“Derby,” oil on linen, 48 x 60 inches. Art by Jeanne Staples.
This summer will be a busy one for artist Jeanne Staples. Her work will be featured at the Granary Gallery for two weeks starting on July 16; one of her portraits has been selected by the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio, for its annual Mid-Year Exhibition; and Ms. Staples will be one of the artists included in a show at the Grange Hall titled “Artists in Art,” an exhibit that will feature the work of a number of local artists alongside their portraits done by Elizabeth Whelan.
While the Butler Institute and the Granary show will spotlight Ms. Staples’ portraiture work, the Granary Gallery will exhibit a number of the artist’s Vineyard landscapes. Ms. Staples has an affinity for the American realists of the early 20th century, and it’s evident in her work. Her clearest influence is Edward Hopper, who was famed for his expert use of light and shadow to create an almost cinematic look. Similarly, Ms. Staples favors either the slanting light of late afternoon, with long shadows and areas of intensely lit objects, or night scenes with artificial light punctuating the darkness.
Unlike many artists who paint the Vineyard landscape, Ms. Staples focuses on scenes with structures and signs of life, although figures are not always visible. The artist seems to be drawn to the simple, boxy, shingled houses so typical of Cape Cod. Ms. Staples has a way of putting the viewer right into the scene by selecting a viewpoint that might represent a spot on a road or beach where one might be approaching the chosen scene.
“Derby Weigh In” is a good example of one of Ms. Staples’ paintings with figures. Seen from a short distance, it depicts a group of men gathered inside the brightly lit Derby Headquarters building at dusk. The scene is full of details both outside and inside the building. Much like many of Hopper’s scenes, there’s an eyewitness perspective to the view, but unlike Hopper’s melancholic city scenes, the people populating Ms. Staples world seem not so much lonely as absorbed in their own thoughts.
Hopper’s biographer describes the artist thus: “Hopper painted short isolated moments of configuration, saturated with suggestion.” That description equally fits the work of Ms. Staples, who, especially with her portraits, enjoys a hint of an enigma.
This is especially true in the series called “Present Pending.” This fascinating group of paintings presents a narrative that is meant to be interpreted by the viewer. As described on Ms. Staples’ website, “The paintings in the ‘Present Pending’ series represent a single moment in time shown from multiple perspectives. Each painting connects to all the others by visual cues contained in each piece. The paintings work independently, but also function collectively to create a single narrative.”
One of the paintings from this series, “Number 5,” is included in the Granary Gallery show. It depicts a young girl wearing an elaborate traditional Chinese headdress. The girl, who is otherwise dressed in contemporary clothing, is seated on a couch holding a laptop computer. On the floor is an antique mutoscope, an early motion picture device. The image displays a contrast between historical and modern life.
Clues in the painting connect it to other paintings in the series, some set in other parts of the same room, some in adjacent rooms, some scenes that are depicted in paintings on the wall. “They all represent one moment in time,” says the artist. “It’s meant to be an ambiguous narrative. The person who sees several of these can form their own opinion as to what’s going on. [The subjects] are all in the same physical space, but all in their own space as well. People bring their own ideas as to what might be happening. There’s a little sense of mystery and something that teases your imagination.”
Eventually Ms. Staples hopes to exhibit the entire series. Although some of the paintings have been sold, and one hangs in the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital’s emergency room, Ms. Staples has arranged with the buyers to loan out the paintings for any full-series installation.
In an effort to further engage the viewer, the artist will include the mutoscope in the Grange Hall show that will include her work. She had woodworker Andy Palmer recreate the antique machine, and she painted multiple small paintings of carousel horses, which create a moving scene when the viewer flips through them by means of a crank. The exhibit will also feature an audio component.
The painting that will be featured at the Butler Institute, a portrait of Vineyard angler Joey Huang, was the winner of the 2016 Martha’s Vineyard Museum Island Faces Competition.
Ms. Staples was educated at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the pre-eminent institution of American realism. “My work comes out of that classical realist tradition that I fully embrace,” she says, adding, “I love contemporary abstraction too. I just don’t do it.”
The artist has shown her work for a number of years at the Granary Gallery, and has also been featured in exhibits at, among many other places, the Cape Cod Museum, the Acadian Museum in Nova Scotia, Albany Institute of History and Art, and the Copley Society in Boston, where she is a member.
Ms. Staples is also the founder and director of PeaceQuilts, a nonprofit humanitarian economic development project to aid poor women in Haiti through the establishment of independent sewing cooperatives creating one-of-a-kind art quilts. PeaceQuilts products — textiles, jewelry, bags, and other items — will be on display every Monday through August 7 at the Grange Hall as part of World Market Mondays.
Jeanne Staples will be one of the featured artists, along with Cindy Kane and Claudio Gasparini, at a show at the Granary Gallery hanging from July 16 to July 29. The Butler Institute’s 81st Mid-Year Exhibition will run through August 20. Elizabeth Whelan’s exhibit “Artists in Art” will take place at the Grange Hall on July 22 from 1 to 8 pm.