Jennifer Christy’s paintings are at once primal and sophisticated. They are the edge of a shoreline, the ridge of a hill. They are molecular, artifacts, bones. They are whatever you think they are. And they will be shown at the Field Gallery beginning this weekend.

Mrs. Christy’s paintings will be on display from July 9 through July 23. An artist's reception will be held at the Field Gallery for her and Jeff Hoerle on Sunday, July 10, from 5 to 7 p.m.

Studio has been home to a whole family of artists. — Ray Ewing

This is her first show at the Field Gallery and one of her first on the Island, but she has a long history with art. Mrs. Christy, 47, was raised in a family of artists. She was born in New York city to artist parents, and her stepfather is well-known Island sculptor Jay Lagemann. When she was eight the family moved to Chilmark, staying at her stepfather’s mother’s summer house in the off-season. Her family built a small transitional house on the property that they called the Greenhouse. They later left the Greenhouse for a larger house they built a few yards away. Now, Mrs. Christy, her children and her husband, Todd Christy, owner of Chilmark Coffee, live in the old summer house full time.

The family compound clearly belongs to artists. Sculptures dot the rolling grass hills and the Greenhouse is now Mrs. Christy’s studio.

“It’s definitely ramshackle but it has a lot of character and I prefer things that feel used and worn in, including houses,” she said. “It feels like it’s getting this second life, which is lovely.”

The feeling translates to her paintings which seem ancient and familiar even when still wet with new paint.

Mrs. Christy originally intended to be a sculptor, like her father and stepfather. She even studied it at school. However, the requirements for sculpture were overwhelming and she began incorporating painting into her repertoire. This group of paintings is from the past three or four years. She still sculpts, but for now her paintings have taken center stage.

Painter by night; Chilmark town clerk by day. — Ray Ewing

Mrs. Christy paints mainly at night. During the day she works as the Chilmark town clerk and as a mother to her three children. For her, public service and art go hand in hand, and her life would not feel full without one or the other. After attending Franklin and Marshall College and the School of Visual Arts in New York city, Mrs. Christy returned to the Vineyard and to a journey of jobs. She was a teaching assistant at the Chilmark school before getting a master's in art education at UMass Dartmouth. She then became an art teacher at the charter school. After having her children, (Dash, 14, Wren, 11, and El, 11) she took a job as the director of the Aquinnah Library and then worked at the Chilmark library before finally settling down as the Chilmark town clerk.

“I feel like it’s really typical Vineyard, people are just doing like 10 different things at one time. Oftentimes among those things they are doing some creative thing too,” she said.

In her paintings, Mrs. Christy layers acrylics on linen, with amoebic outlines and structured brush strokes.

“It's something I really feel the need to make, these shapes,” she said. She uses a gloss layering to highlight the grid level of the strokes when the painting is hit by light.

“I really like how there is an organic level from one way of looking at it and a really structural linear level from the brush mark,” she said.

She, like many, draws inspiration from the land.

Mrs. Christy uses up to 20 layers of paint, creating depth to the edges of shapes. — Ray Ewing

“I really take notice of shorelines and patterns,” she said. “There’s a lot of great edges on this Island, the cliffs and ponds and different kinds of shapes like frost bottoms and wetlands.”

Whether it’s the flow of stream, the ebb of a pond or the knuckles of a hill, she absorbs the visuals and lets them simmer with her experiences.

“It’s not a true landscape, I’m not actually visualizing a landscape or a portion of a landscape. It’s imagery is derived from land.”

Though her paintings seem organic, even alive, Mrs. Christy said she knows exactly what will be coming out from her brush each time she stands in front of a canvas.

“I definitely have a plan, the hard thing is actually narrowing it down to which one I’m going to do,” she said. “I feel flooded sometimes with ideas about what I’m going to paint and I have to narrow it. So if there is any kind of indecision at first, it’s editing the crowd of shapes I could really go with.”

Each painting takes a long time as she uses up to 20 layers of paint, creating a real depth to the edges of her shapes. She is drawn to the interface where things meet, she said. It helps that she works on several pieces at once. Her studio is littered with easels each holding a painting of a different size. Most of her work that will be shown at the Field Gallery has already been collected to be hung.

She knows many people want a foundation to understand art so she hands out thick cards with a blurb of explanation and her website. But really, she doesn’t have an explanation for her art and she doesn’t want one.

“Abstract art, I sometimes don’t like explaining it,” she said. “I want it to just be.”

The reception for Jennifer Christy and Jeff Hoerle is from 5 to 7 p.m. on Sunday, July 10, at the Field Gallery in West Tisbury.