With Rez Williams’s paintings hanging on the walls of the Grange Hall Monday, artist Ruth Kirchmeier recalled one of his art exhibits at the former Nye Gallery. His signature boat paintings were placed on dark walls and lit from above, she said. “One felt surrounded by looming giants of every color and description, with skies that were more vivid than and unlike any sky a mere mortal might experience. Fighting with the sky for attention was the equally mesmerizing water. It was glorious.”
Mr. Williams was honored Monday with the Creative Living Award from the Permanent Endowment of Martha’s Vineyard, an annual award given to members of the community who love the Vineyard and have made significant contributions to quality of life on the Island. The award is sponsored by the Ruth J. Bogan-Ruth Redding Memorial Fund and has been given to Islanders since 1983.
The West Tisbury painter was honored not only for his brightly colored depictions of fishing boats and the waterfront that “startle and attract” but his commitment to conservation on the Island.
“We all know and love Rez for his art, but many of us may not be aware of the public service to the community Rez has rendered over the years,” said Brendan O’Neill, the executive director of the Vineyard Conservation Society.
Mr. Williams was one of the longest serving board members of the Vineyard Conservation Society and also served as president of the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation.
Mr. O’Neill recalled Mr. Williams’s “calm courage” during fights to protect open space on the Vineyard.
“Through all these challenges Rez was really an anchor in the VCS boardroom,” Mr. O’Neill said, adding that he helped launch the Island’s first Earth Day beach clean-up and advocated prescribed burns to maintain habitats.
“Both through his art and through his actions, Rez Williams has accomplished what this award seeks to recognize — helping the present inhabitants of Martha’s Vineyard realize that value of their treasure. Thank you, Rez,” Mr. O’Neill said.
Ms. Kirchmeier praised her friend’s lively intellectual curiosity and adventurous nature. “Many of us have this sense of wonder about what the world has to offer up,” she said. “But few of us have his ability to transform that wonder into great art.”
His art “draws the viewer into the world that he creates, be it a farm field with tractors, a waterfront with fishing boats, or a self portrait with a steady unflinching gaze looking directly at you.”
One of his paintings of a boat is titled Shot.
“Sure enough, there was a splattering of holes in the side of the vessel,” Ms. Kirchmeier said. “On further inspection I noticed that splatter of shots repeated in the sky in different colors and volumes. What made him do that? Only Rez knows and maybe even he doesn’t know. But I find it’s another aspect of his work that makes it so much fun to scrutinize.”
“Thank you, Rez, for making art that captures your own unique vision and allowing us to be a part of it,” she said “We are privileged to know and love your paintings and to know and love you.”
Calling Mr. Williams “a painter, conversationalist, sailor, and an ethical man who delights in bad puns,” permanent endowment board member and cartoonist Paul Karasik said his work “sets a high bar for Vineyard painting and frankly for all the creative arts on Martha’s Vineyard.”
The trophy itself features a Vineyard rock, a representation of the Permanent Endowment’s motto “Here for good.” Mr. Williams also received a check for $1,000. When presenting the award to Mr. Williams, endowment board member Edward Miller noted the artist’s role in creating a collection of art at the hospital, donating two major works and convincing others to do the same.
“This is a little bit like an out-of-body experience,” Mr. Williams told the audience. “Thank you all for coming.”
“A friend of mine said that, you know, it really is the compilation of all the people that you know and all their influences that have gotten you wherever it is I am. And it’s really true, I thought about this for a long time. So I sense it really is sort of an out of body experience — your bodies’ experience as well. Thank you very much.”
Mr. Williams then drew the winning ticket for a lottery, with the winner receiving $1,000 to donate to the Island nonprofit of his or her choice.
The winner was Anita Hotchkiss, who told the Gazette she hoped to donate the money to the Marine and Paleobiological Research Institute and Women Empowered.
Earlier in the night, Mr. Karasik quoted the late Metropolitan Museum of Art director Thomas Hoving, a Vineyard visitor. When asked which living American artists one should collect, Mr. Hoving’s short list included Mr. Williams.
Mr. Karasik quoted Mr. Hoving from Cigar Aficionado magazine.
“He paints out of West Tisbury on Martha’s Vineyard. But he’s about as far from one of those sticky-sweet chroniclers of Island life and times as one can get.”
He continued: “His scenes of the Vineyard smash into your eyes like crescendos. The spaces warp and move. The colors clash and rebound. You gaze at something like Gay Head Light for a few seconds and you get out of breath. Williams is light years beyond the Vineyard yet nobody has distilled it better.”