I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to check out two fantastic shows in the last 3 weeks: Rock Bound at the Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, MA, and The Painted Landscape: Contemporary Views at the Heritage Museums & Gardens of Sandwich, MA.
Rock Bound is a grouping of paintings from the first 30 years of the 20th century in the Cape Ann area, which includes Gloucester and Rockport (I had blogged very recently about Rockport and Halibut Point; scroll down to read and see paintings and works-in-progress I did based on that 2016 excursion!).
I recommend getting to this show if you have the chance - it runs through October 29th. The Cape Ann Museum is a great find in itself, and was recently renovated and has some amazing pieces in the permanent collection! Click here to read more from the museum.
Here are a few of my personal favorite pieces from Rock Bound:
Image #1: Gifford Beal, Northeaster #2, Bass Rocks, 1930, Oil on board.
Image #2: Marsden Hartley, Rock Doxology, Dogtown, 1931, Oil on board.
Image #3: Stuart Davis, Gloucester, 1919, Oil on canvas.
Image #4: Hugh Breckenridge, The Cape Ann Shore, 1924, Oil on canvas.
There were many more pieces in the show that showed people at work fishing, or people at leisure swimming at the beaches, which conveyed the energy of the community and was part of the point of this show. But what I loved about these particular pieces were the energy of the water, vegetation, and the rocks themselves as natural elements. I absolutely love the interplay of the shapes, lines, and colors in these three paintings by Beal, Hartley, Davis, and Breckenridge. These landsape paintings are so powerful and lively to me.
Look at the skillful shape of the huge white waterspray splashing up against the rocks in the painting below (Northeaster #2). See how it creates a big white area like a cloud that makes the figures in the foreground seem almost cowering in reaction to the force of the splash! The way that Beal painted their response to the spray is great. They're holding their coats closed with their left hands, bending and shielding themselves somewhat from the wind and the power of the ocean. It makes you feel like you yourself relate to the people in the painting. I think this must be why this was the painting chosen to act as the centerpiece of the show. Check out the whitecaps rolling in towards you!! What action, I love it!!
Check it out!! Marsden Hartley is a master (above). Come on, look at this "wall." It is flat and stacked up with harsh, angled black outlines and rather monochromatic in gray, burnt siennas, and burnt umbers and hardlined shadows. It's a little hard to "enter" this painting with its confrontational wall, but I'm still drawn in, aren't you?! These boulders are sun-baked and expressive with a light source. Notice the clouds almost mimic the rocks above as white discs stacked up in the sky. Don't you feel like you're climbing? I get a real sense of place from this painting. This is a true Northern New England rocky scene. It's craggy. It's a little harsh. I like that. The label next to this piece said Hartley wrote, "I go alone, empty-handed & sit in Dogtown Common - a weird stretch of land - all boulders and scrub." Yes, he translated that into paint very well. He also observed that the place looked like "a cross between Easter Island and Stonehenge-- essentially druidic in its appearance." I too feel an ancient and spiritual connection to these giant boulders when I sit in their presence. You just feel so small and short-lived next to these old giants. I think I can relate to what Hartely felt.
Now, in contrast to the Hartley painting, this piece (above) by Stuart Davis shows sinewy and bumpy lines, making your eyes travel and bounce through the entire painting. I don't even get around to seeing the horizon line in the back for several minutes, do you? I'm so caught up in the trio of buttery-yellow-leaved trees right in the front, supported by the dark red and brown earth tones, like a great bass line, all along the curves of the land and rocks. Is it autumn? Who cares! It just works on its own without so many rules. It's downright playful. Look at how small the sailboats are way in the back. Then finally there is just a thin blue line - I do that too in my work - to suggest maybe a land mass beyond the water, or maybe a change in current in the ocean which changes the color. Who lives here, works here? Who walks here? In fact, I think I see someone walking in the foreground but maybe it's my imagination. Do you see what I see, or something else?
Look how many colors Breckenridge discovered in the rocks... even cobalt blue!!! I mean, come on, that's the same blue you see in the ocean... then there's indigo and a delicious purple. Look how those cold colors sing next to the rosy oranges. The ochres and even an intentional focal point of gold in the center of the painting just completes the visual feast (nice frame choice helps that gold, my compliments to the framer's eye). I can relate to this artist and his fascination with the discovery of color within the neutrals of rocks and all its nuances. These rocks in this piece remind me of gemstones, angular and cut, broken and fallen on the ground. It is a really beautiful painting. And I love that the sky is gray. He gave us a rainbow in the rocks, but he didn't overkill it by going there in the sky; he kept his cool and that makes his foreground glow all the more.
I love to learn from these mentors! These paintings teach me so much. I hope you enjoyed them too, and maybe you can get to the Cape Ann Museum too before October 29th and see these, and more, in person.
Thanks for reading. Next blog post will be about The Painted Landscape: Contemporary Views at the Heritage Gardens of Sandwich, MA! Two contemporary artists I deeply admire have paintings there and my heart skipped a beat when I saw their works in person! Yes, I embarassed my kids by making audible gasps, startling innocent bystanders... More soon, I promise! Til then...