My artistic interest in sailing vessels goes back to my earliest memories on the shores of Lake Champlain in Northern Vermont. The mystery of wooden rowboats caught my imagination at first. Rowboats. How was it that humans figured out how to build wooden crafts that could both float and leak simultaneously? Every harbor had dinghies patiently filling with water while waiting for their owner to return, who would bail them out with a coffee can or bucket, then row off to the deep water mooring where a more substantial boat waited patiently for its master. Being around these workboats was powerful stuff for the curiosity, intellect and ambition awakening in my seven-year-old self.
Then I noticed that the larger boats were also bailing water from their bilges, fighting the intrusion of the lake on which they floated. The mystery and majesty of vessels large and small fighting the same good fight shaped my early attempts at ordering and understanding the facts of life on the water.
Then one day while out in an uncharacteristically stiff wind braving breakers on the beach, I saw an even larger vessel, a three-masted fully-rigged ship (full rig means that all masts and yards carry square sails) beating north through the robust winds and high waves. It was an honest-to-goodness blue water tall ship on Lake Champlain! THAT caught my attention. That extraordinary vision seared its way deep into the folds of my brain and took root in my soul. That afternoon is as much an influence on the man I have become as anything else I have experienced.
Later, I tested myself on sailboats on Lake Michigan, the Pacific Ocean off southern, central and northern California, Chesapeake Bay, Mamala Bay south of Oahu, Gage Roads off Fremantle, Western Australia, and the North Sea. These experiences sharpened my skills and bound me to the waterman’s ways. Increasingly, occasional encounters with tall ships drew me closer like Ulysses’ sirens. Increasingly, I organized my life around getting to the tall ships and photographing them, finding their elemental selves afloat and ashore. Tall ships are in a class of their own where natural and human mysteries are expressed in wood, iron, canvas, and hemp. Each vessel reflects human passions, aspirations, and purposes that are as distinctive as the sailors who master the winds that power them across the sea.
Tall Ships Series
Artistic inspiration is an unconscious burst of creativity in a literary, musical, or other artistic endeavour. For me, curiosity is a foundational component of the process. It starts with a question such as what is that? Why is it doing that? How does it work? In the process of solving any one of those questions, inspiration sparks creativity, which results in art as an expression of my experience of the subject.
Readers, clients and buyers are people with multiple interests of their own, also. Curiosity is a hallmark human characteristic, after all. Inspiration is all about being open to all possible answers to a given question and finding a connection with truth, however fleeting. Creativity, then, is about being human and curious and disciplined simultaneously… intentionally.
Sailing vessels are floating manifestations of centuries of sailors’ curiosity. Their curiosity was inspired by necessity to create something functional, to solve a problem. In my view, along the way they created art.
As an artist, my process is to observe a vessel and its rig at various times of day, paying particular attention during early and late daylight hours for maximum angles of slanted light. I also prefer to study vessels and rigs during the midday hour or two to see how the rig shadows cascade onto deck and water. This strategy is not always practical, so I adapt to circumstances and stay flexible, yet with my ultimate vision still in mind.
Foremost to me is finding that unguarded instant where the ship and her rig reveal themselves to the appreciative eye, a pivotal moment where art supersedes science. Like every relationship, there is a give and take; an exchange in which individual priorities must bend to mutual recognition, appreciation, and need.
I then pare down the composition, light, and shadow to allow the ship’s rig to speak for the vessel and the sailors who sail her. To me, these studies convey a palpable sense of quiet strength and particular respect for these vessels. Each image strives for one essential, elemental truth that is absolute and immutable. If I ever achieve that single moment of artistic representation of pure reality, I’ll let you know!