Artist in Residence: Nina Gomez Gordon
Plein air painter, curator, sculptor and mother tells us what she loves most about being an Island artist
Nina Gomez Gordon has been living and painting on Martha’s Vineyard for 18 years. She has studied painting, sculpture and oceanography all over the world. She is a mother, an avid gardener, a portrait artist and a plein air painter. She curates shows, manages the Old Sculpin Gallery in Edgartown and publishes and edits the Vineyard Fine Art Directory, an annual publication for connecting with Martha's Vineyard artists and art galleries.
In the midst of all of that, Gordon found time to talk to us about what she’s working on this winter.
Why did you first come to Martha’s Vineyard?
I first visited when I was in grade school. My father's cousin was a realtor who sold a bunch of time-shares in Edgartown to her cousins, so we would have unofficial family reunions. It was such a long journey from Chicago that I didn't like coming, especially since we did not have a car and stayed in Edgartown. We stopped visiting when I was in high school and busy with other things.
After I graduated from college, I moved here with my future ex-husband who is from here. It was a difficult adjustment at first, especially being a young mother and new grad, but once Cerina was old enough to enjoy playgroups, and I found some really great moms to become friends with.
Why do you stay?
For a long time I didn't want to stay, especially after my marriage went bad and I lost my art gallery, Cobalt Gallery. However, my children are here, and now that I am back on my feet with strong ties to the wonderful community of people, especially the arts community, I can't imagine being home anywhere else.
My friend Bill McLane was the first person to take me painting en plein air, and his enthusiasm and love for Vineyard landscapes was contagious. I look at the Island with renewed eyes every time I paint. From painting outdoors and gardening, I feel attuned to the weather, vegetation, dirt, stones, sun, and ocean - my heart is here.
Where is your studio?
I have set up a studio in the second floor of my house in Vineyard Haven. I have set up so many studios over the years; it is nice to finally have a permanent spot. I even have a little couch with the intention that perhaps during the winter people may come in to sit for portraits.
Where's your favorite place on the Island to do plein air painting?
My favorite place is Gay Head Beach. It has become such a routine that walking down the path with my travel easel and other supplies at 4 pm (when they stop charging for parking) brings me such joy, I don’t notice how long the walk or how heavy the burden.
The lighting at that time of day is incredible, even if my paintings don't always turn out great, I'm just happy to be there. Sometimes it is a long walk back, but I have the scent of honeysuckle and wild roses to keep me company.
What is the best thing about Martha's Vineyard in the winter?
Winter is a good time to do all the things you didn't have time to do during the summer. Washing my brushes, ordering supplies, reorganizing the studio. One goal during the warm months is to start as many landscapes as possible, which I get to at least 75% completion in the field, so I have plenty of work to finish over the winter.
I do love the winter colors here as a change from the green green green of summer. Fields are orange, yellow, brown, and red, sky and water can be subtle shades of grey or crisp and bright, lichen on a rock on a foggy day can be electric. It’s a Martha’s Vineyard that summer visitors do not know.
What are you working on this winter?
Since I was managing Old Sculpin Gallery last summer, I got very few paintings started. There have been many days this winter that were warm enough to paint, but like exercise, once you are out of the habit it is hard to start again, especially with cold fingers, and oil paint moves slowly in the cold. I have been known to paint in my car.
I am working on a few landscape paintings loosely based on photos - since I prefer to work on site to capture a sense of place; these paintings are more explorations of color, texture, and contrast. I am also working on a few portraits for the Martha’s Vineyard Museum portrait contest. I am going to start some murals soon, which was a pleasant surprise, as I do have to pay the bills.
Where's your favorite place to go swimming?
Lucy Vincent in the spring! I prefer spring swimming to summer, though my dips are brief. The beach is empty, the water is crisp and clean, and the sun feels so warm and tingly afterwards. However, in the summer, Aquinnah for body surfing, Lambert's Cove for cooling off.
Who is your favorite Island band?
I have had the most fun recently dancing to Dukes County Love Affair, but I also love Erich and Sabrina Luening, especially when they sing together.
If you could spend the winter anywhere else, where would that be?
I'm the type of person who likes a home base, so if I spent the winter elsewhere, I don't think I'd leave here for more than a month. I do want to visit Barcelona (I had a wonderful time in Seville visiting my brother years ago), I think I could also winter in Rome. I don't need to winter in a warm location, I love the Martha's Vineyard beaches in summer, and so winter would be my time to explore cities with their architecture, museums, music, and excellent restaurants.
What are you most looking forward to about summer?
Easy living! No heating bills, no rushing to get kids to school or making sure their homework is done, picnics on the beach, art receptions, friends visiting, less laundry, swimming, sitting on the jetty in Menemsha eating oysters from Larsen's and chucking the shells into the water.