Sailing Experience

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Ships and Harbors promise the mystery of travel; the journey begins and ends with arrivals and departures. Harbors are transient world.  Peril, business and adventure cohabit on board. We have pictured harbors and ships since antiquity. By the early Renaissance we pictured harbors as places of theological promise as seen here in example 1; the master of Cologne’s painting of the arrival of St. Ursula and her dream.  The image gives clear iconic information.

Example 1. Master of Cologne, Arrival of St. Ursula and her dream, 1456.

As John Berger observed, the early renaissance artist was not trying to reveal inner feeling but rather provide clear and convincing narratives as you see in example 1.  The criteria were simple and, any competent artisan could compete. There was no demand for genius although it could be useful. The later race for uniqueness and personal innovation would wait another 50 years to intrude into painting and sculpture. We find it stirring in the work of artists like Pieter Bruegel the Elder as an artist looking for new points of view and innovative story lines.  You can see this in his harbor painting, see example 2.

This is part fantasy (as it was for the artist in example 1). Here, Pieter aims for something theatrical, full of motion, and following in the established tradition of illustrated maps but, with a more singular point of view.  We feel his personal sense of invention and play here.

Example 2. Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Bay of Naples, mid 1500s.

Turner’s hero, Claude Lorrain romanticizes and mythologizes harbors to suit his personal vision. Turner will do the same and, with greater ambiguity. Now artists have prioritized the psychological effect of painting over the need to provide information. The early renaissance tradition has been turned on its head. Now we want to engage in the artist’s feelings.  In addition to bravura gestures and a field of ambiguity into which the viewer will bring his own experience color has also been used to amplify emotion no longer to clarify object identities. In Turner’s Venetian harbor the contrasts of blue, red and yellow/gold help to infuse poetic drama not to explain ship construction.

Example 3. J.M.W. Turner, 1843, The Sun of Venice Heading to Sea.

Unlike St Ursula’s arrival in example 1, we now have Turner’s departure on a journey of adventure.

By the 20th century the Ash Can artists like George Bellows and John Sloan, while still fascinated by harbor life and ships use their subjects as emotional vehicles, as sources for expressing personal longing  or meditation as in John Sloan’s solitary figure on the back deck of a NY ferry  (example 3) or, George Bellows excitement generated from the energy of a busy harbor ( example 4).Bellows uses strong blue, red/orange complements to excite the drama while Sloan uses a more monochromatic palette to give a more pensive effect.

Example 3. John Sloan, The Wake of Ferry number 2, 1907.

Example 4. George Bellows, Snow Dumpers, 1911,

Rust and blue make a strong complementary color effects, each invigorates the other and each carries emotional associations. Blue for mystery and the sea. The red rust connotes a hard lived experience, scarred by the challenges of commercial fishing on a rough sea. These boats have the weathered personality of an old fisherman. They sit at rest now but, await another hard day. Here are three examples of my quest for the patina of hard experience in a harbor among family fishing trawlers (examples 5, 6 and 7).

Example 1. The Fleet’s In, oil on Dibond, 24×24,

Example 2.Rust and Blue, oil on Dibond, 24×24,

Example 3, Fishing fleet at Galilee, oil on Dibond, 24×24,

In my last blog post I erroneously gave the wrong date for registration for my April Silvermine workshops. Registration will begin at 9 am on February 6. I invite you to join me for my 5 day and 3 day intensive workshops at the Silvermine School of Art in April.   Call the school at 203 966 6668 ext 2.

I also invite you to my workshop “Explore Spectacular Flowers and Nature” with David Dunlop on Saturday and Sunday , March 23 and 24th at Artsplace in Cheshire, Ct. at or call Joan or Karen at 203 272 2787.

You may also wish to join me at The Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida for my workshop “Natural Wonders” May 17, 18, and 19. Demonstrations in watercolor oil, acrylic and mixed media. This is a studio workshop.  Call Sara Bas at 904 280 0614 ext 204 or register at

I invite you to my lecture “How Painting Evolves: 500 years of changing purposes, methods, audiences, sources, materials, tools, themes and techniques” on Sunday March 10 from 4:30 to 6PM at the Silvermine Art Center in New Canaan, Ct. $20. Call the school at 203 966 6668 ext 2. Or visit the website






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