Published in the Weekly Volcano, May 28, 2015
|“Salish Canoe” linocut by Mary Pacios, courtesy B2 Fine Art Gallery|
“Ahoy, A Maritime Exhibition” at B2 Gallery features paintings of ships and boats and people at work on the water by Mary Pacios, Susanna Rodriguez, James Cole and Austin Dwyer.
In many ways, Dwyer dominates the show, due to his technical skill and the high drama of much of his work. But his paintings are in the style of 18th century seascapes, a melding of William Turner and Winslow Homer for the 21st century, and I have a hard time crediting that as legitimate art. In this post-modernist time of appropriation it might be old fashioned of me to say so — ironic though it might be — but I think contemporary artists should make art that looks contemporary. Like bird by Audubon, Dwyer’s ships are more interesting as documents than as art.
Having said that, I am impressed with the way Dwyer paints sea and water, with the detail of his contemporary and historical scenes, his composition, and his use of color.
In the center gallery there are three historic paintings by Dwyer. “The Vasa” is a painting of a 17th century Swedish warship that sank on her maiden voyage. The two versions of the “Battle of Copenhagen” show warships from the 18th century with cannons firing. Both are Turner-like with stormy seas and flaming explosions, but not as misty or mysterious as a Turner, nor as bold.
Among his paintings of more contemporary scenes, “Symphony of Rust” depicts a trawler out of Anchorage with a confusion of poles and rigging that create a pattern of diagonals against the white of a glacier or snow-covered cliff, and a fishnet being rolled out to sea. This is a powerful painting, with just the right balance between sharp detail and parts of the ship shadowed and misted by sea and sky. Similarly, he beautifully handles stormy sea and windswept clouds in “Wawona, Cod Fishing in Alaska.”
One of his best contemporary scenes is a painting of ships at the Port of Seattle, with Quest Field visible in the background. Blending old and new, the tall ship “Lady Washington” is seen in port. The most dramatic works in the show are two prints by Pacios. “Salish Canoe” is 104 inches long and 43 inches in height. “The Crew” is even larger at 148 inches by 43 inches. Both are stark black-and-white images. “Salish Canoe” pictures two rowers in a canoe, while “The Crew” depicts a crew of eight rowers lined up in perfect synchronization as seen from directly overhead.
Rodriguez is showing small acrylic paintings of boats at sea shrouded in fog to the point that they become almost unrecognizable. “Emerald Sea I” and “Emerald Sea II” are both watery images devoid of detail of black vessels in a blue sea that remind me of Whistler’s foggiest sea scenes but with even less detail.
Cole has a group of small seascapes, some in oil and some in watercolor. I think the watercolors are the more successful of the bunch.
B2 Fine Art Gallery, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, till 9 p.m. through June 30, 711 St. Helens Avenue, Tacoma, 253.238.5065]