Five Emerging Artists -September/October 2012
by: Nantucket Today Staff Writers
photography by: Katie Kaizer
Meet Nantucket’s next generation of creative talent.
INGRID FEENEY - BY MARIANNE R. STANTON
Growing up in a family where the arts are not only venerated, but practiced daily, can’t help but have an effect on one’s path in life. Consider Ingrid Feeney. At 28, the lead singer in the ultra-hot gypsy band Coq au Vin was surrounded by music, theater and the visual arts from the day she was born.
“I grew up in a very unconventional family where the arts were really revered. Not until I was older did I understand that people who were doctors, lawyers and teachers had to work hard to get to where they were,” Feeney said on a mid-August day in between gigs from her day job as a land-scaper and musician by night.
Feeney moved to Nantucket from New Jersey when she was 8. Her father, actor and director Michael Feeney, had studied with Stella Adler in New York. Her mother, Lisa, was a singer, songwriter and visual artist who studied at the Reykjavik School of Design in Iceland, where her mother was from and where she grew up as a child. Two uncles had studied at Juilliard, and one debuted at Carnegie Hall. The other, Erik Wendelken, eventually moved to Nantucket where he now heads the music department at the high school.
Musical instruments were lying around the Feeney house, ready for someone to pick up and play the way some people have a jar by a desk that contains pens and pencils for writing down the grocery list.
“There was a lot of music on both sides of the family,” Feeney said.
This incubator of talent produced four children who are all gifted, with two daughters in music: Ingrid’s sister Greta was a soprano with the San Francisco Opera, and is currently working on her doctorate in musical arts. Her oldest brother Kris, fluent in Mandarin and a Tai Chi master, plays the tin whistle. Younger brother Aidan, studying sustainable-farming practices at Sterling College in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, is a guitarist.
Last winter, her first on the island after graduating from City University of New York-Brooklyn College with degrees in linguistics and anthropology, Feeney began playing music and singing with a group of friends over dinners at Caleb Cressman’s house in Polpis. Cressman, the official leader of the band, had picked up the accordion, and along with Pete Arsenault on guitar, Zeb Bennett on bass and Joanne Thornwill-Hay on fiddle, created a sound that became that of Coq au Vin.
“We started playing music over the winter, drinking wine, cooking some great dinners, with the goal of getting our repertoire down by May 6, which was the date for Claudia (Butler) and Dylan’s (Wallace) wedding. We were the wedding band,” Feeney said.
The band plays a type of music not usually heard on Nantucket, a “roots-music” blend of American blues, Spanish Flamenco, Romani, or “gypsy” tunes, with some Klezmer and other eastern European influences thrown in to stir the pot.
Over the winter the group also played at The Brotherhood, turning the cavern-like atmosphere into a European café and filling it with 20-somethings who came to hear their friends play, sing and dance. Feeney remembers coming to The Brotherhood when she was a little girl, falling asleep on the hard wooden chairs while her mother Lisa performed folk songs with Linda Wooster. She’s come a long way since then.
Ingrid Feeney is quite the performer: passionate, sultry and flirtatious, as the music and lyrics demand. But she can also sing softer, quieter ballads and folk songs and what she calls “subdued French classics,” which she and her band recently performed for a gathering of the Carlyle Group on Abram’s Point.
“People call us a gypsy band, and it’s true, we’ve been influenced by the music of Django Reinhardt. But we also play American blues, eastern and western European folk music and Romani music, which is also known as gypsy music,” said Feeney, who sings in six languages plus English: Spanish, in which she is fluent, French, Italian, Russian, Romani and Yiddish. She has had some help with her Russian accent from some of the many native-born Russians who now call Nantucket home.
This summer Coq au Vin has been playing after 9 p.m. at Pazzo, starting out with softer music in the first set while people are still dining, but cranking up the vibe and volume for sets two and three, getting the whole restaurant rocking and turning it into a club by the time midnight rolls around.
Coq au Vin has also played at numerous festivals and cocktail parties this summer.
Feeney’s foray into linguistics and anthropology informs her musical performances. She talks about when she was 12 and 13 listening to Puerto Rican folk music when all her friends were listening to pop and Top 40 tunes.
“I get so much from playing this kind of music. I’m inspired by the vastness of the collective creative human spirit,” Feeney said. “I think that’s what you tap into when you play traditional music. I’m overwhelmed by the genius and beauty of it.”
Feeney thinks it’s important for a culture to carry on its traditional music.
“Before technology – TV and the Internet – people used to sit around in the evening and play folk music and sing. And it makes you feel good,” she said.
