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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Water on the Rocks

The icebergs, 1861, Frederic Edwin Church.
(Rocks on the water?)
I tease my wife when we go out to eat. She's so predictable. She tends to find two or three items on a restaurant chain's menu and order one or the other of them every time we eat there. She drinks only ice water. Last night, a waitress asked for our drink order. I ordered a diet soft drink for myself and then added "water on the rocks" for my wife. She gave me a dirty look and the waitress laughed. I think I may have just invented a new name for an old drink. In any case, the un-mixed drink gave me the idea for a piece here dealing with paintings in which an irresistible force (water) meets unmovable objects (rocks).
Isles of Shoals, Broad Cove, 1911, Childe Hassam.
When time and tides team up, rocks don't stand a chance.
Though seemingly gentle as
it embraces the hardhearted
rocks, water can, given enough
time, completely destroy rocks.
Initially one might see water as being something less than an irresistible force as compared to "unmovable" rocks. However both are, in es-sence, eternal, which means that the element of time has a part in the equation. And, as any geologist will affirm, over time, rocks are no match for the hydraulic forces attacking them century after century, mil-lennium after millennium. However, insofar as art and artists are con-cerned, it's not the outcome of this eternal conflict that matters but the clash itself--what we might call the "splish-splash."
How do you create a seascape? Just paint some
rocks, then add water, and stir vigorously.
Garnish with a mermaid.
Almost five years ago, I discussed the more common name applied to such art--seascapes. Actually what I wrote dealt mainly with artists' depictions of man's attempts to subdue the sea and use the sea in the face of two of nature's mightiest forces--wind and water. And as treacherous as these two elements might be, rocks are the teeth of the sea with a voracious appetite for unwary ships and those who sail them; just ask the captain of the Costa Concordia (below).
Costa Concordia, 2017,  Nino Taravella
Apart from the frozen variety as painted by Edwin Church in his The Icebergs (top), dating from 1861, and The Sea of Ice (below), from around 1823-24, by German artist, Caspar David Friedrich, (also found in restaurants), water on the rocks only occurs when water flows over them on land, or crashes into them where the sea meets the land. The former is usually soothing and meditative; the latter, in their dramatic conflict with the rocky shoreline, is usually neither.

The Sea of Ice, 1823-24, Caspar David Friedrich.
Rock Creek Canyon,
David Drummond
It's hard to say which water-on-the-rocks encounter artists prefer. My instincts tell me they like both. Perhaps nowhere is the water over rocks more dramatic than at Niagara Falls where Samuel Morse and any number of other American artists of the eastern part of the country have tried their hand at capturing the adrenalin rush of that much water suddenly falling that far, while over the years laying waste to the bedrock now at the foot of the falls. At the same time, on the other side of the continent, rocks and water now seem to coexist in peace where once they did battle, as seen in the watercolor, Rock Creek Canyon (left), by David Drummond.

Niagara Falls from Table Rock, 1835, Samuel Finley Breese Morse
From a personal standpoint, I can admire and enjoy babbling brooks on the rocks such as those (below) by John Singer Sargent and Ernie Verdine (bartender, give me a "babbling brook on the rocks"); but my preference is the excitement and drama of crashing waves on the rocks. (Now that sounds like a pretty potent drink--a "crashing wave on the rocks.")

As seen in the Sargent's watercolor, and especially
in that of Verdine (directly above), water on the rocks
need not always toe the stringent line of realism.
However, when it comes to water on the rocks with a strongly salty flavor, no one does it better than Ran Ortner with his near-mural size canvases in which he seems inclined to try painting his powerful waves of water life-size and "straight-up" (no rocks). His work leaves me wondering if the gallery hands out life vests at the door.

The turbulent waters of Ran Ortner.
Who says seascapes have to be blue? Ortner's
work leaves me a little seasick.

Glass of Water, Nihost-d5rxvre
Ahh, Dramamine on the rocks.


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