November is an unusual time to open an art gallery on Martha’s Vineyard. The summer crowds, with their disposable incomes and endless leisure time, have been replaced by the year-round residents with their bills and 40-hour work weeks. And in this economic climate, with art markets large and small starting to feel the trickle-down effect from the crisis on Wall Street, artists and dealers alike might find themselves seeking shelter from the storm with other pursuits, or even abandoning ship all together.
But not Jeff Serusa, the one man behind the one-man-show that is the Seaworthy Gallery in Vineyard Haven. He hopes his new venture is exceptional enough that he may very well be immune to an unforgiving environment. And so he plows ahead with his ideas and his art, like the steel hull of a ferry boat breaching a swell. Seaworthy Gallery, indeed.
Situated directly across Beach Road from the Art Cliff Diner in Vineyard Haven, Mr. Serusa’s gallery inhabits the building formerly occupied by Maggie’s Salon. When the building first became available, Mr. Serusa jumped at the opportunity. “I opened now because I didn’t want to lose the space. The space makes sense,” he said.
While he admits the timing is odd for the opening of a new art gallery on the Vineyard, he remains optimistic. “I’m positioning myself for the rebound,” he said.
Several weeks and some quick renovations later and the gallery looks startlingly established. The straightforward flat red and gun metal grey interior is beautifully lit, and possesses the tidy, pleasing functionality of a ship. Mr. Serusa’s photographs share wall space with various artifacts of the sea: brass lanterns, old charts and other nautical ephemera. Overall, the gallery feels cohesive in a way that is generally reserved for big-city boutiques or professionally curated museum exhibitions, a departure from galleries that shy away from asserting too much character in the decor for fear of detracting from their artists.
But beyond design and location, the real draw to the Seaworthy Gallery is of course the artwork on display. Mr. Serusa is a photographer who uses an 8-by-10 large format camera to produce images from long exposures that go beyond the ordinary confines of nautical art. He prints his photographs with large, wide-format printers onto either colorfast watercolor paper imported from Germany or on archival quality canvas, and he frames them himself. The result is a body of work that is iconic, masculine and direct, and, as art, very reasonably priced considering the time and work that has gone into construction.
His subjects are often ships, both in water and in various stages of repose, or else are related directly to sailing in some way. The enormous images are high in contrast, with liberal use of deep, pure black. Mr. Serusa uses natural light exclusively, which forces him to spend tens of hours trying to get a given shot just right. One image of the Aquinnah lighthouse, hanging right behind his desk, is particularly remarkable in the way that the subject is also the only light source in the photograph.
Because Mr. Serusa’s images are so large and so arresting, it is easy to think that they may have been manipulated in some way using computer software. Not so, says the artist. “I’m actually color-blind, so I really can’t fiddle around with the pieces. If I did, the colors might end up all wrong. I just trust the camera,” he said.
— Cooper Davis