That cultural outlet ties in to her love of learning about other people’s traditions.
“I find that I just crave a really deep level of understanding and I want to deepen my understanding of the world. I’m addicted to learning,” she said.
Feeney plans to spend another full year on-island, playing music and working and saving up for graduate school, where she’d like to get a degree in socio-cultural anthropology. She has her eye on Columbia, NYU, CUNY, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz – where her sister Greta lives – Tulane and Stanford.
“I want to get my Ph.D., and you can study for your master’s at the same time, but the difference is that if you are going for your Ph.D., they pay your way,” said Feeney, who someday would like to teach on the college level.
In addition to her love of music – “It’s compulsive for me. I just can’t help but sing” – she also loves to paint and draw, just as her mother Lisa does. When she’s not working, singing and acting – she’s been in numerous Shakespeare by the Sea performances and plans to attend Shakespeare camp off-island this winter – she likes to hang with her friends and family.
“I have great friends and family, and they’re really important to me,” she said.
CHARLOTTE HESS - BY LINDSAY PYKOSZ
Years ago, if you asked Charlotte Hess what career path she could picture herself taking, it would have been one in the field of marine archaeology. As she put it, she had “high hopes of being a deep-sea-diving, shipwreck-exploring Indiana Jones.”
But when she found herself procrastinating one night while trying to write a term paper at Grinnell College, a business was born: Isobel and Cleo. Named after her mother (Isabella) and grandmother (Cleo), her island-based textile company is a place where one can find luxurious knits made from natural fibers right here on Nantucket.
Hess participated in an arts program at the Glasgow School of Art during a semester abroad, and it was then that she became involved in textiles and began to think of knitwear design specifically as a possible career path. After returning from Scotland, she decided to enroll at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she earned a general art degree with a focus on fashion design and knitwear.
“After graduation, I moved to New Zealand and worked as an intern for Karen Walker and Nom*d,” Hess said. “When I finished my internships, I spent the summer weaving at Nantucket Looms where I met – officially – my studio partner, Cara DeHeart. Afterward, I moved back to Scotland and enrolled in the master’s textiles program at the Glasgow School of Art.”
Soon after graduation, Hess was awarded a professional-development grant from the Scottish Arts Council and moved to Brighton, England to do an intensive knitting research workshop. Once finished, she was recruited by Free People to do sweater design, and in March of last year she won the Emerging Designers Competition at Charleston Fashion Week.
“After leaving Free People, I moved to Nantucket for the summer, which turned into the winter and another summer,” Hess, 30, said. “Once back on the island, I teamed up with Cara and we started Union Textiles, our shop and workroom at 2 Union St.”
But Hess was no stranger to Nantucket before that, as she started visiting the island about 12 years ago with one of her boarding-school teachers and her family.
The only real mission of Isobel and Cleo is to make handmade and/or sustainable clothing, Hess said. She added that she’s “obsessed with texture,” which is a common theme in all of her work and drives her designs. While 95 percent of her line is made by her, she said she has a few trusted knitters she uses when she gets backed up who live on and off the island.
While Hess doesn’t consider herself a hardcore environmentalist, she appreciates the beauty of nature and in doing whatever it takes to respect it.
“It’s easy to recycle, it’s easy not to litter, it’s easy to turn off lights and other electrical appliances when you’re finished using them,” she said. “Luckily, the way I work lends itself to being sustainable. I make everything myself and obtain my materials first locally, then statewide, then countrywide before looking internationally. I do use international companies, but most yarn companies I work with have some sort of sustainable practices in effect or some positive impact on their communities and/or workforces.”
Eventually, she believes she will have to outsource some of her production, but said she is lucky there are manufacturers in the United States that share her same philosophy.
KEVIN STANTON BY JOSHUA H. BALLING
Tucked away inside a barn on Somerset Road are a series of large-format paintings, several measuring at least five by eight feet. Some of the work has a graphic-novel feel, a noirish melange of blacks, whites, reds and grays; while other pieces are more evoca- tive of ’80s-era New York hip-hop, brightly-colored spray-paint anthems bursting off the canvas. Texture plays an important role. Several of the works have an almost collage-like structure, layer building upon layer to create the finished product.
They are far from representational, but many contain iconographic imagery. They are most certainly not the typical paintings on display in most downtown art galleries.
They are the work of Kevin Stanton, 23, a spring 2012 graduate of the Massachusetts College of Art and a Nantucket native. After graduation, he converted a good portion of his family’s barn into studio and display space, and with several of his friends formed the Triple 7 Collective, a loosely-organized group of young artists, musicians and other creative types who get together to create art and share ideas.
