The visual arts in review

Island artists kept us looking all year long in 2023.


It was a blockbuster year for art in 2023. Just comb through the many archived articles, and you will see that each week offered wonderful new visual experiences. I’ve tried to capture just a few to give a sense of the breadth of what we saw this year.

As usual, Featherstone Center for the Arts gave us so many excellent community exhibitions. One of my favorites was the June show “Timeless,” which celebrated the work of 31 Island women artists over 80, still working and producing artwork. The range of styles and media was inspiring. During the summer, Richard Michelson guest-curated “El Barrio & Beyond: A Celebration of Latinx Culture,” an engrossing show of Latinx illustrators of a wide range of inventive children’s books, helping the young among the roughly 65 million people who identify as Latinx to see images of themselves as they begin their reading journey.

“Collide,” by guest curator and Island artist and gallery owner Kara Taylor, filled the bright, open Francine Kelly Gallery with a stunning array of art by 23 artists from different African countries in a multitude of expressive, often nontraditional, mediums that celebrated the cultural diversity of South Africa. The works were bold, beautiful, and unlike their Western/European counterparts.

The Feldman Family Artspace, curated by Featherstone at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, featured a multitude of impressive artists over the year. In July, Island resident Leo Frame presented striking, large photographs providing a close-up view of history and Black culture in the late 1960s through the mid-1970s. His 35mm black-and-white portraits captured moments of Black individuals, most of whom are familiar, from a time gone by.

The August show was “A Joyful Journey,” paintings by Gretchen Feldman that were indeed a joyful ode, in particular to the Island, which so inspired her. The exhibit illuminated Feldman’s masterful use of watercolors in various consistencies and pastel accents to create luminous landscapes and waterscapes that glow mysteriously from within.

In the fall was Adriana Eftimie, an oil painter originally from Romania residing on Martha’s Vineyard, whose crisp, crystalline compositions convey the astounding beauty of the Island with a sensory immediacy.

Oak Bluffs’ Mariposa Museum and World Cultural Center presented “Stitching Time: The Social Justice Collaborative Quilts Project,” highlighting 20 quilts created by men incarcerated in the Louisiana State Penitentiary. The textiles and accompanying recorded interviews told the story of a unique inside-outside quilt collaboration. Among the project’s goals were to teach the world about the prison hospice program, create a bridge for communication between inside and free quilters, and give voice to the quilters’ political consciousness.

Marion Wilson welcomed guest artists to collaborate in her Lagoon Pond Floating Gallery in Vineyard Haven — the Island’s first (and only) art gallery and cultural space on the water. Wilson bought the vessel from retired boatbuilder Rick Brown in 2021, and has since repurposed the structure into a mobile art studio, one of whose goals is to help preserve the Lagoon coastline through scientific and artistic interventions. Wilson created several cultural events linking art and nature, beginning with an exhibit titled “… of a feather …” with a selection of fascinating paintings, drawings, and film.

Among the Field Gallery’s robust shows this summer were pieces by jeweler Ken Pillsworth and photographer Jhenn Watts, who used an antique large-format box camera. Along with Pillsworth’s gold and silver necklaces, earrings, and rings were arresting landscapes on titanium that he created using a jeweler’s torch that heats the titanium to bring out various colors to create his recent series, “Flame Paintings,” which evoke the colors of the Vineyard.

Among the various photographic techniques, Michael Stimola exhibited at the Field Gallery used one with cyanotype chemistry — a combination of iron salts that produces a distinct Prussian blue when exposed to UV light. He created each one-of-a-kind piece by letting sea or pond water and other natural elements such as sand, sediment, waterborne grasses, and shell fragments interact with the treated paper as the sun beat down upon it, to create original, organic abstractions.

Mitch Gordon opened Turpentine Gallery this summer with a renovated, state-of-the-art first-floor room in which the cool air and sounds of Tibetan bowls immediately lulled you into a meditative state perfect for viewing Gordon’s vast, narrow triptych seascapes. The enormous expanse of swells and undulating water placed you on the boat from which Gordon saw these vistas. Outside of the gallery were Steve Lohman’s whimsical, one-line, kinetic, stainless-steel pieces that created three-dimensional line “drawings” in the air of enormous birds, blooming flowers, and animated people playing the flute or sitting engaged in conversation … and all interacting with the environment.

The Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse hosted many marvelous exhibitions by professional artists, as well as a very special one, “Creative Expressions from the Arts Kitchen by the Vineyard Independence Partnership.” The group was founded in 1983 by several families working to improve opportunities for their children with disabilities in and out of school. The show featured artwork that was specially created for VIP’s very appealing new calendar filled with fabulous creativity, in which abstraction, realism, fantasy, and imagination abounded.

There were so many additional noteworthy exhibitions to see; we can only hope 2024 brings us the same bounty of creativity.