‘Looking Back’ at Allen Whiting’s 35 years of Island landscapes

The artist at work outdoors.

Painter Allen Whiting has been capturing scenes of up-Island landscapes for more than three decades. His work is instantly recognizable. Mr. Whiting, whose West Tisbury studio and home are on farmland that has been in the family for many generations, knows the Island intimately, and it’s apparent in the way he manages, in a relatively minimalist style, to capture the look, feel, and mystique of rural Martha’s Vineyard.

However, even those who are familiar with the artist’s work will find some surprises on a visit to Mr. Whiting’s Davis House gallery this month. In honor of the gallery’s 35th year in operation, proprietors Lynn and Allen Whiting have hung a retrospective, showcasing work from 1982 to the present.

The collection includes charcoal drawings, paintings, and even a few small sculptures — providing a good idea of the range of styles adopted by the artist at one time or another.

“Spring Finery,” oil on canvas painted in 2000. 48×60 inches.

“The year our son Everett was born, we inherited this house,” says Ms. Whiting, recalling the genesis of the gallery. “We realized if we wanted to stay, we either needed to rent the house or have an art gallery. When Allen was a teenager, Kip Bramhall had a gallery here.”

The gallery is located in the original farmhouse, fronting a working farm that still looks very much as it would have in the 1800s when the family first farmed here. In honor of the forebear who originally settled on the Vineyard, Mr. Whiting is showing a large charcoal-on-masonite portrait of his ancestor Henry L. Whiting, a cartographer whose 1850s map of the Vineyard is the basis for a lot of research and historical comparison.

The portrait, done in 1983, is a good introduction to the many sketches and portraits in charcoals that Mr. Allen completed in his early years as an artist. A selection of these, which can be found on the staircase wall, give the viewer a good sense of the artist’s considerable skills as a draftsman.

The exhibit also includes a number of self-portraits, which clearly exhibit the range of styles that the artist has experimented with over the years. Across from the staircase, a very large charcoal done in a traditional representational style is flanked by two colorful depictions of the artist displaying a very contemporary look. There’s an impressionistic self-portrait in the living room and another portrait, called the Drunkard (not a self-portrait), that has a bit of a Picasso-ish feel.

Speaking of his early work, Mr. Whiting says, “Sometimes I think it’s a little more gutsy.”

The artist’s early experimentation can be found in some of the landscapes on display as well. Although Mr. Whiting’s favorite subject matter — timeless windswept landscapes — are still in evidence, the more saturated colors and, in some cases, focus on more obvious brushstrokes, are a departure from the style Mr. Whiting has adopted in more recent years.

“Summer Morning,” oil on canvas 40×50 inches, painted in 1995.

There are, of course, stunning examples of the artist’s signature style — some of them very large. There are also a few animal portraits, including a wonderful huge charcoal-on-masonite drawing titled “Standing Calf,” which holds a place of honor in front of the bookcase in the library, and another smaller charcoal-on-paper calf portrait, whose title, “Looking Back,” is reflected in the show title.

The exhibit provides a mesmerizing journey through the career of one of the Island’s pre-eminent artists. Whether you’re familiar with Mr. Whiting’s work or not, the show is well worth a visit.

Next up, the Davis House will host “Leaning Forward: Recent Work” on view through the month of August, with an opening on Thursday, August 3.

“Looking Back” will hang through the end of July. The Davis House gallery is open Thursday through Sunday, 1 to 6 pm. Visit allenwhiting.com.