Stanton’s style has a distinctly urban look, located somewhere near the intersection of street art and fine art, spray can meets paint brush. Few of the pieces are actually created on traditional canvas. Stanton is much more likely to use found objects like house-painting drop-cloths, barn doors, sheets of plywood and even a surfboard on which to create his work.
In “Madonna of the Goldfinch,” a nimbus of golden yellow light surrounds the head of a Madonna-like figure towering over two emaciated, haunted-looking children, ribs showing, the skin of their faces pulled tight around empty eye sockets, a swirl of foreboding blues and blacks beneath the warm yellows and golds.
In “Nino y ̃ Perro,” an emaciated dog whose structure is reminiscent of the “Spy vs. Spy” work of Antonio Prohias in Mad Magazine – but DayGlo – is perched at the side of a larger-than-life, almost cartoon-like character, superimposed over a psychedelic mishmash of seemingly random symbols and colors.
“Disturbing” is probably too strong a word for Stanton’s work, but “provocative” definitely fits the bill. Stanton himself calls it “whimsically creepy,” and the images he paints are driven largely by what he’s seen on the streets of Boston while living and attending school there for the past five years.
“Someone asked me why all the people I draw and paint are so ugly-looking. I guess the people I see are ugly-looking. My paintings are satirical views on my surroundings,” he said. “A lot of the imagery comes from talking to homeless people on the street, or seeing pan-handlers in my neighborhood. It’s not necessarily supposed to be scary.”
Stanton’s work is also a response to today’s celebrity-obsessed, reality-TV- based consumer culture, and cuts through the veneer of what’s often presented in the mass media.
“People have a very plastic view on everything today. Reality TV stars are celebrities. Even the news is about celebrities. This is what they really look like when they’re not hiding behind the makeup and the hair,” he said.
Nantucket doesn’t so much inform his work as provide a counterpoint. The inspiration he draws from the island comes from the input of his peers, not its natural beauty and laid-back atmosphere. That’s where the collective – named after his first apartment – 777 Parker St. in Boston’s Mission Hill neighborhood – comes in.
“The support from local artists has been the main way Nantucket has helped me. The island doesn’t really reflect in the paintings. Most of that came from Boston. There’s so much material to take from in the city. The marks that I use, the textures I use, they’re based on concrete walls in the city, pieces of graffiti covered up, Dig-Safe symbols, color and line are everywhere. Most people don’t pay attention,” he said.
“Mass Art was so great because of the environment you’re in. You’re with other artists, and can bounce ideas off each other. Once you leave, that’s not always available. You can’t just work alone as an artist always, even though I’ve done a lot of good work alone. If I didn’t have a group to talk about art with, to hang out with in the barn, I think my work would kind of become stagnant. That’s why the collective is important,” he continued.
“There are a lot of talented artists who don’t get any recognition. There’s strength in numbers, but everyone thinks in a different way. It’s an artistic environment, even though we’re not all artists. It doesn’t have to be just about art, but thinking different ways.”
In the barn, Stanton and his friends are creating their own art scene, less than a mile from downtown Nantucket but light years away from the traditional gallery atmosphere.
“There isn’t really an art scene on-island that reflects the locals, that reflects the off-season. Most of the galleries you go to have a kind of stagnant feel to them. It’s sailboats and lighthouses and rose-covered cottages. That’s a tiny part of Nantucket. It’s three months of the year and a certain kind of people. There is an art scene underneath it all. That’s why the barn is important to me,” he said.
When starting a painting, Stanton doesn’t force the process.
“I never really have a set image. It’s more of an idea. If I’m not feeling the painting, I don’t try to force it. If you force it, it doesn’t have a soul,” he said.
“Everyone is afraid to make that first mistake when they start a painting. The way I start is to make that first mistake. I throw paint at the canvas, create some texture. That allows it to really grow. I’ve always thought about it as subtraction through addition, building layers and stripping them back.”
His art is a form of meditation, Stanton said, acknowledging that it may never be enough to pay the bills.
“Drawing for me has always been an outlet. I guess painting is too. It’s a way to relieve stress, to focus on one thing like the piece I’m working on, instead of obsessing on other stuff,” he said. “I’m always going to be growing as an artist. I still don’t paint what I see in my head. I’m getting closer and closer with each painting, but it will take a lifetime.”
“I know I’m going to have to work regular jobs, and I’m fine with that. It’s not about making paintings to sell. It’s nice, but that’s not what’s it’s all about.”
