LAURA WALLER: Rockland, Tampa, New York City
Paintings of Working Waterfronts, Industrial Sites and Urban Landscapes in Three Coastal Cities: 2011 to 2018
This exhibition by Tampa-based artist Laura Waller surveys seven years of painting working waterfronts and industrial landscapes in Rockland and Tampa, and urban scenes of New York City, where she was born.
Early in her studio practice, Waller began exploring the rustic charm found along working ports in the Rockland, Maine region where she has maintained a studio since 2002. In Round Pond (2012), one of her first working waterfront paintings, Waller portrays a modest, worn boat dock where commercial fishermen offload their catch. Its subdued hues and ordered composition invites a calm, but brooding mood. Conversely, you can feel the tension in Waller’s painting of a single-mast sloop, Approaching the Harbor (2013), with its angled shrouds and working sheets tautly pinned to mast and sail.
New England’s coastal scenes soon led Waller to Port Tampa Bay, one of the nation’s largest industrial ports, a subject that few artists have explored. Beginning in 2013, Waller focused on architectural elements of epic-scale container ships and cranes she found at this major marine hub; how light, both manmade and natural, strikes on surfaces. In Thorco Tribute No. 2 (2014), the bold use of vibrant color combined with its rusted surface against a brilliant blue sky, beckons us to see ships anew. When Waller focuses tightly on a complex element, often from a ground level perspective emphasizing the ship’s massiveness, images merge beyond representation, into abstraction.
Waller ventured beyond marine ports to include buildings under construction, from a skewed perspective, in Tampa, Aquatica No. 1 (2017) and New York City as well as a cement plant in Rockland; all providing new resources for expanding ideas of painting architectural abstractions. The powerful and spare Dragon Cement No. 3 (2017) painting clearly establishes the case for representation and abstraction coexisting.
Beginning with the painting, 57th Street Subway, NYC No. 1 (2018), Laura Waller introduces the human figure in her city scenes. Following in the American realist traditions of late 19th and early 20th century painters like George Bellows, Isabel Bishop and Reginald Marsh, Waller chronicles and pays tribute to New York City’s city dwellers, workers and tourists, some seen voyeuristically from behind as they stroll along a bridge or wait for a subway. In spite of the crowd, one senses that a certain isolation exists, not unlike the paintings of modernist Edward Hopper. Dramatic interplay of perspective and scale is also evident in her paintings of St. Petersburg’s iconic Tropicana Field and Tampa’s venerable Tampa Theatre.
Beyond personal reflections of place, the exquisite thread connecting these “portraits” is Laura Waller’s brilliance in conveying scale and how perspective, color and light have the power to transform. In seven years, she completed more than 150 oil on linen paintings of coastal, industrial and urban scenes, a powerful testament to a disciplined studio practice. Once a social worker in her former life and today a formidable painter, Laura Waller remains compelled by and finds beauty and mystery in what lies beyond the surface: the exoskeleton of the structure as well as the inner layer of the worker or visitor who enters within.
Barbara Anderson Hill, Guest Curator