“I’m turning a little bit green, aren’t I?”
An unsettled Beau Carey turns from his easel at the bow and addresses the pilot of the 17 foot Rabbit Island transport boat. Only an hour earlier the waves appeared calm enough for the first attempt to bring the large easel aboard. Now a strong east wind has begun to rise, and even while following the waves around the southwestern point of the island, the boat rolls and heels, making the task at hand uncomfortable if not impossible. We pack away the paints, point north and trace an arc back to the mooring in front of main camp.
A landscape painter from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Beau has traveled widely, making work in a variety of remote and challenging locations including Denali National Park in Alaska and the arctic archipelago of Svalbard, the northernmost settlement in the word. As our third artist-in-residence this summer, he has been on Rabbit Island since July 5th, creating a new body of work related to his research into the history of coastal profiling and the more immediate experience of looking versus seeing.
Beau remarked that while he could have continued this research on any
island, being on Rabbit Island was integral to pushing his practice in
new directions. In today’s world it might be impossible to find
unexplored places on the map, but according to the artist, the larger concepts that underpin Rabbit Island are “uncharted territory”. Historically, coastal profiling was used to
assist in and highlight a nation’s imperialist motivations; to gather more territory, exploit it, and
grow in commercial capacity. Beau sees the idea of Rabbit Island as the complete opposite and has been creating scenes of the landscape that are about our experience
not dominion over it.
The following day we spoke about the difficulty of painting while seasick–its
potential to shake up the way of looking and seeing, but also its potential to create a situation where it is easier to fall back on the conventions of the genre, and on the skills already mastered.
“Sometimes the difficulty in looking makes it impossible to see.”
During our conversation Beau relates this notion of looking as the act of searching and his immediate perception. In this case, an act made increasingly difficult with seasickness. On the other side, seeing is the act of understanding, resulting from extended periods of looking. These two interrelated concepts are represented by the pieces made in the field, and the larger works on canvas he creates when in the studio. With waterlogged edges and bugs stuck to the surface, pieces from the field bear the evidence of the raw environment in which they are created. The studio pieces, often much larger and created over a longer period of reflection, distill the immediacy of the experience and thoughtful interrogations of his research. Examples of both will be on display at our annual exhibition at the DeVos Art Museum, opening on the 24th of September.
Beau has several days remaining before he departs the island. Until now he has been painting from the rocky sandstone shore, a tree platform, and boats; while also reading texts from the library, contributing his own observations to the island’s journal, and attending to the day-to-day tasks of camp life. He is constantly
searching for a narrow target, albeit one that requires a very wide view. Beau has been both looking and seeing on Rabbit Island, and finding that the X that marks the
spot changes as frequently as the direction of the waves, wind, and weather. We look forward to witnessing what he finds.
Residency co-founder Andrew Ranville captures Beau painting from Eagle Rock, a sandstone shoal approximately ½ mile southwest of Rabbit Island. A small islet usually rises 2-3 feet from the lake’s surface at this exact location. This year, as a result of strong ice movement and record high water levels, only one stone breaks the surface to help balance Beau’s easel. July 9th, 2015.