Take Me to the Water


There is something of the mystical looking out at the sea. It is a dreamscape, inspiring imagination and adventure. Summertime, sunny skies, and warm weather all of these lead me to water. They trigger my desire to plunge into a cool lake or a frigid stream, float down a lazy river, or surf the ocean waves. The water beckons to us as a source of rejuvenation.

JWM Turner, “Two Seascapes” circa 1820-30. image courtesy of http://www.tate.org

Joseph WM Turner looked to nature, particularly sea and light, as his muse. And, most famously known for capturing the rapturous moods of nature. Watercolor and paper were his tools to record color, outside, as he experienced it.


Vija Celmin, “Untitled ( (Big Sea #1)” 1969, graphite on acrylic ground on paper. image courtesy of  www.hammer.ucla.edu

Vija Celmin’s graphite drawing above suspends the ocean with no point of reference, horizon, or depth of field. It captures the magnetism and infinitude of the water’s perpetual movement. Celmin meticulously draws how the light of the sky creates shadows and illuminations on the waves. She has said that she could continue, forever, recreating the waves, maneuvering the drawings ever so slightly allowing her subconscious to seep into them.

Herman Melville begins Moby Dick expatiating upon the lure of the sea.

“Right and left, the streets take you waterward…Look at the crowds of water-gazers there…What do you see?–Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries…But look! Here are more crowds, pacing straight for the water, and seemingly bound for a dive…Inlanders all, they come from lanes and alleys, streets and avenues–north, east, south, and west…Once more. Say, you are in the country; in some high land of lakes. Take almost any path you please, and ten to one it carries you down a dale, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream. There is magic in it. Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries–stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water, if water there be in all that region.”

Jorge Mendez Blake’s “The Melville Monument,” is an artistic memorial or homage to one of his (and mine) favorite authors. In the pages of the 21 red leather books in the sculpture  are 350 sentences from Melville’s Moby Dick pertaining to the word ‘sea’, each signaled out, floating on the page. Also in the sculpture Mendez Blake drew a scene of the sea where one can look out on the waves and imagine, like Captain Ahab, seeing the great white whale. These sculptural elements come whole on a book shelf crafted by Mendez Blake making a ‘sea scape’, or sea story, in homage to Melville.

Jorge Mendez Blake, The Melville Monument, 2012. image courtesy of www.galeriaomr.com
Jorge Mendez Blake, The Melville Monument, 2012. image courtesy of http://www.galeriaomr.com

Hiroshi Sugimoto, “Sea of Japan”1997. image courtesy of http://www.c4gallery.com

Hiroshi Sugimoto’s seascape photographs possess a tonal richness with an expanded palette of grays, whites, and blacks. They can be seen as abstract paintings of water, air, and stillness. Patience and time allow for Sugimoto to capture his moments with nature. He has said that he will spend at least one week and sometimes three weeks witnessing the sea and sky to record his homage to nature. His seascape photographs encourage the viewer to pause. “Sea of Japan” particularly brings the viewer to a Zen-like state. Sugimoto has said, “Every time I view the sea, I feel a sense of security, as if visiting my ancestral home; I embark on a voyage of seeing.”

Robert Longo, “(study for) Gotterdammerung”, charcoal and ink on mylar, 2004. image courtesy of http://www.christies.com

While one artist sees the sea as security, another sees it as dangerous. Robert Longo, using charcoal on mounted paper did a series of wave drawings aptly titled “Monsters”. In his art Longo often looks to images of power and authority; and, indeed, I have reverence for the ocean, always respecting that it holds power and authority over me. He captures the forcible ark of the moment before the wave crashes, an expression of nature’s dominion.

I, drawn by the magnetic pull toward water, look out at the Pacific Ocean, meditatively watching the constant motion of waves gently roll in or thunderously crash onto the shore. Casting my eyes to the horizon where the sea meets the sky, I feel both calmness and an awareness of danger. Looking out on the vast ocean offers a sense of infinite freedom, yet also, an acknowledgement of how vulnerable we are, a realization of the force of nature. There is a buddhist philosophy that each good deed of merit, or each compassionate tear of sadness are like adding a drop of water to the ocean, and itself will exist, endure, and merge with the great ocean as oneness until enlightenment.

I consider the pendulum of my moods from tumultuous to serene while standing at the edge of the sea, where the waves rush in around my feet and then sweep back into the ocean. If I keep my eye on the sea, I can keep my balance standing in the shifting sand as the tide rolls in and out without being swept away or knocked down. But I must keep alert to the waves and readjust as the sand shifts beneath my feet to keep my balance. I must never turn my back to the sea or I could be caught by surprise from an incoming wave.

This is how I must navigate and remain steady. I must keep my balance by looking at what is coming at me (the ebbs and flows, the highs and lows, the joy and pain) and by readjusting when the ground from which I am standing shifts.

James McNeill Whistler, “Harmony in Blue and Silver: Trouville” 1865. image courtesy of http://www.gardnermuseum.org

James McNeill Whistler’s painted Harmony in Blue and Silver: Trouville while studying with Gustave Courbet (and the figure in the painting is Courbet). His use of thin veils of soft palettes of color to paint the expanse of sea, sky, and sand suggest a quiet calmness while the colors in the sky and sea reveal shifts of light in the water and sky, which foretells the constantly changing elements, which elicits changing emotions that come and go like the tides and the winds.

Art is often emotive, inspiring, and transformative—nature is always powerfully awe striking and magnificent.

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