A couple of years ago, I was interviewing a well-known Vineyard author, and I asked where he got the inspiration for one of his acclaimed novels. He said that he was walking down the street in Paris and saw a woman standing in a doorway. Suddenly, an idea for a novel popped into his head. Voilà! It was that simple.
But driving a car down a deserted, windswept Beach Road in February may not be as inspiring for some of us. Pursuing art is, after all, a solitary task, and the isolation of a Vineyard winter can make creative juices either flow or fade.
With that in mind, I asked three Island artists how they sought inspiration this past winter. Their answers — unsurprisingly — were very different.
Deborah T. Colter, an Edgartown-based abstract mixed-media collage artist; Bob Avakian, also of Edgartown, a photographer specializing in night photography; and West Tisbury painter and collage artist Kara Taylor shared their recipes for finding inspiration during the coldest, shortest days of the year.
In general, what are your sources of inspiration?
Deborah T. Colter: Looking at other artists’ work. Looking inside myself. I look at nature. Out of airplane windows. I’ve been inspired by the lines and circles of the land below. I’m always gathering information.
Bob Avakian: I look at photography online all the time. I also look at Neutral Density Magazine, and just about any website that features photography. I take workshops, enter competitions to get my work in front of jurors, and visit museums.
Kara Taylor: I’m inherently curious about life, nature, the human dynamic. I don’t look to other artists for inspiration. I think I look for overall truth and do a lot of philosophical questioning. My work has tended to be a direct reflection of my emotional experience.
As an artist, how do you feel about winters on the Vineyard?
DTC: I love winter. I just wish it wasn’t as nasty and cold. But I don’t feel the distraction of summer and my garden. I’m more focused.
BA: Pre-photography, I worked year-round as a builder on the Island. And I had kids. There was always something to do. Now I have grandchildren. I enjoy winter. It’s quiet. And it’s the best time of year for my night photography. It gets darker earlier, and there are more hours to shoot.
KT: Winter is my most productive time for work. But I find it understimulating on the Vineyard. It’s nice to regroup and have quiet, but at my age, I have lots of energy to go and do. I’ve spent past winters traveling worldwide. I like being creative in another place. I feel like I’m racing against the clock to finish my work for the summer when I stay on the Island, but unconstrained when I leave.
How did you spend this past winter, and how did you seek new ideas?
DTC: My mother was sick for two years, and passed away last September. I was her primary caregiver, so I had very little time to devote to painting. I had to go back to basics and restart my engine. I decided to sign up for a 12-week online creative workshop with California-based artist Nicholas Wilton called Art2life. The program consisted of weekly videoconferencing, watching videos, painting, and sharing your work with Nicholas, members of his team, and other participants. The course encourages you to examine what inspires you, and how your art relates to the life you’re living. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and propelled me on a remarkable journey. It was the best gift I ever gave myself.
BA: I experimented with different shooting styles, and learned ziatype printing, a handmade process for black-and-whites. I also traveled to Venice, Italy, for a photography workshop as both a participant and an instructor. It really inspired me, and I’d like to do more international workshops, return to Italy, and go to Scotland. I attended a master class at the Griffin Museum of Photography in Winchester. We had a meeting once a month, and it forced me to stay productive. We had group critique as well that helped me refine my work.
KT: I spent three months in Capetown, South Africa. I rented an apartment and sublet an artist’s studio. I’d been there once before for a visit, but this was the first time I actually lived there. Inspired by the diversity of cultures, I found myself creating a whole new body of work that resulted from my change in environment rather than from internal, more personal growth. My new works are mixed-media collages on canvas made from African printed textiles called “Sway Sway.” I was so excited about the fabrics that I went to dress designers and tailors to ask for scraps. I met a gallery director who asked to see my work when I told her I was an artist, and she loved the new pieces. I now have four in a group show in Capetown, and have been invited to do a solo show there in November 2018.
What advice do you have for anyone in a creative field seeking inspiration during Vineyard winters?
DTC: Try to mix things up. Choose a different medium. Work large if you’re used to working small, or vice versa. Work on five to six pieces at once. Change colors. Try new tools. Look at other people’s work. Look at yourself. What lights you up? What is the yes and what is the no? What’s inside your soul?
BA: It’s a difficult thing. Go out and shoot if you’re a photographer. Get out and see what’s there. Take workshops, go to galleries, look at art and photography.
KT: Get the heck out of here! Get out of your comfort zone. Take a risk.
-By Karla Araujo
MV Arts & Ideas
Deborah T. Colter’s work can be seen at the Eisenhauer Gallery in Edgartown