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Oil Paintings

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.

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The work was awarded the St. Botolph Club’s “Outstanding Painting” award for 2017 and the venerable Boston art organization’s Nellie Taft Grant for visual arts; several paintings will be exhibited at an awards ceremony dinner in November 2017.
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“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.”

 – Review in Valley News:
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 Christopher Volpe’s paintings are stark conduits of the inherent oppositions between human beings and the natural world.” 
– Review in Art New England:
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true places 2

True Places II, 20″ x 20-22,” oil and tar on wood

Night like monstrous black curtains suspended over a pathetic puppet show

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

The Pequod (ship detail) copyAny Human Thing (Detail)

Fata Morgana

Fata Morgana (Horizon Sails), 36″x36,” oil and tar on canvas

Flukes copy

Flukes, oil and tar on canvas, 24″x36″

Dive (“Oh, Ahab! what shall be grand in thee, it must needs be plucked from the skies and dived for in the deep, and featured in the unbodied air!”), 48″ x 60,” oil and tar on canvas

T'Gallant Sails small

T’Gallant Sails, 36″x48,” oil and tar on canvas

study

Toward Thee I Roll, 10″ x 10,” asphaltum and oil. Sold.

Pocahontas

Horizon Sails #2, 24″x 28,” tar and oil on canvas

Acushnet

Acushnet, 48″x36,” tar on canvas

True Places (It is not down on any map. True places never are)

True Places (“It is not down on any map, true places never are.”), tar on canvas, 48″x48″

 

Westward, 16″x24,” oil, tar, gold leaf

 

Corpus Santos (“Oh, thou foundling fire, thou hermit immemorial, thou too hast thy incommunicable riddle, thy unparticipated grief.”), 12×12 inches, oil, tar, gold leaf flakes. Sold,

Last Light

Last Light, 30″x20,” tar on canvas

Sleek (%22That enchanted calm which they say lurks at the heart of every commotion%22)

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!)

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 of 8x8s.pg

Triptych (Cetology),total length 8×24 inches

Break, Break, 12″x12,” oil and tar on canvas

Horizon Sails 2

Horizon Sails #3, 24″ x 24,” oil and tar on canvas

purposing to spring clean over the craft

Purposing to Spring Clean Over the Craft (Painting at the Spouter Inn), 16″x20,” oil and tar on canvas. Sold.

All the Most Maddens and TormentsAll that Most Maddens and Torments, 16″x20,” oil and tar on canvas

volpe-jacobs-ladderJacob’s Ladder, 20″x16,” tar and asphaltum on canvas

 

To the Sea in Ships, 36″ x 48,” Tar and oil paint on canvas. Sold.

 

img_4714

Try-Works, Dawn to Stern,  30“x24,”  tar on canvas

windlass-%22by-heavens-man-we-are-turned-round-and-round-in-this-world-like-yonder-windlass-and-fate-is-the-handspike-%22

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

The Sea Will Have Its Way (Burning Whaler), 24″ x 30,” oil and tar on canvas. Sold.

surely-all-this-is-not-without-meaning

“Surely all this is not without meaning.” 48″ x 60,” oil and tar on canvas.

Try-Works (“The burning ship drove on, as if remorselessly commissioned to some vengeful deed.”), 30″ x 40,” oil and tar on linen

 

                                   Abysm, 60″ x 48,” oil and tar on canvas


The Muffled Rolling of a Milky Sea 36x36

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

 

Argonautica (Dutchman) “Yes, the world’s a ship on its passage out.” 48×48 inches, tar on canvas

 

Let Night Come, 11×14 inches, oil and tar on canvas

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.

 

moby copy

White Whale, 10″ x 10,” oil and tar on canvas panel

tail

Tail, 12″ x 12,” bitumin on canvas

 

Download the catalogue of a 2016 exhibition of LOOMINGS.

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