Not Your Typical Nantucket Artist

Sep 2012
The island of Nantucket is overflowing with talented creatives. Painters who have fallen in love with the light of the grey lady and never left, writers who have come for a summer of solitude and decided to stay, native islanders who have let their creative juices flow and called the island home 31 miles out to sea. One thing is certain, for a creative person, Nantucket brings out the best in you!
Ariel view of Nantucket Island

Historically, the island was home to crafters who used the abundant raw materials available to create art that moved them. Whalers, spending months at a time on ships, found solace in creating sailors valentines from the abundant shells. Whale bone and ivory was used for scrimshaw and the famous woven Nantucket basket is recognized worldwide for is workmanship and utility. Moving across the spectrum, I recently discovered a new artist {to me} on island, taking up the tradition of using the materials readily available to him, but certainly in an unusual way-far off the beaten path well trodden by artists before him.
Matt Oates upcycled CD sculptures

I think Matt Oates would definitely qualify as an outsider artist. Coming across his property, smack in the middle of traditional, historical Nantucket, you might think you fell into Alice’s rabbit hole and landed into a recyclers dreamscape. On a small, busy corner mid island, saucers and dinner plates line the fence on the driveway. Cd’s are busy twirling on the most fantastical garden sculptures.
Matt Oates turning trash to treasure

Spinning bike wheels, mannequins torsos and bird houses protrude into the roadside landscape. Weed wacker creations dot the space. He is quick to tell you that he is a part of an underground art world, not shown in the typical galleries because they are not creating “pretty landscape paintings”. The first time I saw it, I must admit I was a bit horrified. Garishly painted and in mass-it quickly assaults the senses. As I type those words, I am reminded that it’s quite alright for my senses to be assaulted in a place like India, without complaint. Does it have a different effect here because I’m not used to appreciating art like this in my country?
Artist Matt Oates trash into treasure

Matt has been living on the island permanently since 1991. If you’re lucking enough to stop by when he is out dispensing advice, he will happily give you a tour. Over 300 of his birdhouses, made from recycled materials, dot the island, hoping to attract more bluebirds and reduce part of the mosquito population. He is a creative that sees potential in disguarded objects, and takes them to a new level.

I can see i’ll have to do some searching for this thriving community of underground artists. You never know what can be discovered from work that is so organically created. I am very interested in finding out more and perhaps working to find a venu for these outsider artists. I’ll keep you posted on my discoveries. For now I’ve grown to appreciate the spinning cd’s, especially at sundown, when they catch the light in a most remarkable way!
Artist Matt Oates whimsical whirlygigs