Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009

Shane Walsh's Subaqueous Landscapes

By Aisha Motlani
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Another worthy addition to last weekend’s Gallery Night were local artist Shane Walsh’s “Shipwreck Paintings” at the Cedar Gallery (above the Starbucks on Water Street).

 

Landscape painters have faced a long and enduring struggle to be taken seriously. Although the genre was elevated during certain epochs by artists who invested it with new meanings and possibilities – the Dutch painters of the late middle ages using it to satisfy the puritanical tastes of their devoutly religious patrons; the idealized, classically-inspired landscapes of 17th century painters like Poussin catering to the populace’s penchant for antiquity; the social and political messages inherent in the works of Millet and Courbet – it almost always has to serve as a visual metaphor to be given the same credence as other genres. Today the landscape painter or photographer can hardly avoid addressing the growing awareness of man’s impact on his environment, often resulting in works that subvert the idea of landscape entirely.

 

Walsh simultaneously avoids/addresses man’s disruptive impact by going underground – or rather under sea. His paintings of subaqueous shipwrecks offer inverted landscapes. Just as the traditional landscape conveys a sense of weight and gravity, his paintings – flooded in an intense and eerie aquamarine hue – convey weightlessness. Instead of presenting us with a vision of bucolic bliss he presents us with the jagged shards of wreckage. Rather than the drama of the undulating terrain his paintings turn the eye inward to the fables and lore surrounding the sea that have always invested it with a mystical, magnificent and terrifying power with the ability to entice and entrap us. Just as Turner used the seascape to convey drama and passion, Walsh transforms it into a deeply introspective experience. You can imagine these seascapes lurking beneath the fiery surface of Turner’s Fighting Temeraire; a calmer, rarified territory lurking beneath the tumultuous Calais Pier.

 

However, Walsh’s paintings also indirectly address the idea of ruin. These carcasses and splintered remains of man-made ships are emblematic of man’s far-reaching folly - trespassers invading the fragile calm of the sea.

 

The exhibit runs through March 1. Gallery hours are Wednesday-Saturday, 1-5 p.m. or by appointment.

 

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