Creativity and camaraderie are what sustain a remarkable group of eight professional artists working and living on the Vineyard. Initiated by Nancy Shaw Cramer, the women have been meeting monthly over dinner for 26 years to discuss ideas, great exhibitions, books, business goals, and the inspirations that drive their art. Fortunately for us, we get a peek inside their artistic expressions in the exhibition “The Art Circle Group” at the Galaxy Gallery.
Different media abound. Cramer works with monotypes, which are made by painting, drawing, or inking a surface that is transferred to paper. Cramer cuts up and rearranges her larger print into smaller squares, which she individualizes by embossing, splashing, spraying, or painting with dyes or iridescent paints. She embellishes some works, such as “Shimmer 2” and “Square 1,” with glass beads in small units, mounds, or threaded on cable wires to create intriguing surfaces. She mounts her monotypes on painted box panels, which gives them a physical heft and depth that pushes them into our viewing space.
Sandy Bernat works with a variety of plant materials to create the papers in her animated, three-dimensional artwork. The organic, web-like sculpture “Captured” reflects Bernat’s feeling that “handmade paper strikes a delicate balance between strength and fragility, purpose, and beauty. Plant fibers can be molded and transformed by a moment’s gesture.” In “Well Read” you see the paper’s versatility as she cuts and interweaves strips made from Philippine banana leaf fiber. Bernat says, “There is poetry in the papermaking process, and a spiritual attraction to paper itself.”
Ruth Kirchmeier’s woodcuts have remarkable clarity, which is even more impressive given that every color in “Duarte’s Pond” and “Thistle” is done with a separate woodcut block, printed on top of each other to develop a rich, cumulative palette. Kirchmeier has been known to use as many as 100 different colors in one woodcut. The visible grain from the woodblocks further energizes her images with a life of their own.
Color and composition sit at the heart of Leslie Baker’s stunning abstract, geometric works, as evident in her “Balance 8” collage, with hand-colored watercolor papers, acrylics, and in her watercolor painting “Sweep.” “What moves me when I am painting is what one color does to another,” Baker says. “Color is the subject, and the interaction of colors is the energy and focus of these pieces. It’s exciting how the same color can both invigorate and subdue, creating different spatial effects depending on the color placed near it.” For Baker, “It is the expectation of invention and surprise.”
Jennifer McCurdy’s dynamic, nature-inspired vessels evoke a visceral, emotional response. Her “Gilded Chrysalis Vessel” and “Gilded Wind Vessel” spiral like tangible vortexes. McCurdy starts her pieces on the potter’s wheel, and then carves them by hand to create the negative spaces that play against the positive porcelain forms. The curling bands draw our eye to the warm gold gilded interior, applied by her husband Tom, and then back out again. Their bright insides create a dialogue of light and shadow with the bare white porcelain. McCurdy explains, “When the porcelain is leather hard, I carve patterns to add energy and counterpoint.”
Julia Mitchell “paints” with wool, silk, and linen tapestry in the powerful “Cave Weaving.” Mitchell says she wove the large piece “in homage to the paintings in the cave at Lascaux, which embody such vitality and movement.” However, Mitchell’s masterful translucency infuses her tapestry with even greater urgency than the ancient drawings. In contrast, the verticality and subtle shift of colors in “Edge of the Pond” calm the soul the longer we look at it. “I try to show the beauty that surrounds us every day, whether we live in cities or suburbs or surrounded by meadows,” she says. “My goal with every tapestry is to reveal my subjects’ inner essence. My goal is to convey a sense of beauty and mystery in all things.”
Sensual colors are at the heart of Marie-Louise Rouff’s abstract paintings. She finds freedom in exploring how colors react to each other, the shimmering heat they give off when they meet, and how one color makes another recede. Rouff describes her process of selecting the colors as instinctive, painting with what her hand grabs, following her gut. She says, “When I paint, I may start with some intuitive washes and marks until my mind is warmed up. Sometimes I begin with ideas prompted by chance events — a thread of pattern in the canvas, a brushstroke in the gesso, or the outline of a color that feels familiar. Then I respond to the images as they develop. My criterion for authenticity is how engaged I feel in this crucial game. The discipline is to remain intensely aware of the process at all times.”
Heather Sommers’s ceramic works are a conversation between abstraction and representation. Looking at “Girl Emerging,” the magnetic female figure becomes discernible, emerging from the geometric forms. For Sommers, the glazed, stoneware clay sculpture suggests Persephone returning each spring from the underground. But the woman’s anonymity empowers viewers to create their own association. Sculpture is a component of Sommer’s brilliantly witty political photographs and posters, which stemmed from her intense need to use her artistic voice to express concerns about issues facing the country during Trump’s presidency. In her irreverent “The Perfect Storm,” our nation’s Capital is sinking off the centaur’s backside into the roiling wave in the reproduction of the 19th century Japanese woodblock print by Hokusai. Trump is turned around, seemingly saying so long and good riddance. While done in 2018, the work has taken on an even more intense resonance given the Jan. 6 events.
Whether it’s painting, prints, ceramics, paper, or tapestry, there is something for every taste in this exhibit. And the collective creativity of these artists makes a stunning show that’s not to be missed.
“The Art Circle Group” at the Galaxy Gallery runs from Sept. 1 to 13. Opening reception during the last Art Stroll in Oak Bluffs Arts District on Sept. 3, from 4 to 6 pm.