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Homer at the Met
John McMahon on the power of Winslow Homer's work. "It’s as if Homer, a big mustachioed man, whipped these canvases up in a frenzy of paint to match the storm, delivering that power to the viewer."
On an exceptionally Fine New York May afternoon I walked over to the Met to see if I could find their Chang Dai-Chien paintings. After paying what I wished, I saw there was a Winslow Homer show on, Crosscurrents, that would do instead. I’ve had an on-and-off fascination with Homer since I studied art history in college, more on than off recently as his seascapes fit nicely into my Moby Dick obsession.
I didn’t read all the little information cards where the curators surely made their Gulf Stream connections but I suppose one of them made a link between Homer’s experiences in the war and his forthcoming solitude at his house on the coast of Maine. It was here that he painted his iconic seascapes along with The Gulf Stream which depicts a young black man in a long boat just only left floating in the lee of a storm. His ship far in the distance, mast splintered and the sea around him churned with the blood of his crew mates and the thrashing hordes of sharks feeding on them.
It will be a stunning painting as long as humans have eyes. Deeper into the show hung three paintings from his isolation series, if that’s a thing, which steal the show.
This set of close-cropped seascapes is void of any human presence. A gray sea breaks against black rocks, sending up plumes of spray in brushstrokes so loose and bold that the paintings approach the brink of abstraction. It’s as if Homer, a big mustachioed man, whipped these canvases up in a frenzy of paint to match the storm, delivering that power to the viewer.
I left the museum through a show of modern abstractions that seemed dull and fleeting after seeing the Homers. I literally snort laughed when I caught a Julian Schnabel in the corner of my eye. Back out in the sun, among the roving freak show that is New York, I felt emboldened enough by the paintings to bear the subway system.
John McMahon is a freelance writer/former art world schmuck who now lives on a beach in Thailand.
Winslow Homer (1836-1910) was an American Realist painter best known for his marine subjects.