03 - 02
There comes a time in the life of every artist when she needs a shake-up.
When a still life no longer thrills, landscapes bore, and faces no longer challenge, a power surge is needed.
Sea-Escapes is that power surge, a series jump started when my website manager Jim Gruber shared the most beautiful photographs of surfs on the web that I had ever seen. In fact, I had never seen surfs at all, in photos or out, if one could believe that of an N.C. native who grew up visiting Carolina beach for summer vacations.
All I’d ever seen of seascapes were paintings of water breaking over rocks, boats a-float or being sunk at sea, or what I would call beach landscapes containing three flat parallel lines where sky met sea and waves broke in orderly rows from my perch on the sand.
Imagine my artist’s eye overcome by the sheer novelty of form in these surfing photos. I had no idea the water shaped itself into such weird and wonderful contortions, random sprays and splashes. I was amazed at the new shapes water took on, fascinated by the compositions anything but straight-lined.
Embryonic curls screamed abandon, enthusiasm. Their wildness erased the dust from the everyday objects I had worked at painting, infused the mundane, picayune with fairy dust, and spiked the ho-hum out of a day’s routine.
I never saw the ocean act up in such ways–the wind, tides and water forces from below causing funnels, tunnels, gigantic waves, circular sweeps of water turning in on themselves, cascading down a line or from high overhead, and shorelines viewed through a bull’s eye opening.
Surges of color followed the unexpected forms, color almost unnatural in its intensity—neon greens, yellows, golds, snowy whites and baby blues, purples, blue-blacks, reds and carmines—the range stymies the mind. I mean, everyone knows water is blue or blue-green or aqua, right? Wrong. Light changes everything.
Viewing surf photographs inland was a real trip in itself.
An ardent surfer originally from California, Jim’s descriptions of bone-breaking experiences as a surfer horrified me, while his love of the ocean re-sparked my own fascination with beach life and nostalgic scenes of my earlier beach vacations.
So from another shore, the tide washed in with its mystique, its loud, crashing noises, and its calming effects. The sea sucked me out to it, made me break my routine, escape the ordinary.
Escape. There was that word again. Escape to the sea.
Some of my happiest memories were of playing in the sunshine as a child, digging my toes into white beach sand, swimming in sea waters, building sandcastles with a plastic bucket, walking the pilgrimage along water’s edge in the hot sun and in the raging sunset. What child hasn’t had the sound of the sea introduced to her and magically reverberate in a conch shell held up to her ear? Even dead shells have memory.
Some families are mountain vacationers, some beach, but we were both—split equally between the two. Our small family grew when we convened at the beach and met extended family. From collecting arrowheads in the fields at home to collecting conch shells on the beach, the switch was effortless.
The shells’ delicate pastel colors contrasted with the electric colors the sea took on in different light, the raw intensity of the green, the blue, and the mixing patterns.
My twin loves in painting, composition and color, met with a fierce attraction in the sea and birthed the new series. Instead of Seascapes as a genre, we have Joanna McKethan Sea-Escapes. My eye joined the forms of emergent shells to raging sea, and the colors of a fairly extensive collection of shells of mine coalesced with surf photos.
I introduced a single, small shell, a microcosm, back to the macrocosm in which it grew: Mother Sea.
So the first painting, “Sea’s Restless Eve,” shows the water spilling over an uplifted shell in blacks, phthalocyanine blues and red sunset colors.
“Castaway Shell” lies beached in yellows and golds, the folds of water still surrounding it, not quite able to completely let it go, the impastos sticking out to catch the light, the antique tones of Old Masters’ colors deepening shadow areas to pop the light and the stepping-stone spires of the shell.
‘Seascapes’ is the painting term used for a depiction of the sea.
But the series includes more than seascapes or my shell-and-sea idea which will yield similar paintings to the two just mentioned. Sea-Escapes can create a salty trail back to land where a former whale oil container, an antique from the days of harvesting sperm whales was found, and so, the painting of an antique, a harpoon and a net, “Sperm Whale Antique” becomes a historical commentary on a way of life and a movement to save the whales.
Sea-Escapes can mean an old man sitting beside the sea on a porch with a net hanging behind him, as in the watercolor, “Dockside.” Sea-Escapes can take you to a pier with me where the crab pots are catching piles of crabs, and I learn how to crab on one of the most fun days of hard labor I’ve done in years. And the harvest of NC blue crabs turns into one of the funniest and simultaneously most beautiful piles of color in a painting I have yet to experience: “Crab-Net.”
Measuring the crab against one slat of the pier to determine if the crab was a ‘keeper’ or a ‘throw-back-in-er’ was one of the tips I learned.
And scampering away fast so a loosed crab wouldn’t pinch a toe was a newly learned skill, as well. What I took home with me was a stomach full of delicious white crabmeat dipped in butter and my own photos to work from on a watercolor, Crab-Net, which netted me a painting of white string spiraling to a vortex and holding a complexity of colors and shapes that for me are pure visual escapes.
Single shells have always inspired me, and I have painted some 40-50 small shells in watercolors and oils that have sold or that I have given as presents to special people on special occasions.
What lies ahead for the series? Why, foreign Sea-Escapes will emerge as a sub-series, and sunsets at the beach, another; boats, of course, and boat wheels, maybe even birds, and rusty nails, anchors, what not. It is a series designed for fun.
I don’t anticipate strapping myself to the prow of a boat like Turner, the famous English watercolorist, did in order to paint an impending storm. Nor can I see myself with a 500-pound mega-expensive camera strapped around these painting shoulders to take surfing shots like ‘real’ artists are supposed to do to generate their own ‘source’ material.
So I’m left with detective work, extrapolating and blending, learning the nature of surfs by multiple views and though generated visions of what is possible.
However, Sea-Escapes promise to keep me and my viewers in the salty sea waters, yielding hours of pleasurable sensations, evoking the wonderful memories of vacation days and family fun.
Welcome to my world. Color that looks wet, air smelling salty, and subjects designed to bring the escape home with you as far inland as you need to travel.