Pilot John Levinson said the first time he took painter Kara Taylor up in his single-engine Mooney Acclaim she didn’t say a word. “She was transfixed,” he says of her response to viewing the Island’s contours at 1,200 feet.
Mr. Levinson is a cardiologist from Boston who met Ms. Taylor when he and his wife bought two of her paintings. He flies his four-seater plane to transport his family between their homes in Boston and the Vineyard. While he can’t quite recall how his invitation to fly the artist around the Island originated, he is clearly pleased with the result: “When you see what you do through another person’s eyes, it’s always interesting. But to see it through the eyes of an artist,” he says, pausing with reverence, “is very special.”
In two trips, he flew Ms. Taylor along the circumference of the Island, making a huge loop as she snapped the photographs that became the inspiration for the 24 aerial paintings she created over the winter.
Though she, of course, had seen aerial photographs of the Island, she had never seen an aerial painting of any subject, which was part of her attraction to painting the Vineyard from above; From Above is the apt title of her collection of new work. Aerial paintings of James Pond, Cape Pogue Bay, Quitsa Pond and Squibnocket (to name only some) are hanging on the walls of the Kara Taylor Gallery on Main street in Vineyard Haven.
Ms. Taylor, with long brown hair and brown eyes, is petite and compact. On first impression, she appears younger than her 34 years. Yet when she talks about her work, her eyes take on an intensity that makes her seem as large as her new paintings. There are only two small works in the new collection at 18 by 24 inches; the remaining 22 works are large and larger, ranging from 30 by 40 to 48 by 72. She explains that she went big because the subject matter required it. She needed to reflect the sense of immensity she experienced looking down from the plane. “It was an out-of-body experience,” she says, “a sensation of being engulfed” by the shapes and colors and textures, all the result of shifting her vantage point.
Perhaps the chance to see Martha’s Vineyard from a different point of view was an especially powerful draw for Ms. Taylor because she grew up on the Island. Also, her awareness of the big changes to the Island — the geographical and topographical changes that occur over years — is especially keen. For while in landscapes, the changing light minute-to-minute alters the familiar into an infinite number of unique paintings of the same subject by the same artist, the aerial perspective gave her a chance to document the passage of historical time — to record the effects of erosion, or paint the breach at Norton Point where the land that once connected Katama to Chappaquiddick split.
Ms. Taylor left the Vineyard to attend art school and then traveled for a few years before returning to the Island in 2000, at which time she opened the Haystack Gallery at Nip ’n Tuck Farm in West Tisbury, across the street from where she grew up. It was so successful that five years later she moved her operation to Vineyard Haven.
Though her point of view and subject have changed from her on-the-ground landscapes to aerial views, she still paints in oil on wood panels, which is particularly appropriate to her new work, because the wavy lines of the wood grain become active lines of the paintings. In the painting titled Cape Pogue Bay, for example, they mimic the shape of sand currents and contribute to the overall sense of movement in the work just as the thin winding roads in Zack’s Cliffs and Aquinnah Dunes contribute to the viewer’s sense of motion. Also, Taylor uses gold leaf in an effective way. In two of her paintings there is a full moon that lights up the water: the moon, like the water, is painted in gold leaf, creating a moody shimmer that gives the sense that the water is moving.
Searching for the right concrete words to describe an experience that is the opposite of concrete, she says of her winter’s labors: “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever painted, but it gave me the freedom to paint in a different way that is more abstract. I fell in love with the subtlety of how the colors interact and the forms change from the aerial vantage point.”
The shift in focus also brought the challenge of rendering the nearly indescribable feeling when she first looked down from the plane, which is largely spiritual in nature and which is instantly apparent in her figurative paintings, which are often allegorical.
“It’s a feeling I try to enter at will but never can unless I work really hard at meditation; it’s a feeling of timelessness which I felt profoundly when I was up in the air looking down from above. I said to John in midair that I had to remember how to breathe, I felt so out of my body consciousness or mind consciousness, I guess partially both — a feeling of oneness that I touched upon when I was flying a thousand feet above my home and the surrounding sea.”
The opening reception for From Above is Sunday from 5 to 8 p.m. at Kara Taylor Fine Art on Main street in Vineyard Haven.