New York

Michael Torlen

Luise Ross Gallery

These landscapes were inspired by the yearly summer visits Michael Torlen makes to the Mount Desert Island area along the Maine coastline. In seeking to capture the special charms of this region, he joins the ranks of illustrious American artists who also “did” Maine, among them Winslow Homer, John Marin, and Marsden Hartley. Torlen, however, follows a fiercely independent course. The style he employs in this group of oils, watercolors, and monoprints is far more realistic than that used in his “Revelations” and “Genesis” series of 1984–85. While those landscapes were conceived almost entirely from the imagination, the Maine landscapes have their starting point in observation, in what the artist sees and remembers. Using a method combining on-the-spot sketches, drawing from memory, and in some cases photos as an aid, Torlen captures the transcendental essence of these vistas.

In Evening Light Crow Island, 1988, the scene is of the tides as they roll in and out through a spreading mist. The sky is set ablaze by sharp oranges and other hot tones, and the sun melts into the sea and land masses. With its strong horizontal pull, the work evokes a deep sense of serenity. In Looking Toward Duck Island, 1988, another of the oils, the rhythm of ceaseless change, of nature in flux, is given expression by the movement of both clouds and water.

Torlen leaves himself free to invent or alter the colors and shapes of nature. His interpretations of the Maine coastline make one sense, not so much its monumentality, as the beautifully intricate configurations of its forms. In the watercolor Dancing Rocks #3, 1988, Torlen creates a striking panorama with a reverential feeling for nature’s grand design. The monoprints shown here feature forms that seem to fade in and out through the subtle manipulation of texture, revealing the keen sensitivity to structure that underscores the artist’s vision.

The title of the exhibition, “Songs For My Father,” indicates the depth of the feeling Torlen has for the subject he is rendering. One does not have to know that Torlen’s father was a fisherman or that the artist grew up among people who made their living off the sea for the work to succeed. The meaning this stretch of landscape holds for him comes through in this uncompromisingly direct celebration of the universal forms and forces of nature.

Ronny Cohen