The City by the Sea
Solo Exhibition, November 4 – December 13, 2020
Opening Reception: November 6, 6- 8PM
Please sign up here for booking an appointment.
524B Harrison Avenue Boston, MA 02118
Seagrass, Lorenzetti and Boston
My love for Sienese paintings started when I was at London’s National Gallery in 2008. I went to a Sienese painting exhibition with small iconic paintings and frescos. I fell in love with the warm earth tones and rich simulated textures. I discovered Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s work and was fascinated with his ability to create transparent layers of fabric or marble imitation in paint. My new series of seagrass inspired abstractions pays homage to both Lorenzetti’s 14th-century work and to Boston’s changing topography.
I am concerned with our relationship to the natural and man-made environments. How it has changed over time and how it will continue to change in the future. Our actions now impact our future for clean air, clean water and keeping CO2 levels low. Seagrass ecosystems play a vital roll in human well being, from food (fish nursery) to protection against floods and erosion. In the past, my paintings have celebrated seagrass environments in an attempt to raise awareness of these issues. Now, rather than focusing on the rich biodiversity and ecosystem benefits seagrass provides us, I wanted to have a different type of conversation about seagrass within a historical context.
Lorenzetti’s painting “City by the Sea” is a 14th-century artist’s vision of an idealized urban city surrounded by land and water. It is a small, 9”x 12” fresco on wood. What intrigues me about this painting is that it is so quiet, almost desolate. There is one boat in the left corner, a smaller one on the right and a figure on the right. We are left wondering where all the people went. I also love how the architecture was organized in multiple views on the right with contrasting colors. In my “City by the Sea” interpretation, I expanded the notion of what would happen if this city was reorganized, or re-imagined. What if it was underwater and was also an eelgrass habitat?
I also discovered Lorenzetti’s “The Allegory of Good and Bad Government,” three fresco panels painted in Siena’s Plazzo Pubblico in the town council hall. During this period in 1339, nine council men (magistrates) would be elected from the townspeople to run Siena. These frescos were a reminder of what happens during good times and bad times to warn the magistrates how their decisions would impact Siena. It is a powerful reminder for all of us today. Our actions impact our future. I borrowed colors and elements from the “Allegory of Good Government” to create two paintings in this series; “Night Swim” and “Adaptation”. In “Night Swim” the dark plumb hues and rustic oranges surround two swimming creatures; we are looking down at the ecosystem with eelgrass blurred below. The water is calm. In good times, we continue to keep mammals and fish alive as well as their seagrass habitat.
In “Adaptation” a different type of city is re-imagined, with perspective skewed around a spiraling axis. A watery world surrounds the reconfigured architecture. It is a futuristic view of how we will need to adapt to living in mobile states that can float in water. With a good government, good city planning for the whole community will occur. Our ability to adapt will be based on our ability to respond to climate change and reconsider our relationship to our changing environment. In this utopia, seagrass grows in man-made environments where it continues to help balance CO2 levels. We live in hubs that can float.
In thinking about our City by the Sea, Boston, it’s fascinating to imagine that my studio in the South End in the 1600s was ocean front. That eelgrass beds flourished and cod swam freely. With Boston’s expansion, landfills pushed the edges of this seagrass habitat further out. More expansion and more development lead to brown-colored, polluted water in the 1980s. Eelgrass needs light to survive and with this sludge in the harbor most of the meadows disappeared. However, after the Boston harbor cleanup projectin the 1990s seagrass began to re-appear. Our actions can make a difference. In “Boston Seagrass” blades of transparent seagrass overlap a 1775 map of Boston. If you look carefully you can see South End highlighted on the map. This painting bridges community, history, and a love for our natural habitat that has sustained us throughout time. “Boston Seagrass” is also a reminder of the important role we each play in protecting our healthy seagrass habitats.