L O O M I N G S
Paintings in Tar and Oil
LOOMINGS is named after the first chapter of Moby-Dick, and several titles reference quotations from the novel. On one level I hope the series evokes what Herman Melville saw prophetically in the 1850’s: American industrial history as a never-ending pursuit of wealth and the domination of ‘savage’ nature, even at our own expense.
However, the works are not intended to be narrative or to illustrate events in Melville’s novel. The paintings, like the book, are for me largely about the confrontation of our own ignorance, our melancholy quest for knowledge, reality, and enlightenment in an unknowable universe.
Influences for the series include Melville, Turner, Ryder, Pollock, Kline, and to a lesser extent Anselm Keifer. The paintings came about as I was rereading Moby-Dick, which I’ve come to see as a vast, American prose poem epic containing the history and future of America and the entire cosmos.
These paintings incorporate the primordial material of tar as their medium. The tar comes in for its deep, metallic black color, its aqueous quality, its earthy sepia tones when thinned, and its resonance for our moment in history. America’s global industrial dominance began with the Quaker whaling ships; petroleum (oil) is the successor to whale oil, which literally fueled the industrial revolution, lit the night, and greased the machinery for the rise of what Melville, already in 1851, called “the all-grasping Western world.”
As Melville does in Moby-Dick, the paintings consider the “oceanic feeling” in terms of humanity’s problematic longing to transcend or at least make peace with nature even while encroaching upon it. They’re also about what Melville refers to as “the inscrutable,” that is, the problem of representing reality itself (“The inscrutable is chiefly that I hate,” says Ahab).
Although my painting has always had roots in the landscape (or sea-scape), these works allow me to grapple explicitly with painting’s basic task of pushing the material to represent the immaterial. They bring a lot of things together for me, referencing what I’ve long felt is our culture’s haunted and complex relationship with nature and history by synthesizing contemporary visual and literary symbolism from resonant works of art and literature of the past.
After 150 additional years of oil-driven industrialization, humanity continues to exploit nature without adequately understanding our place within it or even our own history. We’re still tempting Ahab’s unknowable gods and flouting signs and portents of extinction.
* * *
“Volpe’s paintings are moody and abstract; he wanted the series to be ambiguous and not directly illustrative of the book, and in this way he succeeds.”
True Places II, 20″ x 20-22,” oil and tar on wood
Any Human Thing (“I promise nothing complete; because any human thing supposed to be complete, must for that very reason infallibly be faulty.”), 36″x48,” tar and oil on canvas
Fata Morgana (Horizon Sails), 36″x36,” oil and tar on canvas.
Flukes, oil and tar on canvas, 24″x36″ sold
T’Gallant Sails, 36″x48,” oil and tar on canvas
Toward Thee I Roll, 10″ x 10,” asphaltum and oil. Sold.
Horizon Sails #2, 24″x 28,” tar and oil on canvas. Sold.
Acushnet, 48″x36,” tar on canvas
True Places (“It is not down on any map, true places never are.”), tar on canvas, 48″x48″
Last Light, 30″x20,” tar on canvas
Sleek (“that enchanted calm which they say lurks at the heart of every commotion”), 24″x28,” oil and tar on canvas. Sold.
Squall (“I heard old Ahab tell him he must always kill a squall, something as they burst a waterspout with a pistol- fire your ship right into it!”), 36″x48,” tar and oil on canvas
Triptych (Cetology),total length 8×24 inches
Break, Break, 12″x12,” oil and tar on canvas
Horizon Sails #3, 24″ x 24,” oil and tar on canvas. Sold.
Purposing to Spring Clean Over the Craft (Painting at the Spouter Inn), 16″x20,” oil and tar on canvas. Sold.
Try-Works, Dawn to Stern, 30“x24,” tar on canvas
Windlass (“By heavens man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and fate is the handspike.”), 16″ x 24,” oil on wood. Sold.
The Sea Will Have Its Way (Burning Whaler), 24″ x 30,” oil and tar on canvas. Sold.
“Surely all this is not without meaning.” 48″ x 60,” oil and tar on canvas.
The Muffled Rolling of a Milky Sea, 36″ x 36,” oil and tar on canvas, Sold.
Cape Horner (Of Griefs Beneath the Moon), 12″ x 24,” oil and tar on canvas. Sold.
Charts and Diagrams (“nor one single star can revolve, but by some invisible power”), 20″ x 20,” tar and gold leaf on canvas
Westward II, 12″x20,” tar, oil paint, gold leaf, antique frame. Sold.
To the Ends of the Earth (“Gnawed Within and scorched without”), 48″ x 48,” tar, oil paint, gold leaf
Study: Vortex (“And now, concentric circles seized the lone boat itself, and all its crew, and each floating oar, and every lance-pole, and spinning, animate and inanimate, all round and round in one vortex, carried the smallest chip of the Pequod out of sight.”), 12×12 inches, oil and tar on canvas panel, study for a larger work.
White Whale, 10″ x 10,” oil and tar on canvas panel
Tail, 12″ x 12,” bitumin on canvas