Water has always presented a special challenge for artists. It has no consistent shape or color. It does not reflect light or cast shadows the way solid objects do. In the picture above of a shipwreck and the following picture of a placid river, illustrator N.C. Wyeth captures two very different examples of water's temperament.
Water refuses to hold still like a bowl of fruit on a table in your art studio, so painters have gone to extraordinary lengths to observe it. J.M.W. Turner famously lashed himself to the mast of a ship in a storm at sea so he could experience the power of water. Renowned illustrator and maritime painter Stanley Meltzoff is a long time diver. Meltzoff's immersion in his subject pays off in vivid, exciting paintings. Note the marvelous abstract design in the interplay of light and water at the top of the picture:
Illustrators over the years have employed a fascinating variety of approaches to water. For some artists, water seems to serve as rorschach test. They have to reach deep into their own personal taste and style to create form and shape and content for water. In the following picture illustrator Robert Fawcett (who was a first rate draftsman but unfortunately color blind and a second rate painter) tries to capture water by painting it as if it were a line drawing:
When Maxfield Parrish wanted to paint water, he often used a mirror for reference, rather than studying real water. The result was a picture of water as artificial as Parrish's candied, fantasy style:
Of course, Frank Frazetta painted water using his own trademarked formula:
Strikingly different methods of depicting water have also been adopted by animators (ranging from Pinocchio and Fantasia to the Incredibles) and by Japanese woodblock artists such as Hokusai. I would be interested in input from readers on additional artists and approaches.
In my view, the most impressive maritime paintings today are being produced by Meltzoff:
I recently read Meltzoff's views on the creation of art underwater. He wrote
Underwater it is somewhat as if Tiepolo were doing free floating and flying mythologies in the water instead of in the air and illuminated them with focused sheets and bands of strobe lights. That is what makes it so interesting for me to dive.I will devote my next posting to some of Meltzoff's insights.