Art: Our Favorite Storm Paintings
by Raymond Herrera
In the wake of the terrible tragedy that came to us from all directions, Hurricane Sandy has left many with no power, essentials, property, and in some cases life. Nature’s fury is nothing to be played with, and when it’s time for her to remind us, the best we can do is take cover and hope for the best. Some observe it and document it. Some imagine these scenarios, create them, and speak about our connection with nature. Even in metropolitan areas like ours, where Basking Ridge, NJ is considered ‘the country,’ and the closest contact with nature we have is feeding stale Wonder bread to pigeons with your grandpa, we are sometimes barred from ignoring its power. This time we had to come face to face with it in the form of massive destruction. Even the contemporary art world suffered some major losses, as Hurricane Sandy flooded galleries in New York City’s Chelsea nieghborhood and other downtown areas. Sometimes there is beauty in this turbulence, and the following artists capture these moments, real or fantastical, and accurately so.
This painting is the only seascape by the dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn. It depicts Jesus calming the Sea of Gallilee with his twelve disciples and some dude they probably picked up at the docks that looks a lot like Rembrandt himself. This mysterious character looks out at the viewer holding on to his head covering with one hand and a rope, for his life, with the other. While the vessels collide with the violent waves, a ray of light signals hope that the storm will soon pass. Some scholars say that Rembrandt included himself in these biblical pieces because the stories somehow related to his own life, and he used these stories as a type of diary. The painting has been missing since it got lifted from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990. Its whereabouts are still unknown.
An image of Godzilla approaching the Jersey Shore circulated many Facebook and Instagram accounts as Hurricane Sandy approached. When putting this list together, thanks to Godzilla, this painting immediately came to mind. El Coloso, also known as El Gigante, El Panico, and La Tormenta depicts a naked giant walking towards a storm in the background, with a village, it’s inhabitants, and their cattle fleeing in a different direction than the monster. Critics say the giant is a symbol of the Spanish people emerging to expel the French invaders who occupied Spain at the time, during the Peninsular War between Napoleon and the British, Spanish, and Portuguese. Scholars have disputed to whom the painting is attributed to, which traditionally includes Fransisco de Goya and several of his apprentices. Regardless of the painter, it was created in Goya’s spirit. The clouds show a lot of movement, capture what little light there is, and gifts us censorship. Nobody wants to see the giant’s crack Goya, good call. Like Colossus, the best of us sometimes have to brave through a storm only to face more challenges ahead.
The Gulf Stream was created by the American painter Winslow Homer from a series of studies after numerous trips to the Caribbean and Florida. It depicts a man on a boat with no rudder, a broken mast, surrounded by sharks, on rough water. The man has no seeming chance of rescue in his fight against nature, and the shadow of the ship in the distant horizon further reminds us of his isolation. It reminds us that we are at the mercy of nature, but despite being almost defenseless against it we persist to exist. Some also say the painting is an allegory to the black experience during the time. While the painting received mixed reviews, some racially charged of course, the Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired it for it’s collection in 1906.
Norwegian painter Edvard Munch depicts the sinister darkness of a stormy summer night in Scandinavia in The Storm. The only source of warmth in this scene comes from the windows in the houses in the background. The women are holding on to their hats, huddled, behind a solitary figure in white doing the same. All running for cover against the wind and rain that bend the tree in the background, and resist the women’s attempt at reaching a safe haven. But the light on the rocks in the foreground probably suggest that sanctuary is not too far away. Munch is best known for his painting The Scream, which is said to truly capture modern man’s anxiety better than most paintings have ever been able to.
Actor, director, theater designer Edward Gordon Craig has been credited with reviving the block printing technique he used for this piece in England. These block prints were used in material related to the productions he directed. He was a well known stage director and designer during his time, but his creative talents took him to other areas of expression, including visual arts. His use of space is rooted in the same visions he had for theater design, simplicity. You can almost count all the lines used and still read the violent waves, fast moving air and water, and track their paths amidst empty space. Not bad for a theater guy.
Self taught artist, visual and bullshit, Henri Rousseau, painted Tiger in a Tropical Storm- Surprised! from what he said he remembered from his expedition in the French army in the jungles of Mexico. Only he never went to Mexico, and tigers don’t live there. Rousseau spent a lot of time in the botanical gardens in Paris and looking at taxidermied animals to create his visions of nature. In this painting, the tiger seems frightened. But by what? In the distance a lighting bolt crashes through the sky and maybe the predator pouncing on unseen prey will have to abort his mission to seek protection from the weather, the only thing more powerful than than it. This painting captures a colorful, vibrant scene in spite of the gray skies covering the sunlight, where all living things move with the wind and sharp, cutting raindrops.
Spanish born, German duo HOW and NOSM have been making waves in the art world since joining the TATS CRU in the late 90s. This first release of a print by the duo, Storm Predictions, is a great example of their work and the timing for it’s release, November 1st, 2012, is uncanny. We tend to be jaded by weather, political, and other types of predictions made by the media, since they’re often wrong and leave us feeling duped when we succumb to the hype. The the painting is filled with curvilinear shapes, patterns, and symbols which are difficult to interpret at first glance. There are symbols of love, consumerism, destruction, frustration, and isolation. This complex composition reflects the confusion and anxiety some of us may experience before a storm. After some email exchanges with their manager, the artists do not usually offer explanations of their work, and hope that, as we have attempted, you make your own conclusions about the meaning behind their work. HOW and NOSM are currently executing a mural at New York’s Houston and Bowery Wall, where artists such as Keith Haring, JR, and Shepard Fairey have showcased.
3 years after Hurricane Katrina Bansky hit the streets of New Orleans to make art and battle graffitti villain Gray Ghost, who creeps around NOLA covering street art with gray paint. Interesting, in a Yellowism kind of way, were it not for the sole purpose of erasing a culture that will never cease to exist. Most of Banksy‘s pieces in these series incorporated stencils of Grey Ghost himself erasing the work, calling out the anti-graffiti antihero. This is Banksy‘s Soldiers Looting, a commentary on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The people were left to fend for themselves after the storm. It was at the time America’s most tragic natural disaster. Some took to the streets and looted food, and everything else. This work flips that scene, where instead soldiers are looting the homes of the citizens. By failing to properly protect and rescue it’s people, those in charge, who the soldiers represent, did just that. This stencil along with several others, including commissioned work, were erased by the vigilante. Only one of the pieces, now covered in plexi, still remains.
Joseph Mallord William Turner is to storm painting what Joseph Mallord William Turner is to storm painting. You read that correctly. He sets the bar. I purposefully withheld the title of this piece so that readers wouldn’t focus on the type of precipitation he paints in this work. If The Snow Storm – steam boat off a harbor’s mouth making signals in shallow water, and going by the lead, painted in 1842, were titled The Hurricane you wouldn’t have any issues interchanging the settings. While fighting the elements, the viewer may not have balance, and this angled horizon captures the disorientation we experience from the jump. The atmosphere and what is beneath it become almost indistinguishable, and the chaos is happening in both. Nevertheless, it is a violent storm that moves heaven and sea that surrounds the ship and threatens it’s existence. The technological marvel that the steamboat might have been at the time becomes a vulnerable hunk of metal in a swirl of extremely powerful energy.
These paintings depict nature vs. man and technology in fierce battle. While currently both sides play offense and defense, we know nature will ultimately win, and carry on with or without us.
HOW and NOSM’s Storm Predictions print is available here.