Three distinct visions of the unfathomable
In Greek mythology, the god Oceanus personified the outer sea encircling the world. “Ocean:Us,” presents three distinct visions of the sea – still mythic in its fearsome power, unfathomable depths and wild beauty. The exhibition showcases the talents of three award-winning contemporary Cape artists who’ve been inspired by the ocean: glass sculptor Benton Jones, printmaker Kathleen Sidwell and oil painter Thomas A.D. Watson. While the artists embrace different mediums, they share a passion for the sea that blends scientific curiosity with a sense of wonder.
Of the three, Truro artist Thomas Watson takes the most straightforward look at the ocean. The son of noted illustrator Aldren Watson and grandson of Ernest Watson (co-founder of Watson-Guptill Publications, the leading publisher of how-to art books), he is known for his representational landscapes of Cape Cod and the Adirondacks. With his ocean paintings, he explores the boundaries between myth and science in works ranging from near miniature watercolors to oversized canvases. Some of his paintings – like the 8-foot wide “Oceanus” – give an expansive view of water and sky that pays tribute to the vastness of the sea itself. Often, however, Watson peers beneath the surface to depict real and fictional denizens of the dim blue depths. His painting “Architeuthis” pictures a giant squid, a creature so elusive it was never photographed alive until 2004 – so that it is, in a sense, almost as mythical as real.
Brewster artist Kathleen Sidwell’s inventive monotypes and mixed media paintings have been informed by a fascination with tides, currents and coastal erosion; her first-hand experience with Hurricane Katrina; and a love for tales concerning the sea. She takes her expressive cues from the ocean’s colors, textures, fluidity and motion. Rather than depicting the sea representationally, her works evoke the visceral experience of being near the water or shore. But Sidwell also expresses environmental concerns in her work. In particular, she is alarmed by the ill effects that trash from modern life is having upon sea life. Her mixed media piece “An Island the Size of Texas” references the floating plastic debris field at the center of the North Pacific Gyre, roughly the size of Texas.
Benton Jones, also of Brewster, often uses his art to comment on environmental issues. A number of the kiln-formed pieces he’s showing – including a four-foot fountain – are made from flotation spheres of clear glass used in climate-change research by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, sometimes for 30 years or more, before being decommissioned. WHOI donated a number of them to Jones; each is 17 inches in diameter and weighs 40 pounds. Jones divides the buoys in half, then slowly heats each hemisphere until fluid, allowing it to drape over, slump through or sag into a stainless-steel or ceramic mold. He carefully monitors its developing shape, aiming to halt the progression at just the right stage for maximum artistic impact. He equates the process to the melting of the polar icecaps, and the flowing vessels do resemble ice that’s melted and refrozen. “Melting Hemispheres” he calls them.
Jones has also fashioned glass sculptures from remnants of the blue glass walls of the old Provincetown Aquarium. With other works, he has achieved glittering results by encapsulating pieces (often strips) of bronze and/or copper sheeting between layers of glass. In conjunction with the exhibition, Jones has installed a gigantic jellyfish that towers over the small fishpond in front of the art museum. Its body is fashioned from two of the glass hemispheres. Its long copper “tentacles” sway and tinkle pleasantly with every breeze.
Benton Jones has committed himself to relentless sculptural experimentation and strives to impart layered meaning into each object he creates. Often combining materials with contrasting properties, like molten glass and non-ferrous metals, Jones captures liquid sculpture in mid-motion by precisely choreographed cooling in his kilns. The search for commonality within disparity, both in subject matter and media choice, is a recurring theme in Jones’ work. He has transformed century old Sandwich Glass remnants into contemporary drop-ring vessels, made a series of work entitled Oceanic Experience from the glass walls of the old Provincetown Aquarium, and, in a collection of ice-like glass sculpture entitled Melting Hemispheres, Jones captured the attention of the New England Cable Network, when he reshaped glass flotation spheres previously in use by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution for climate change research, in an effort to draw attention to the issue.