This week our focus artist is Laura Waller. Laura is currently on exhibit here at the gallery with her solo show “Working Port” which will be on display until July 30th. Laura divides her time between Maine and Florida where she paints full time. We recently gave her a list of interview questions and she graciously took the time to thoughtfully answer them which gives us a chance to understand her process better as well as gives us an exclusive look into her work. Enjoy!
Can you tell us about your interest in Florida-based tugboats?
I tend to “anthropomorphize” my subjects. I see the bones in my ships and see the muscles in the tugs. Rhea I Bouchard No.1 almost has an exoskeleton wrapping around her side while the Sheila Moran is puffed up with muscular rubber draped in rows across her bow. OIG Giant II No. 5 presents a classic view through the ship to the strong bones that hold her decks together.
On my first trip into the Port where I toured in a golf cart with a security guard , we talked of the taut stretching of the lines that secure the ships to the dock. He told me of the near disaster when a large freighter’s lines snapped during a howling wind storm that went through the harbor. The ship began to swing to the other side of the channel where it would have wrecked havoc. Not to worry for a small tug rushed over and pushed the behemoth back to its sea wall. Pure and simple strength in a small form.
Tugs link my Maine home to my Tampa home. I went out on the Patriot tug in Port Tampa Bay – built in East Boothbay by Washburn and Doughty, a shipyard I have visited. I have painted the Capt. MacIntire No. 1 which is up in dry dock in Belfast Maine.
Your tugboat pieces started out as more detailed and realistic but has progressed toward close-up views verging on abstract. Will abstraction continue to take over your interest, or will we see you go back and forth from abstraction to representational?
Probably go back and forth between the two even though the representational pieces, if you look at segments of them, are abstract.
While you are here in Maine for the summer, what will you paint if anything?
Just finished a smaller canvas (20×24 inches) as I had some left over. The size of the ships almost demands a larger canvas so these smaller canvases portray closer up details of the larger ships. I just purchased two 5×7 feet linen canvases to paint. That is about the maximum a 5’x3” person can reach to paint. I’ll probably continue painting what I’d like others to see – the absolute beauty of the patterns created by weathered surfaces and rusty drips in the port.
What is your studio practice? Photos on site, and then all work in the studio, or sketches and photos on site?
I take many photos either on land if accompanied by a security guard or from my son’s powerboat going through the channels. There is not an opportunity to paint plain air because of Homeland Security. I print the chosen photos out at 8″x10” to paint from. Sometimes I project the image onto the canvas to get the initial drawing accurate. I tone my canvases with raw Sienna to give a harmonious luminescence to the work. I paint with water-mixable oils sometimes accenting with oil bars.
Do you have any favorite pieces that are in your current show?
Hard to say as each is a part of me.
C-Enforcer No. 2 demonstrates the concept of Wabi-Sabi in my work. I hope it shows the beauty in the humble, the common, the unfinished. I find joy in the elegance of the lines (meaning the ropes) and the lovely shadows they create; the simple shape of the superstructure; the reflected glow of the light in the port.
K. Brave No.1: The Rudder, was originally this was called an anchor. My wonderful Naval scientist friend explained that it is a rudder. While I was painting I became more and more disturbed by the process as it seemed to not fit with the others in the series – different colors, temperature, clarity, etc. It felt uncomfortable. With help from a friend, I realized that something may be naturally occurring – perhaps a morphing into something else. A transitioning. Just go with it. It seems to stand alone to me.
Who are your favorite artists and did they inspire your eye in this series?
I learned oil painting from Tina Ingraham of Bath, a master of color mixing and observing planes and values which are among among her many talents. She introduced me to Giorgio Morandi who never tired of painting his exquisite still-life paintings of bottles and vases. I too have not tired of painting my ships.
The Tampa Museum of Art, a few years ago, had an exhibition of the American paintings in the Phillips Collection. It felt to me a bit like how viewers must have felt seeing the Armory Exhibition of 1913. I believe those paintings will be with me in my studio for the rest of my life. For example, a painting I just did after the opening of the Elizabeth Moss Exhibition of the Tanja Kosan incorporates the cadmium orange and black of a Clyfford Still. My night scenes lit by the glow from within a freighter harken back to the darkened paintings of Albert Pinkham Ryder.
In conclusion, I want to record the port at this moment in time. To raise awareness of the port. It is a place vital to commerce and growth, but yet largely unavailable to residents because of homeland security. I see these cargo ships as the true international citizens of the world; my nomads of the sea.
I have always enjoyed what I call “drop-ins” like a movie or novel that drops you into a town where you get immersed in its culture that is often unknown and different from my own. I found life in the port to be a new world. Very few women are in the port although the tugboat Patriot had a female deckhand who was very proficient at the many varied tasks required of her. Researching the Port has meant many hours exploring this world. They were highlighted perhaps by the two days I spent on ships. Taking a 500 foot freighter, the Clipper Newhaven, from the docks, turning it around, and then heading out of the harbor and under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge was one of the most memorable days of my life. Capt. Kurtz, my harbor pilot friend who arranged for me to join her on the ship, is one of only two female pilots in Florida, and one of only 30 or so in the country. Her competence and calm nature were reassuring especially when we had to climb down the side of the ship and step onto the pilot boat while both the freighter and the pilot boat were cruising at 11 knots. Many thanks to the Ukrainian crew who then took the ship to Japan.
Thank you so much to Laura Waller for taking the time to answer our questions and for giving us such a personal look into her work. Please be sure to stop in the gallery to see these beautiful pieces for yourself or email us at [email protected] to inquire about her work. Also, continue to follow our social media channels for more about Laura’s current exhibit, and work and for a full list of available pieces at the gallery please click here.