Island Life Studio brings a splash of art to OB

—Gwyn McAllister


A sea of fish and other marine creatures can be found swimming the walls of the Island’s newest gallery. The Island Life Studio, tucked away on the Oak Bluffs Harbor, specializes in marine life paintings. Vibrantly colored fish paintings by Alejandro Carreño occupy one wall, while another is devoted to the intricate watercolor and ink work of Abe Pieciak. Paintings by other artists can be found hanging above racks of resortwear. Owner Nya Clarke opened the business early this summer, and so far the school of fish has attracted a number of serious anglers, as well as others drawn in by the colorful stylized work of Mr. Carreño, or the giant 3D collage lobster and swordfish by Mr. Pieciak. The monster lobster, which measures eight and a half by four and a half feet, is constructed entirely from found objects — more specifically, beach trash. The giant swordfish, which hangs in front of the gallery, is built up from pieces of driftwood. Mr. Pieciak, who moved to the Vineyard in 2008 to pursue a career as a chef, has now changed his focus to art. In his spare time, he scours the beach for sculptural materials. His work doubles as environmental service whether or not he uses the junk for art.

Mr. Pieciak also creates much more moderately sized watercolor and ink work. An avid fisherman, he has created a series of collage-style fish paintings. Upon close inspection, one sees that each watercolor fish image is filled with tiny individual ink drawings of fishing lures. Similarly, the artist has created images of boats, birds, and an outline of the Island made up of various tiny drawings appropriate to the subject. Mr. Pieciak has sponsored the Bass and Bluefish Derby with his work for the past few years.

Mr. Carreño approaches the same subject with a completely different style. The Cuban-born artist uses bold color and a sort of cubist style, à la Picasso, mixed with elements of African art. Although his paintings are highly stylized, each fish species is readily identifiable. A longtime fisherman who recently purchased a bass painting to add to his collection of work by Mr. Carreño remarked, “The proportions are perfect.”

The other art in the gallery has a Vineyard — if not always a marine — theme. There are a couple of large oil paintings by Nathan Shepard, a handful of Barbara Dubois’ layered photographs, paintings on recycled shingles by Nina Gordon, and a couple of Ben McCormick’s underwater fish photos.

The gallery does double duty as a boutique. Visitors can find reasonably priced cotton clothing with a cool, comfortable resort feel. Ms. Clarke also offers a variety of Island-made products like sea salt, locally made candles, and chocolate bars and granola from State Road restaurant.

Ms. Clarke’s interest in work by local artists prompted her to open the gallery. She had been collecting pieces by Mr. Carreño for some time. Her husband, Mark Clarke, who owns Martha’s Vineyard Oceansports, and her son are both fanatical fisherman who love anything fish-related.

Ms. Clarke says of Mr. Carreno’s work, “That was our compromise when we started filling walls in the house. Mark loves fish. I like a lot of color in the house, and Alejandro really brings that in.”The couple was also familiar with Mr. Pieciak’s work, and Mr. Shepard is Mr. Clarke’s cousin. The other artists represented in the gallery all sell work at the local flea markets and the Artisans Festival. Ms. Clarke is happy to be able to give them some gallery exposure.The boutique end of the business was a natural for Ms. Clarke. She grew up on the Island, attended the Fashion Institute of Technology, then stayed on in New York for a while, working in the fashion industry.Ms. Clarke became fond of casual cotton island wear while visiting the Bahamas recently. She has brought in a few lines of pretty gauzy dresses and lightweight, loose-fitting tunics and tops in solid colors, some with colorful embroidery.

Ms. Clarke refers to the store as a “family affair.” Mr. Clarke and his crew built the walls, and Ms. Clarke’s mother, Marcia Buckley, often fills in as salesperson, as does the Clarkes’ 12-year-old daughter Ella, who shares her mother’s passion for fashion. “She’s great at selling the clothing,” Ms. Clarke said.The gallery opened for business at the end of June in the space previously occupied by a Black Dog retail store. “It was a last-minute decision,” Ms. Clarke said. “But it’s something that has always been in the back of my mind.”Ms. Clarke, who has worked in real estate for the past 15 years, owns and operates Martha’s Vineyard Island Wide Realty .