Stanton’s parents – Inquirer and Mirror publisher Marianne Stanton and documentary filmmaker John Stanton – were initially wary of his decision to enter art school, but fully support his decision to become an artist, he said.
“My dad has had films shown at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the National Gallery of Art, but he still works as a housepainter, and doing carpentry. He sat me down when I told him I wanted to go to art school, and asked me if I was ready for having to work odd jobs to make ends meet. And I was. After we had that conversation, he was more OK with it. He understood that I knew what I was getting myself into,” Stanton said.
“Toward my senior year, they knew I wasn’t changing my mind. I only applied to three schools, and they were all art schools. I knew it was going to happen. They are very supportive now.”
Stanton’s work has been shown at the Gráficas Gallery and the Nantucket Island School of Design and the Arts on Nantucket and a couple of small venues in Boston. He’s currently trying to secure gallery representation in Boston.
“I’ve got to create an arsenal of work, send it to six or seven galleries, and see if anyone jumps on it. It’s a waiting game. It’s weird. I think of my art career as a chess game. I have lots of plans, but I am going to take it slow. I don’t want to burn out too early, and until now, I don’t think my work has been good enough to show,” he said.
While he doesn’t yet know what the future will hold, Stanton is certain about one thing.
“Art is an outlet for me. I can’t stop making art. It just happens, whether it’s sculpture, a painting, a drawing. I just have to make art.”
MEGHAN TRAINOR - BY MARIANNE R. STANTON
This fall, when most recent high-school graduates are settling into dorm life and navigating the early weeks of college, Meghan Trainor will be into her second year of a four-year contract with a music company out of Nashville, writing music, collaborating with other musicians and working on her craft.
Trainor, 18, set her sights on a career in the music industry since she was 11 years old.
“When I was 11, I came home from school and told my dad that I had an awesome voice and I needed to record it. At that point I started singing and writing all the time,” she said.
“Dad” is Gary Trainor, lifelong musician, former music teacher at Nantucket High School back in the 1980s, pianist, performer and organist for the Nantucket United Methodist Church. Now a jeweler and owner of Jewel of the Isle on Straight Wharf, he was immensely supportive of his daughter from the outset, as was Meghan’s mother Kelli, who is also a jeweler.
“My parents are so supportive. When I was 13 I got a Mac computer and started producing better-quality songs. Then when I was 15, I got Logic, an expensive producing system that really made a big difference,” Trainor said.
Another thing that helped was that her parents built a recording studio for her at their home on Cape Cod. Meghan was raised on Nantucket, but when she was in high school her parents moved to the Cape with their three children so the kids could attend Nauset Regional High School. They are all on Nantucket during the summer. But for Meghan, unlike most kids her age, summers on Nantucket do not mean working a summer job. She already has a job, in the music business.
Recently she returned from three weeks in Nashville where her company, Big Yellow Dog, put her up in a condo and sent a car for her every day to drive her to and from the studio where she worked on writing and recording songs with others. She’s also spent time in Los Angeles in a similar arrangement, and her company is talking about sending her to Sweden. It’s a very different life from what most girls her age experience, but she is used to a music-driven life.
“When I was 15 I went to a summer music camp at Berklee in Boston and I was there by myself, without my parents, living in a dorm and getting around the city by myself,” Trainor said.
Now that she is back on Nantucket, she finds herself a little bored, and a tad wistful for the college life that she could have had.
“I kind of wish I was going to college. I got into Berklee and I got a scholarship, but I have this job. I’m a little jealous of some of my friends who get to live on their own at school, and I’m here living with my parents when I’m not on the road. I had to grow up in kind of a weird way to do my music,” she said.
For the past two years, before she signed with Big Yellow Dog, her parents brought her around to venues where production companies were searching for new artists and songwriters.
“We had gone to so many places and nothing was happening and I was ready to say, ‘Fine, I’ll just go to college,’ and then the last place, they liked my stuff and signed me,” Trainor said. What that production company liked, along with her work, was that she was capable of producing her own songs, which she’d been doing for years.
So, instead of paying college tuition for the next four years, Trainor has entered into an agreement where Big Yellow Dog will pay her.
“They (Big Yellow Dog) own every song I’ve written since I signed and for the next four years. I get a salary from them, and then I also get paid for any song of mine they sell.”
Trainor has a certain number of songs a year she has to produce for Big Yellow Dog – she thinks it’s around a dozen. But in the month that she was home this summer, she’s already written five new pieces.
