Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Stormy Art for Stormy Weather

A hurricane is a strange event. In my Philadelphia neighborhood, not so far from the coast, full of majestic trees in parks and old churchyards, we worried about branches falling in the heavy winds. Instead we got tons of rain with very little wind and no damage to speak of. We were lucky - not so much those in other places, especially inland areas of Vermont and New York State, where they must have thought a hurricane was not their concern. So, with those unfortunate places and people in mind, here are a few examples of Stormy Art from other times and places. Nobody ever did rain and wind like Hiroshige and Hokusai, the grand Ukiyo-e masters of late 19th century Japan. One glance at Hiroshige's Oshashi Bridge & Atake in a Sudden Shower (1856) and you feel the water pelting down your neck and soaking your clothes. Hokusai's marvelous Ejiri in Suruga Province (1830-1833) with his signature view of Mt. Fuji makes you grab for your hat. This windy image has had a rash of imitators lately, most notably Jeff Wall with his A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai) (1993) - detail here - and also Carrie Marill's A Sudden Gust of Wind (After Hokusai) 2009. And then there's Winslow Homer, the taciturn New Englander whose watercolors are the stuff of magic. He turned his attention to stormy weather more than once, with some of the greatest examples coming from his trips to Florida, Cuba, and the Bahamas in 1884-1885. One of the most poignant of his narratives in paint is The Gulf Stream (1899) in which a lonely sailor sits helpless, his mast broken and his boat adrift, as the sharks gather in the waves around him. For him the storms - all storms -  are nearly over, whether the cloud in the distance is coming or going. 
And lastly, a bit of Romantic sentiment to point up the truth and strength of the others. Pierre-Auguste Cot painted The Storm in 1880 with his toolbox full of allegory and pictorial illusion. His reference is not the driving force of the wind or the very real need to take shelter, but the charm of the Greeks and their stories. The past week of earthquakes and hurricanes will also be the stuff of stories, some charming, some not. Good luck to all those who are still struggling with the aftermath of Irene.

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