Barbarella Fokos and her husband David are what one might call artistic investigators. In 2014, they won an Emmy for their show Art Pulse TV, in which they sought out featured artists in San Diego. They were not so much interested in the ‘what’ as they were the ‘who’ and the ‘why.’ The show exposed the artists’ motivations for dedicating themselves to painting.
The couple’s relationship with Heather Neill began about 10 years ago, when Mr. Fokos bought a painting of hers at the Granary Gallery for his wife titled Writer’s Block. It was a still-life scene of a typewriter, balls of crumpled up paper, some children’s blocks and a teacup.
For years, Mrs. Fokos could not get the typewriter painting out of her head.
“It was my absolute most cherished item,” she said. “I wanted to know more about what went into it.”
From her home in San Diego, Mrs. Fokos contacted Ms. Neill in Manchester, Pa. Their mutual connection was through the Vineyard. Mr. Fokos’s parents live here and Ms. Neill shows her art at the Granary Gallery. The couple ended up interviewing Ms. Neill on the Island and in Pennsylvania. The result is a documentary called Visions of Home: the Work of Heather Neill. It was essentially crafted in the same format as an episode of Art Pulse TV.
The documentary will screen on Friday, July 29 at the Film Center. There will also be an artist reception on Sunday, July 31 at the Granary Gallery.
“He is the visual, and I am the story,” said Mrs. Fokos of how the couple works together on their projects. “I talk to the person, then we put it all together, together.”
Visions of Home is an intimate portrait that depicts Ms. Neill in her everyday: feeding her dog, picking tomatoes, joking with her wife, Pat Lackey, and, of course, painting, which she does 10 hours a day, seven days a week.
Ms. Neill calls her artistic style ‘representationalism.’ It is close to realism, but she allows herself the freedom to manipulate light or put objects in the paintings that she feels should belong there. It is one of the aspects that so entranced Mrs. Fokos.
“I just don’t know how she captures that light. They seem to glow from within,” she said.
Ms. Neill has been coming to the Vineyard for at least two weeks every summer for over 30 years. She feels the Island is less like a vacation destination and more like home, partly because she spends the duration of her time here painting Vineyard scenes, but mostly because of the late Ted and Polly Meinelt. Mr. Meinelt introduced her to the Granary Gallery and Chris Morse, and showed her the real Island.
“I went to him as my history reference and my nudge, saying I ought to paint this or not paint that, and damn it he was right. Every single time,” Ms. Neill said.
Ms. Neill also has paintings in galleries in Denver and Santa Fe, but she feels most connected to the Granary.
“I wouldn’t be where I am without the exposure that the Granary gave me,” she said. “They’re one of the top galleries in the country in the most modest way.”
For a period of her youth, Ms. Neill lived rural Pennsylvania near Chadds Ford, which is Wyeth country. Her artist mother used to take her in the car to the countryside and walk through the fields, experiencing the subject matter that the Wyeths painted. Once, during an assignment in high school, her teacher left the kids there for four hours to paint. She studied the water of the Brandywine Creek and sat with her easel, while most of the other kids were “probably off doing drugs.”
Ms. Neill considers her work to be more like that of N.C. than Andrew, because his paintings are much more vibrant.
“N.C. is the one who gave me permission to paint in oil and use bold color,” she said. Her colorful paintings separated her from her mother’s more subdued work.
Though Ms. Neill is a realist painter, she has a knack for letting the painting do what it will.
“I’m pretty good at knowing what my hands can do, and what my eyes see. I start out with that control, but a big lesson I’ve learned is to be willing to give that up,” she said. “Relinquishing that control is like the muses stepping in. I love it.”
The documentary Visions of Home: the Work of Heather Neill will play at the Capawock Theatre in Vineyard Haven on Friday, July 29 at 6 p.m. A Q&A session with Ms. Neill will follow, tickets are available at mvfilmsociety.com. There will also be an artist reception at the Granary Gallery on Sunday, July 31 from 5 to 7 p.m.