Artist’s Journal: NUMBER 52
“Art is like religion in many respects… Its development
consists of sudden illuminations, like lightning, of explosions,
which burst like a fireworks in the heavens, strewing a whole
“bouquet” of different shining stars about itself.”
He continued in his essay – Reminiscences in 1913 – “This illumination shows new perspectives in a blinding light, new truths which are basically nothing more than the organic development, the organic growing of earlier wisdom which is not voided by the later, but as wisdom and truth continues to live and produce.”
I’m just trying to clean up, in my head, the denouement of my drawing for the New Bedford Harbor in a New Light: A Response Exhibition of Work by Contemporary Artists.
There were several categories in which to submit work proposals. I chose: The Port of New Bedford category. My piece was based on a theme that has enthralled me for decades. In fact, I’ve visited this theme before. It was at the core of my MFA thesis and I returned to it later again both in a subjective and objective manner.
The theme is the ill-fated whaling expedition, which occurred in the Arctic and resulted in the loss of thirty-three of the original forty vessels that journeyed north to hunt whales. It is known as and referred to as the 1871 Whaling Disaster.
I was exposed to the event while working with my father who ran a janitorial contracting business. One of his customers was the Charles S. Ashley Insurance Agency in downtown New Bedford. The steel plate engravings of the event hung in their office.
When I began my research for my MFA thesis show in Miami I read The Story of Ernest Shackleton and the Antarctic Explorers and, years later realized my first past-life experience. I seemed to sense what was on the next page before even turning it. Anyway, I was mesmerized by it.
For this attempt I planned and created a piece more in scale with a public space. I also gave it a traditional title – PRESSURES: New Bedford’s 1871 Whaling Disaster. In actuality, it is: Drawing: B-Series – 1- 2013, in keeping with my habit of not titling work.
Another diversion from the usual is that my work usually tends to be on a smaller, more personal scale. But, for this exploration I went big. The drawing was executed using dry mixed-media on, 8.5” x 11.0” onion skin sheets held together with cellophane tape.
[See the preparatory sketch above]
It was originally intended that this piece would be approximately 10.9’ x 5.6’ but, in execution, the scale and proportion of 76.5” (6.375’) x 88 (7.33’)” seemed to me to be better suited for viewing it.
The larger size not only allows the viewer to take in the entire piece standing at 9’ back from the work without moving their head or eyes; it also allowed me to get into the work bio-mechanically for the first time in a long time.
Challenges? The work is an attempt to capture the dilemma of being on a whaling vessel that is not only trapped in the increasing vice-grip of the Arctic ice; its life and that of its master and crew and their livelihood and that of the industry they represent are also under pressure. In total, thirty-two vessels were slowly being squeezed out of existence.
I made marks with graphite, charcoal, dry pastel and colored pencil in an attempt to abstractly illustrate the thought processes, calculations, and consequences of the decisions leading up to the disaster and the prolonged event itself. The whalers gambled on a seasonal, and ill-timed, wind shift and nature and the pack ice won.
All this was compounded by the whaling industry’s mad scramble to avert impending the post Civil War financial doom brought on by declining whale populations and the discovery of petroleum.
As an abstractionist, the challenges were to create a piece that acts as an aggregate document and eyewitnesses account of the the somewhat cataclysmic 1871 disaster involving twenty-two New Bedford whale ships that were abandoned to be lost, wrecked by the ice or burned by the Inuit people.
Posted on: 25/03/2013, by : Ron Fortier