First Loves: An Early Encounter with W.H.

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At some point in my early teens, during a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of art in NYC, I fell in love, with a painting by Winslow Homer. Viewing the painting, Gulf Stream, excited me. Painted in 1899, the shirtless black man alone on a small boat with a broken mast, surrounded by sharks, blood slicks on frothy white capes, reclines against the side of the boat and looks to the horizon. Off to the left there is a faint image of a ship in the distance, to the right, also faded and far away, is a water spout.

I purchased a little reproduction. Who was that man? A runaway slave (at the time I didn’t know it was a scene from the Bahamas). Who didn’t survive? Would he?

The power of the painting drew me to it again and again.  After years of viewing it, I concluded Gulf Stream isn’t about what we see, but what we think and feel.  The components of the painting are there to tell a story, an allegory. The bare powerful man, gazing thoughtfully to the horizon, and the wreck after the “storm” bobbing along, could be any “man” navigating life. With only our own observations and strength (society, the distant ship, isn’t necessarily going to help, especially a black man in 1899) can we survive dangers present, the sharks, and forget demons passed, the storm.

An amazing draftsman, Winslow Homer began his art career as an illustrator, a war correspondent, documenting the battles of the American Revolution. As he matured his love for life shined through in the beauty and joy of many of his works from Crack the Whip to his many studies and masterpieces depicting the adirondacks. These drawings and paintings like magnets pull your gaze to them, electrify you, and can transport you to places of joy and peace.

In the nineteen nineties, during a gallery visit to SoHo NYC, I stumbled across the Sundaram Tagore Gallery and the work of the Indian born artist Natvar Bhahsvar. His work is as powerful as Homer’s but in a very different way. Without any illustration, using pure pigments and extremely large canvases, Bhahsvar also creates a sense of place. Many of his paintings appear as portals, glowing from another world. I fell in love with both of these artists’ work and to this day have the goal of achieving what they did, create paintings that are alluring and bring a sense of wonder, joy, and peace to viewers.

What was the first artwork you fell in love with?

* Above is one of my paintings, Lost in a Revery, No. 3

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