THE CANVAS – August 2013
By Britta Konau
Boats are recurring motifs in the oeuvre of painters Sam Cady, James Dodds, and Dale Hueppchen.
The artists are attracted to the formal qualities of small vessels—their colors, volumes, and distinctive shapes. Of equal interest to them, however, is the long tradition of building and utilizing boats, as well as their symbolic potential. This may explain the fact that Cady, Dodds, and Hueppchen depict them in relative, or even absolute, isolation from any surrounding environment, imbuing the boats with a sense of timelessness.
Sam Cady was born in Boothbay Harbor and earned his art degrees at the University of New Hampshire in Durham and Indiana University in Bloomington. Cady taught for 23 years at the School of Visual Arts in New York. He has had numerous solo shows at commercial galleries that included the Holly Solomon Gallery in the 1970s and 1980s and, for many years, the Mary Ryan Gallery, both in New York. Among the nonprofit institutions that have organized solo exhibitions of his work are the Paul Robeson Galleries at Rutgers–Newark (1999) and the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, Massachusetts (1987). In 1975 his work was included in the Whitney Biennial. Cady’s work is in the collections of the Portland Museum of Art, Farnsworth Art Museum, Addison Gallery of American Art, and Orlando Museum of Art, among others. It has been reviewed in art magazines and newspapers, including Art in America and the New York Times. Cady is represented by the Caldbeck Gallery in Rockland and the Howard Yezerski Gallery in Boston.
As Cady puts it, he “likes joining the two opposite poles of art—modernist severity with the realistic, even picturesque.” For the last 20 years his subject matter has drawn predominantly on scenes and objects of his native Maine—Friendship, where he lives, in particular. Over the years he has created woodcuts, silkscreens, lithographs, and countless drawings; however, he is best known for his paintings. Their chosen subject determines not only the paintings’ size, from miniscule to large-scale, but also whether they are rectangular or in Cady’s trademark shaped form. “I only use the traditional format when I need the color, air, or space around the objects,” the artist explains.
Just as contour lines are emphasized in Cady’s drawings, the shape of his paintings often follows the outlines of objects, to highly illusionistic effect. The boundaries between things are stressed, yet what is not described, the empty space between and around the objects, is just as important. “The viewer’s imagination has to gather what goes on beyond what I depict,” Cady says. This interplay of reality and artifice is underscored by unusual vantage points, including aerial ones, and exaggerated perspectives.
Cady has been depicting boats since childhood, but when he was living in New York as an adult, the subject seemed too picturesque, kind of verboten. Cady recalls, “It took many years to allow myself to do boats again.” Friendship Sloop Echo,Cabin with Black SailCover differs from most of the artist’s shaped canvases because it avoids following the shape of an entire object. Instead, a snapshot-like cropping determines the composition, together with an exaggerated compression of space. In preparation for the painting Cady indeed took many photographs of the sloop, which he only later realized had belonged to artist William Thon (1906–2000), who too made it the subject of many of his paintings. For Cady a sense of nostalgia can come from a certain quality of light, and he admits to looking back a lot, but it is the details that interest him most. “I’m not a generalist, I’m interested in specifics,” he says. “I eliminate, simplify, pare things down, until I have arrived at the form and spirit of something.”
Born in Brightlingsea, a coastal town in Essex, Great Britain, James Dodds trained as a shipwright before turning to art and studying at the Royal College of Art in London, among other schools. His work has been exhibited throughout England and in Germany, Greece, Russia, and the United States as well, including at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. In 2001 Dodds was the subject of a major traveling retrospective as well as a short documentary film, and in 2007 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Essex. In his last year of art school, Dodds founded Jardine Press, which has published over 30 editions of poetry and other writings, some with his illustrations. Dodds’s work is in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British National Maritime Museum, and many other institutions. He is represented by Messum’s in London, and in the United States by the Dowling Walsh Gallery in Rockland. Dodds also shows his prints at the Handmade Papers Gallery in Brooklin.
Dodds has lived all his life in communities along the river Colne in Essex. “It is very important to me to have roots in the area that I work in,” he states. He matured as an artist the moment he combined his training in traditional wooden boat building with the practice of painting, which happened in 2000. That year he had the opportunity to display a large canvas and, grappling with the challenge, ended up painting a boat from memory.
Nowadays, Dodds visits local boat builders to create photographs and sketches that serve as preparatory material for his paintings. His subjects include newly built vessels, boats that underwent repairs, and shipwrecks, all the while celebrating the history and craftsmanship of his former occupation. While these images accurately describe the kinds of boats built along the coast of Britain, they do not leave the uninitiated viewer behind. Architectural monumentality, descriptive detail, and interesting color choices transform Dodds’s paintings into icons of the sea. In Orcadian Yole, Stern the boat’s warm, muted colors against a uniform black background, as well as extreme foreshortening, suggest the boat is emerging from deep pictorial space. Although manmade, the vessel’s organic, wooden shape also seems natural. “I celebrate the physicality of things,” Dodds explains. In a way, even as a painter he is still building boats.
His woodcuts and linocuts explore a wider range of marine subjects, including panoramas of fishing villages and illustrations of nautical tales, in complex compositions. Additionally, Dodds has started carving wooden reliefs of boats this year. The artist clearly lives and breathes boats and everything related to them, and infuses his artwork with his lifelong passion. In Dodds’s own words, “I believe art should engage the head, heart, and hand.”
Born in Saginaw, Michigan, Dale Hueppchen enrolled in some art classes while earning his bachelor’s degree at Rice University in Houston, Texas, but he is essentially a self-taught artist. He was a successful photographer in the 1970s and 1980s and founded a small photography school in Virginia, which he directed for 10 years. Examples of his photographs are in the collections of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Hueppchen turned to painting, his first love, in 1992, having moved to Maine five years prior. A multitalented creative spirit, Hueppchen is currently writing a novel. His works are shown at Archipelago, the Island Institute Store in Rockland, and at the Small Wonder Gallery in Camden.
Whether in photography or painting, Hueppchen’s aesthetic preference leans toward spare compositions. His mature paintings represent solitary objects or elemental landscape formations in a clean-edged, linear style. Working from photographs, sketches, memory, and his imagination, the artist uses a muted palette to enhance his paintings’ overall quietude. His subjects range from coastal, lake, and mountain views to figures, animals, and still lifes of individual natural forms, like pieces of fruit or shells. In their clarity and luminosity, some of his works recall the powerful graphic distillations of Rockwell Kent (1882–1971). Hueppchen says, “I like to reduce complex reality to simple, iconographic forms.”
Since 1997 Hueppchen has included boats in his repertoire, predominantly small rowboats, and more recently, sailboats as well. His compositions consist of nothing but boat, water, and light, with rarely a scrap of coast visible. Honoring symmetry, most vessels are depicted bow first, and if rowers or sailors are present at all, the figures are reduced to suggestive, rounded shapes. The water is almost always calm, with barely a ripple to disturb the reflecting surface. The boats thus appear as if bathing in a sea of light.
For Hueppchen, Cruising is an unusually detailed painting. Although its title implies movement and all sails are set, the racing sloop seems at rest at the center of the composition, like a geometric triangle. “I am looking for a pure kind of beauty,” says the artist, which is what attracted him to boats in the first place. The artist deeply appreciates that their shape has been refined over thousands of years. To the viewer, Hueppchen’s images are soothing in their simplicity and solidity. For the artist, however, they are also self-portraits, very personal responses to his inner being.