Art at the boundaries
An interview with the three artists of Ocean’s Edge
The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.
— Jacques Yves Cousteau
Ocean’s Edge is on view at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (BMAC) through September 23, 2019. The exhibit features ocean-themed works by David Kapp, Graham Nickson, and Isca Greenfield-Sanders.
BMAC: What interests you about the beach and the ocean as a subject?
David Kapp: Urban crowds and figures in motion were the pretext for my paintings when I was living and painting in New York City. When I found myself in the coastal Yucatan, the available crowds and figures were the bathers on Akumal Beach. It’s very crowded during the day and clears out at night. The light in Mexico is brighter than Matisse’s Mediterranean and has more contrast than a black-and-white Franz Kline.
Graham Nickson: The lure of the beach/ocean as image is that it is a “big” subject. It can be dramatic and/or neutral when necessary. It can play an emotional or analytic role in painting.
The tracks left by beach vehicles can be ugly or beautiful, mystic or mundane, contemporary or primeval in their presence. An unselfconscious, lone figure may be engaged in an ordinary, everyday act. Putting on or pulling off a garment—the interpretation of either changes the pictorial narrative. Are they going or coming? The ocean is always changing, the sky is always variable, the beach re-groups. The color is never predictable.
Isca Greenfield-Sanders: Since the advent of photography, for most people, a day at the beach is a perfect opportunity to make a memory. When I paint from found images of the ocean/beach, I am connected not only to my own cherished memories of the seaside, but to the great painters and photographers who have taken it as their subject, and perhaps most importantly, to my audiences’ trove of personal experiences at the beach.
BMAC: Can you tell us a little about your favorite beach?
GN: All the beaches where I have worked are favorites. Coves to sandbars—they form special connections. I love the strata of land and ocean, pond and sea, different levels of water and dirt. Mist and mysteries in Maine. Yellow shells in Springs, Long Island. The long stretches of sand and the gulls and cormorants in Wainscott, Long Island. The sky swallowing the sun in Nantucket.
IGS: I am a lifelong New Yorker, but my father’s family is from Miami, Florida. As a child I spent a lot of time on Miami Beach, which is my favorite beach.
BMAC: Who are your major influences?
GN: Experience of/and looking at the world, the rising, the setting of the sun, the consistent fascination with the figure and human presence, the importance of surprise in color. The love of the directness of drawing. Above all, the search for images that are compelling and plain speaking in paint.
IGS: J.M.W. Turner and Winslow Homer are certainly two of my favorite painters. But my major influences are my grandfather, the Abstract Expressionist painter, Joop Sanders, and my father, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, the photographer and filmmaker. Growing up, I knew what it was to be an artist and to make things. That had a powerful and life-altering effect on me.
BMAC: In what ways are the works in this exhibit representative of or divergent from your body of work as a whole?
DK: I travel with medium-sized portfolios of colored, grounded paper that are remnants or scraps from the larger studio collages, and my travel practice is “plein aire collage.” Or, in other words, I’m making small collages in front of the motif, however awkward or inconvenient. After returning to the home studio, now in Maine, I’ll allow for a period of several months of reflection with the work in the portfolios. Then, I’ll take the best travel collages and scale them up to an outsize format for maximum visual and emotional impact.
GN: I have painted a lot of bather paintings. They can take a lot of time, not intentionally—years, in some cases, to complete. I also paint a lot of skies, and they are more urgent. These different series endorse each other. I am fascinated by the transient and its representation.
IGS: Part of my working process is to look at thousands upon thousands of amateur shot slides from the 1950s and 1960s. I only select pictures that I am both drawn to, and which I think would make interesting paintings. I work very quickly, allowing my eye to stop only on images which are powerful to me. Very often, those images depict water. For that reason, these paintings are representative of my body of work as a whole.
BMAC: What else would you want readers to know about your works in this exhibit?
DK: The big challenge is to keep it fresh and immediate. The medium of collage or cut and pasted paper is fluid and flexible, allowing the artist to make spontaneous decisions and alterations. Chance and experimentation can then become a primary part of the creative process.
GN: The gestation period for images to materialize can be long. I first thought of the “Yellow jacket/silver light” painting in the early 1980s, whilst working in Wainscott. It took Maine and the experience of painting there to bring it to fruition. “Tracks” was painted in black and white to imply the color. Crazily, towards the end of the painting, I decided to paint it all in full color. I did repaint about two thirds of the 8’ x 16’ canvas in strong vibrant color, but it wasn’t right. I had to retrace my steps and reclaim the painting in black and white again. The color, as only implied, was more powerful.
IGS: I am interested in mining historical images as a means to reimagine the present and to explore the role that memory plays in our lives. I am drawn to simple and beautiful images with some sense of timelessness.