Her way of working is to write the music first, then the lyrics. While her songs have a country feel to them, she tries not to limit herself to just one genre. Artists such as Stevie Wonder, Beyoncé, Frank Sinatra, Earth, Wind and Fire and even ’N Sync inform her work. One of her most popular songs is “Take Care of Our Soldiers,” which was written two years ago in support of U.S. troops abroad.
To listen to some of her work, visit her website, http://www.meghan-trainor.com.
CALEB KARDELL BY LINDSAY PYKOSZ
When it comes to the world of art, islander Caleb Kardell has left no stone unturned. From writing to painting, singing to acting and some music-playing in between, the 28-year-old Nantucket High School graduate has done it all in a relatively short amount of time.
“I like being the center of attention,” Kardell said with a laugh. “It’s cool. It feels like the jack-of-all- trades, master-of-none type thing because my attention span is not the best. So I do the music stuff. I’ve always had an exact sound in my head that I’ve wanted to aim for. What comes out is a lot different, but getting there makes that sound.”
Kardell has always been a fan of ambient and experimental music, but his other influences are disco and indie, making his mash-ups interesting and one-of-a-kind.
“I just mash everything up and pour my heart out with these machines that are making music,” he said.
Whether it’s through his one-man band DO:JO, named after the cottage on his property that he turned into a home studio, or collaborations with other artists, like his friend Vince Veilleux who played drums in the band Raised by Wolves with Kardell on guitar, or his brothers, the creative juices are always flowing in his brain.
“With DO:JO, it’s more like a borderline social experiment to see who will actually enjoy it. It’s pretty polarizing,” Kardell said. “For every person who enjoys it, there’s somebody who can’t stand it. I like that reaction.”
He describes the music as “lo-fi electronic soul that quickly changed form from home demo recordings of ridiculously ambitious glam rock mini-symphonies to sludgy, dark industrial synth pop.”
“It’s a bizarre backwoods experimental electronic lounge act, with an emphasis on short attention spans and eternal hooks,” he said, leaving one to wonder how tongue-in-cheek his description actually was. “Emerging from a year of emotional crises, it beeps and boops with the telltale spikes of borderline personality disorder. Most of the songs sound like a large man sporting a leisure suit singing from a cloud. I enjoy working in collaboration with a crack team of fringe artists and unique personalities.”
This summer, Kardell got back to his acting roots – which he hadn’t visited since high school – when he appeared with campy glee in Theatre Workshop of Nantucket’s “Little Shop of Horrors.”
The role required him to play seven different characters – the main one sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello – rolled into one, but was something he eagerly accepted despite his busy summer schedule at his carpentry and property-management business.
“This role came up in that play and I just really wanted to play it really bad. I found the less I paid attention to it, the more it came naturally,” he said.
But perhaps his most natural talent, which many may not know about, is drawing – something he’s been doing for as long as he can remember. Although he never used to show his work, recently his pieces, drawn entirely with Sharpie markers, have been exhibited at a variety of private functions.
“I’ve been doing that and just trying to get some recognition and trying to make some more actual pieces with the hope of maybe getting a whole show together and maybe opening a gallery. I’m not sure,” he said. “They’re really large canvasses with mostly black, white and red. It’s a very jarring, sharp style and they’re sort of bizarre, cartoonish, large-scale gothic illustrations. But drawing was the first thing I ever learned how to do. I would draw Inspector Gadget off the TV and can draw without looking down at the paper. I can still learn a lot with any of this stuff, but that’s the one area I feel I haven’t paid enough attention to recently.”
Although Kardell said he prefers to work alone, this past winter he and a group of his good friends came together to create music videos and an original movie, dubbed “Nantucket Deathmasters,” about an evil island wizard. The footage was shot entirely with flip cameras and included original music from DO:JO and original scripts.
Working together with Veilleux, the duo edited the music videos using computer programs to piece the story together. They have created four music videos so far and roughly five short films.
“There’s always the film stuff, which we’re always doing, but that hasn’t been playing a major role lately,” Kardell said. “But it will continue, for sure.”
When asked to pick a favorite art form, the answer comes easily for Kardell, although it doesn’t really answer the question. “I’m just drawn to all aspects. I like to live a creative lifestyle,” he said.
Which is why he’ll continue to play music, create art and plans on returning to the stage one day should the right role come around again.
“In the fall, there’s going to be a lot more empha- sis on stuff. Work has been so all-consuming for months,” Kardell said. “I’m just trying to keep everybody on their toes. I like giving people an alternative and keep them thinking about outsider art, experimental stuff.”