina uses the traditional technique very effectively in works variously featuring boats, beach scenes, fish, and other marine life. She has even captured an infamous Island denizen in the form of two drawings of skunks, one with the tongue-in-cheek title “Vineyard Kitty.”

“The drawings that are hanging now I didn’t do to sell,” says Nina. “They were cut out from my sketchbooks. I’ve done the Inktober Challenge for a few years now, and posted the images on Instagram. People would be interested in buying them, but I told them that they weren’t for sale.

Last year for the first time, I started cutting them out and framing them and offering them for sale. Suddenly I had a body of work, so I was happy to have the opportunity to show them at the library.”

Given the rather small dimensions of the drawings, Nina added the paintings to round out the exhibit. She is very pleased with the way that the show was hung, interspersing the drawings and paintings skillfully.

“I never really intended to sell any of this work,” says the artist (noting that a couple of the paintings will remain in her personal collection, although most are for sale). “It’s not often that you go to one of these events where it’s really art for art’s sake. I fight a constant battle between what I want to say or do with my work and what people will like.”

By the way, Nina also makes and sells delicious Kombucha in a variety of interesting flavors. She prepares and bottles the drinks at her home commercial kitchen, and sells them at the Chilmark Flea Market in the summer, and at various outlets around the Island year-round. Check out to read about the products and find out where to purchase.

An exhibit of paintings and drawings by Nina Lisa Maria will hang at the West Tisbury library through Nov. 30. You can find more of the artist’s work on Instagram.