Local artist brings together art, poetry and love of Block Island

Thu, 09/12/2019 - 5:00pm
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Ted Merritt believes in human possibility. And every page of his new book, “My Art, My Love and Block Island” attests to that outlook.

Indeed, the slim volume that looks much like an artist’s workbook teems with reproductions of Merritt’s paintings, which themselves reflect his deep love of the sea and of the island. These are punctuated by a number of poems and philosophical reflections, which illustrate the ways in which individual perspective and choice invest human actions.

On opening the book, the first painting encountered is “Fish Aboard” in which the artist depicts a double-ender, the foremost mode of travel for islanders during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Considered by many as one of the most seaworthy vessels ever built, Merritt describes it “as a small versatile craft that could sail well in heavy air and carry a good load of fish.” Merritt offers a kind of paean to the double-ender, which he sees as a metaphor for the endurance of islanders, and which becomes for him an expression of his personal outlook.

“To me, [the double-ender] is a symbol of resilience and happiness and the island’s value system,” he said. Essentially, Merritt finds altruism as the force behind islanders’ decisions and actions, which he believes lead to personal happiness.

“We must realize the natural potential for kindness, cooperation and happiness... Islanders are kind, cooperate and seek happiness,” he said.

Many of Merritt’s paintings reflect his deep love of sailing. In fact, one page opens with the simple headline: “And sailing... ” On it, he defines this passion as “an escape mechanism from the ‘worry’ world...”

He goes on to explain the seamless interaction of a crew as they prepare for the race: “We countdown the time at which we must be on the starting line going full speed toward the windward mark.”

He adds, “Our rig is tuned to the expected conditions. Each turnbuckle has been adjusted... in accordance with tension needed on the shrouds, which hold up the mast and shape the sails.... We support each other in an altruistic way and we are happy.”

Not even half-way into the book, it becomes clear that Merritt finds the “combination of wind, tide and weather pressure patterns change the beach every day” affecting the island profoundly. “When the temperature is right,” he said, “the sun is bright, the sky is blue and the waves are lazy. It is good.”

The artist-writer celebrates Block Island not only in relation to the sea, but also to the vastness of the sky — day and night. Drawing our attention to the evening sky, Merritt writes that the island “is a wonderful place to stargaze!” He urges his readers to “dream and enjoy” the stillness of night, even as they absorb the “wonder of the sky.”

Merritt, who is a long-time member-artist of the Spring Street Gallery, will feature his latest work from Saturday, Sept. 14 to Sept. 27 — opening with a wine and cheese reception from 5 to 7 p.m. All are invited. Cameron Greenlee will provide entertainment.

In addition to his art, Merritt will showcase his book, which will be made available through the gallery. A portion of his sales from both his art and book will go to Block Island Community Sailing, The Block Island Club, and The Block Island Yacht Club.

Islanders have been long familiar with Ted’s interest in maritime painting and his support for various Block Island sailing organizations.

Interestingly, this year’s show includes paintings of Fred Benson Town Beach that are the result of Merritt’s experimentation with photos he overlays with acrylic paint.

For more than two decades, Merritt and his wife Janet have lived “on and off, full-and part-time” on the island, where “the wind, waves and rugged landscapes” have become such an integral part of shaping the artist’s life.

Merritt will share space with visiting Brooklyn artist Enid Braun and her students, who will show pastel paintings from their five-day Plein Air 2019 workshop on the island this summer. This is the third time Braun has exhibited at the local gallery.

Braun uses urban and nature landscape imagery in mixed-media drawing, pastel, and oil.

She currently teaches private figure drawing classes in her Brooklyn studio and pastel and drawing classes at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens.