Born-and-raised Island artist Marston Clough’s new exhibition, “Let Your Mind Wander,” at the Oak Bluffs library displays three aspects of his artistic pursuits. His diversity of interests is echoed by the fact that he has been a trained scientist, teacher, and passionate artist. Clough shows seasonally at the Old Sculpin Gallery, Kin in Edgartown, and Galaxy Gallery in Oak Bluffs, and has work in the permanent collection at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.
The earliest pieces in the show at the library are Clough’s striking black-and-white linoleum cuts with their expressive drawing. His strong compositions stem from his love of the bold work of the early 20th century German Expressionists and Fauve painters. On the same wall are aerial views of boats in the water with what look like docks of some sort. Clough is interested in the play of abstract shapes, and particularly of color, inspired by the California artist Raimonds Staprans, who does bright work that, he says, “just blows me away. I have his book called ‘Full Spectrum,’ and when you look at it, it is the full spectrum of color.” Clough went to California to see a Staprans show, and came back determined to try working with bright pigments himself. His simplified boats, which hint at the vessels more than realistically describing them, “pop” with hot colors of red and orange, and are set against dark backgrounds that increase the boats’ impact. Stepping back, these paintings work as abstract compositions reinforced by such titles as “The Orange Box” and “The Approach Series,” only hinting at their subject matter.
“I find these hard to do because I don’t have a real plan, and then I come back and change things the next day and see if it’s good or bad,” Clough says. “But the same thing can happen with landscapes.”
Turning to the opposite wall in the exhibition, he speaks about his process, which includes working on 10 paintings at a time, and then letting them sit overnight. Clough brings his wife in to help judge which ones are successful. The ones in the exhibition certainly work splendidly, and reveal his masterful ability to convey a sensual sense of sky and water.
The sky dominates in all the landscapes, giving him a large area to create visual poetry where natural light and color convey all sorts of weather. Clough explains that when walking with his wife regularly all over the Island — Katama, East and West Chop, Sengekontacket — “What strikes me is the sky. The paintings don’t come from photographs. I’m stimulated when I get back to the house, and want to try this or that. The sky is a whole lot of the story.”
Even though he paints primarily in his studio, Clough captures the very essence of the Vineyard atmosphere. However, he has included one painting in the show that he did en plein air, titled “Out Painting with My Friends — Dunes Edge of Great Pond.” He shares about going out regularly with this group, “A big joy I get out of painting is meeting people and having friends. That’s very special to me. It’s been a great association.”
Whether indoors or out, Clough spends time doing some type of art every day. At the very least, he sketches daily in his studio, with his coffee and toast made from his homemade bread. He says, “For 30 years I have enjoyed the pleasures and frustrations of trying to make art. Although I sketch people frequently, my paintings are a result of my continued pleasure in observing the light on Martha’s Vineyard. I see the ocean every day, and the horizon, sea, and clouds are a continuing inspiration.”
Although first introduced to art as a student at the Tisbury School in the early 1950s, it was more than 30 years later that his wife saw an advertisement for a beginning drawing course at the Massachusetts College of Art, and he fell in love with it. “It was a great mental break; it was so non-science. I just kept drawing and taking classes at the Worcester Art Museum, trying this, and trying that. I certainly get pleasure from it … when it works. I also get pleasure from looking around outside, because I feel like I notice things that I didn’t notice before.”
Clough hopes that others will derive pleasure from his work as well as be inspired to go outside and say, “Wow, look at that sky today.” He adds, “And an appreciation for being here. It can be inconvenient and expensive but, boy, it can be beautiful.”
Marston Clough’s exhibition will be on view through January. There is a reception on Saturday, Jan. 21, from 1 to 2:30 pm. For more information on the artist and his work, visit marstonclough.com and Instagram @marstonclough.