Gwyn McAllister curates an exhibit filled with some of her favorite artists


Gwyn McAllister, who has been covering the Vineyard art scene for more than 20 years, got a brainstorm, and fortunately, we are reaping the benefits. She says of the origins of her exhibition, “Artists You Should Know: An Art Critic’s Picks,” “Every once in a while, I’d come across someone who wasn’t represented by a gallery, but whose work I really admired. I had this inspiration to put together a show that spotlighted those whom Vineyarders might not be familiar with. I wanted to see all my favorite artists in one space.” McAllister approached Holly Alaimo of Galaxy Gallery, and the new exhibit was born.

McAllister, whose personal taste tends more toward contemporary art, has given us a broad, alluring palette. “I wanted to show something different,” she says. And, indeed, that is what we get.

With Ed Schulman, you see how with a minimal amount of strokes, he animates both his figures and entire compositions in which they seem to dance across the board. Schulman, who is self-taught, started painting later in life. His choice of simple wooden frames imbues his work with a rustic sensibility that appeals to McAllister. She says, “He does figures in a primitive style with amazing colors.”

She first saw Beth Smith’s work in a group show at Featherstone. While her landscapes are of Vineyard locations, Smith’s colors and loose, gestural brushwork create an emotive, sensory experience that goes beyond realistic specifics. McAllister says, “They’re landscapes, but there’s something about her colors that I love.”

She also saw Billie Jean Sullivan at Featherstone, and was so taken by her dog portraits that she commissioned one of her own canines. Sullivan has other pieces in the show, including a large landscape of the Aquinnah Cliffs and Gay Head Lighthouse, in which her nontraditional splattering technique energizes the composition so that we feel the wind’s effects.

Renee Balter constructs her stylized Oak Bluffs buildings with flat planes of color in her paintings and prints. They have a nostalgic feel, which makes sense given that they are inspired by photos from decades ago. McAllister shares, “She has a real eye for form and color without any detail. What appeals to me is that I spent summers on the Vineyard, and am an Oak Bluffs’ girl from way back. These are some iconic buildings that go back to my childhood, making them very resonant for me.”

Marston Clough is an immensely versatile artist in terms of both his painting style and media. There is a handsome, mounted, abstract duck constructed of wood, as well as a quirky rooster created completely from poultry wire. McAllister shares, “I’ve always liked his work, and it changes all the time. He seems to be constantly reinventing himself.”

Sandy Burnett makes splendid handmade paper with natural elements to create mixed-media collages, prints, and even sculptures, such as one in which two abstract, nest-looking constructions nestle within branch limbs. McAllister says, “When I saw this beautiful sculpture, I really liked the balance of these delicate, intricate, organic-looking structures and the dark, spiky branches, which look like sculptural pieces themselves. There’s a yin-yang feeling to it.”

McAllister spotted Whitney Cleary’s dreamlike oil paintings in Mocha Mott’s. The landscapes don’t depict specific locations, but rather are from her imagination. “Somehow, though, they look very familiar to anyone who lives or spent time on the Island,” McAllister says. “You can’t quite put your finger on it. There’s so much subtlety in them.”

Jack Ryan uses pen and ink to construct incredibly detailed drawings of minute dots to describe New York City scenes. Seeing them, you immediately think about the time it took to make the drawings. McCallister says, “I was born in New York and spent most of my adult life there, so they certainly appeal to me for that reason. But they’re not your typical, iconic scene. They are like glimpses of New York. Things you would walk by and never notice.” Ryan, with the eye of an artist, brings what looks like old New York to life.

McAllister first saw photographer Janet Woodcock’s work at the Artisans Festival. They are unusual, toned gelatin silver prints on wood with encaustic, and sometimes incorporate little elements such as tinfoil, twine, or nylon rope. Whether they are of barnyard animals looking straight into our eyes or evocative images from the Agricultural Fair, there’s something about her sepia tones that give them a haunting quality. McAllister says, for instance, “She focuses on the carnie stuff, or the fair after it’s abandoned, without any human element. They’re a little unsettling, which I like.”

With so much to choose from, McAllister’s parting thoughts are, “I’m hoping you’re going to be surrounded with something surprising.”

“Artists You Should Know: An Art Critic’s Picks” runs through Oct. 11 at the Galaxy Gallery in Oak Bluffs. On Oct. 9, from 10 am to 3 pm, Galaxy Gallery hosts its Art Yard Sale, with discounted art direct from the artists. Rain date is Oct. 10.