Seascapes

Exploring the oceans within + without
By KEN GREENLEAF  |  July 9, 2008
art_whitney_INSIDE.jpg
"FISSURES #13" Monoprint by Wendy Prellwitz.

"Arc Of Visibility: Between The Shore And The Sea" works by Wendy Prellwitz and Michael Torlen | at Whitney Art Works, 492 Congress St, Portland | Through July 26 | 207.774.7011
In nautical terms, the "arc of visibility" is the section of the horizon from which you can see a lighted navigational aid, like a lighthouse. When you’re within it, you know where you are. Wendy Prellwitz and Michael Torlen both work on Monhegan Island part of the year, sometimes occupying the same rock. Both study and paint sea and shore in other parts of the world as well. Prellwitz goes to County Mayo in Ireland. Torlen comes from a commercial fishing family and makes coastlines — wherever they may be — the central focus of much of his work.

The show’s title also refers to the intersection and divergence of the arcs of their interest. They go to the same spot and come back with very different work. Taken separately, the work of each artist is engaging and interesting. Taken together, their differences illuminate two distinct paths toward the goal of a meaningful artistic experience.

Torlen’s work presents a narrative that is anchored in the environment, either implicitly or explicitly. In "Monhegan Sea and Clipper" a view of the water from the rocks is paired with a circular vignette of a fishing boat at sea. The implication is that the viewer is seeing waves swirling around the rocks through the subjective eye of the artist, while being reminded of a working life at sea. There’s a hint of danger and a little romance, as well. Commercial fishing is like that, with hard, dangerous work carried on in the midst of transcendent beauty.

In "Tools of the Trade" the narrative is even more explicit. A fishing boat fills an oval vignette in the left, the rocks and sea occupy the center panel, and boots and oilskins hung up as if to dry fill the right panel. Each panel has a distinct scale, from the distant view of the boat at sea to the subjective viewpoint on the rocks to the close-up look at the gear. In each of these paintings, even the ones without the side panels, there is a sense that a story is being told and that our interest is being directed to it.

Wendy Prellwitz goes to the same place and comes back with something different. Where Torlen looks outward toward a narrative, Prellwitz brings us to an experience that is more internal. Most of her works in the show are monoprints, with a few small oils. The connection to the show’s theme seems a little tenuous at first because the prints are so unlike Torlen’s carefully constructed watercolors.

The small oils, a little time and careful looking help bring things together: Prellwitz focuses her attention on those aspects of the scene that engage her the most. "Night Glow #10" is divided into four horizontal bands, with the darkest at the top, demarking the night sky and the horizon. The rest of the picture is a reflective memory of the light bouncing off the waves at night.

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  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Ken Greenleaf
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