Painting is a solitary pursuit. It involves getting into one’s own head and heart to create something truly personal, and artists generally work alone in a studio. However, a handful of Island women have discovered that having a group to share new work, throw ideas back and forth, and generally support each other has been a blessing.
The group in question, eight Island artists representing varying degrees of experience and accomplishment, are currently showing their work in a collaborative exhibit at the West Tisbury library. Unlike many art shows, “Island Women’s Views” features work as varied as the artists themselves. There is no unifying theme. The only common denominator is the connection between the artists, forged throughout 10 or so years of meeting regularly for critique, encouragement, support, and socializing.
The artists represented are Ruth Kirchmeier, Katy Upson, Elizabeth Taft, Diana Rice, Dale Weymouth Julier, Judith Drew Schubert, Lizzy Schule, and Wenonah Madison. Some, like Kirchmeier and Taft, are well-known in the Vineyard art world. Others, such as Diana Rice and Katy Upson, are relative newcomers who only started painting after retiring from other careers.
Upson has found that she is constantly trying out new ideas and styles of painting. Her contributions to the current show include a series of semiabstract landscapes done in quick brushstrokes with lots of texture, where color and form are crucial. A standout of Upson’s, “Chilmark Overlook,” features vibrant rust and mustard tones with a pale wintry sky partially revealing the sun.
“I think the group is very instrumental in the evolution of all of us,” says Upson. “There’s nothing better than getting feedback from another artist.”
Diana Rice has certainly discovered that to be the case. As an amateur painter, she notes that she has gained a lot from the group. “These women have a lot more experience than I do,” she says. Like Upson, Rice is experimenting with different subjects and styles. For the show, Rice contributed two still lifes and a landscape. The latter shows a view of Tomales Bay in California. The rural scene is executed with an effective combination of stylistic elements and rounded rolling hills à la Thomas Hart Benton. Rice, inspired by her fellow group members, hopes to try out more landscapes going forward.
Not only has the novice artist benefited from the feedback of the group, she finds that the monthly meetings force her to keep up with her painting. “I really enjoy the company of these women,” she says. “How could I just hang out with them and not produce? I’d have to leave. They give you deadlines, and push you. They’ve told me that I have to eventually show my work. They tell me, ‘You can’t just be a closet painter.’”
Veteran artist Ruth Kirchmeier, who has contributed two of her wonderful woodblock prints to the show, enjoys having the opportunity to spend time with other artists. “It’s fun to meet with them,” she says. “They’re so excited about art. You can talk shop. It’s a real pleasure to be able to talk with others who share the same obsession.”
When the weather allows, members of the group often make a trek together to paint en plein air. During one of these outings, Kirchmeier found herself wandering around Long Point randomly sketching things when she discovered a stretch of wild thistles that inspired her to create a woodblock print in tones of green with a bit of purple from a patch of irises she found hidden within the brambles. The beloved Island artist notes that she would never have found herself in that particular area had she not ventured out with the group.
Kirchmeier, who shows her work regularly at the Galaxy Gallery in Oak Bluffs and the Sargent Gallery in Aquinnah, says, “I’m so pleased to be in this show. I really like walking in and looking at everyone’s work.” She goes on to enthusiastically describe a number of the paintings in the show, remarking on the variety of styles and subjects to be found all in one place.
These include portraits by Wenonah Madison and Lizzy Schule. The former has depicted friends and family members from Aquinnah, along with a few still lifes, while Schule is showing work from a series of paintings she executed recently, thanks to a grant.
Two accomplished landscape painters are represented in the show. Judith Drew Schubert has contributed two exceptional panoramic views — one of a snowy field backed by a row of denuded trees, and the other a stunning sunrise view of Tisbury Great Pond. Both show a mastery of light and shadow. Three examples of the work of acclaimed Island artist Elizabeth Taft’s impressionist landscapes are on view, done in characteristic soft focus in pastel colors.
Dale Weymouth Julier has focused on more intimate outdoor rural scenes, including a farm stand in Montecito and farm stands in Turkey and on the Vineyard. Although she is relatively new to painting, Julier has managed to capture the color, detail, and vibrancy of these scenes expertly.
While some of the participating artists show regularly around the Island and elsewhere, others have rarely or never had a show of their own. This collaborative exhibit is giving the eight women a chance to showcase some new paintings without having to create an entire themed collection.
“Having a one-person show can be a daunting endeavor,” says Schubert. “The main hurdle is having enough paintings to fill a show. Having a group show allows us to have our most recent work seen, without having to create a ‘body of work,’ which can take years. It also gives us a deadline, which can be very helpful.”
“Island Women’s Views” is on exhibit at the West Tisbury library through the end of January. It is also available for online viewing at wtlibraryvirtualgallery.org.