Some months ago, I wrote an essay for the catalog accompanying my good friend Nicholas Kamuda’s exhibition of large scale seascape drawings at Cairo Gallery here in Seattle. Here is a reprinting of the text of that essay along with one of the pictures from that show, Seascape (1), courtesy Mr. Kamuda. Enjoy.
Special Guest: On Relating to the Sea
The answer to the question of how to orient paintings of landscape — particularly the ocean — has historically been rather consistent: “Go horizontal, man”. The reason for this is simple: you can cram a lot more subject in there, pictorally speaking. However, we can see that Nicholas Kamuda’s Seascapes series are all quite vertical. In fact, these works are unmistakably human in their ratio and scale. This relationship enables the viewer to pull psychological and emotional content out of the works in a decidedly empathetic way; These pictures are portraits.
As an already warm morning begins to turn into an unbearable afternoon, a man — cursing the shade’s uselessness in high humidity — dodges a cloud of Central Park mosquitos and dashes up the stairs into the conditioned reprieve of the Met. He buys his ticket and heads straight back and through the doorway under the stairs. Being naturally curious about beginnings, he finds himself unable to pass by a work without checking the date on its accompanying info card. He stops to size himself up next to a Medieval suit of armor. Boy, they really decorated things back in the day. Particularly impressed by the craftsmanship of a small desk — described on its card as a “17th century French bureau brisé” — the man tries mouthing its foreign title; In doing so, he becomes distinctly aware, for the first time, of his allegiance to the hard ‘k’ sound at the end of the word ‘desk’. He moves on. Suddenly, and with only a few heroically scaled marble sculptures to forewarn it’s imminence, he can feel that a boundary has been crossed. The Modern Art wing, hidden not-quite-far-enough in the back corner of the museum, brings with it a sudden displacement of energy. In front of these paintings, the man feels empowered to arbitrarily deride or praise, and yet, paradoxically, is not entirely confident that his opinions hold any validity, even to himself, outside of this moment. This uncertainly compels him to continue up the stairs to the second floor where he spends fifteen stormy minutes in front of a big canvas that was painted the year before he was born.
Vellum seems to me to be a material that is distinctly contemporary. Though it was invented in the 19th century as a replacement for animal hide parchment, modern paper vellum seems to have moved on from its ancestral home beneath illuminated scripture to become the working surface of architects — of plan-makers. Ideas pass through without distraction. Hold a light up to it and it is almost transparent. Ink doesn’t bond with vellum, it sticks politely; You could brush on some water and push the whole thing around — make a whole new drawing.
I dreamed last night that I was in the middle of a voyage at sea on one of those mammoth cruise boats, the ones that boast the attraction of a never-ending summer afternoon on the boardwalk. On one of the lower decks, surrounded by the smell of fried dough and the tan buzz of teenage skin, I stood looking down into a large swimming pool. The pool had been converted into a miniature aquarium — complete with sharks, flashing schools of silver fish, a giant octopus, and numerous other gawk-eyed beasties. To keep this mash-up a friendly one, the pool had been sliced horizontally into separate lanes by thick sheets of clear plastic — each species in their own lane. The lanes rotated through the pool like records in a jukebox or sandwiches in one of those coin-op dispensers. The octopus would disappear into the far wall and a pair of dolphins would slide into view from under the edge by my feet. I began trying to figure out how I might build this mechanism in the real world without the fish getting disoriented and nauseous. Anyway, I couldn’t come up with a solution and I eventually started dreaming about something else.
Ink is a waterborne pigment. When ink is pooled on a surface and left to dry, you can see the index of the evaporative process as a dark ring around the pool’s border — the last area to dry. Looking closely at Kamuda’s Seascapes reveals a wealth of these erratic evaporative patterns. I always assumed that the Modernist goal to reconcile philosophy and form within the same work ended with minimalism, but there’s something of this reconciliation present in the Seascapes series. Utilising water and its dynamics in the representation of the ocean is so economic as an idea, but the results are infinitely rich, detailed, and complex. I get a similar feeling watching the real ocean — that water can be so elemental and yet imbued with incomprehensible beauty is surely a key to its mystical allure.
“Out here on the water,” his father had said, “one should learn to expect unexpected weather and unseasonal temperatures”. To Dylan, this meant cold. Cold when you would rather be swimming. Cold when the last thing you want is to be indoors, sheathed in flannel and filled with soup. To Dylan, the ocean was maybe the only thing that made these family vacations fun, but this year it had been too cold to set toe in the surf, much less dive in. The yellow styrofoam body board that his grandmother had given him hadn’t even been removed from the trunk of the car; Dylan had, however, dragged inside the duffel filled with swimsuits and towels with a sense of optimism that his parents didn’t seem to want to acknowledge. With a glance at the weather forecast, they’d seemingly resigned themselves to ten days of cocoa and books and trips to the farmers market. Glacial boredom. After three days of staunch gloom, Dylan decided it was time to go ahead and put on his suit. He went to the duffel and pulled out his beach towel — a huge cotton affair that exceeded his home version in both size and number of colors. Making his way up the stairs toward the tub, Dylan grinned at the calls of the sea birds flying just outside. He lay his towel down next to the feet of the old tub and twisted the faucet handles. Drawing a little from ‘H’, but mostly from ‘C’ — for accuracy’s sake, Dylan waited for the water to fill the tub as he looked out the window at the foaming grey ocean hushing and pulsing just outside. hshhh…karuushhhh… Closing his eyes, he filled his chest with air, leaned over the edge of the tub and dunked his head under the rising water.
This feels good.