by Brooke Chilvers
Although the temperatures crept into the 50s this week, there’s still snow on the ground in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. With few evergreens, the woods are charmless, and the grey tree trunks are starting to feel like prison bars.
I wish I were in Charleston, attending the February 17-20, 2022, Southeastern Wildlife Exposition (SEWE), but I’ve never figured out how to use my “credentials” to wangle an invitation. They’re predicting a weekend of sunshine, and the city is unmasking. You could spend a week eating your way through the Low Country, although the only restaurant I recognize from my youth is Poogan’s Porch, and even they have picked up the annoying habit of not putting prices on their online menu. I simply cannot adapt to surprises, like $35 fried chicken.
So I settled on visiting the Sportsman’s Gallery online – they are actually located on King Street – and the fishing art and artists featured until February 28, 2022: Paul Puckett, John Swan, and Kent Lemon. I’m going to go fishing with any one of them (although Puckett looks like the most fun). At least in my mind.
From his website, Puckett (b. 1975) is obviously a bonefishing guy. Both he and his images get unashamedly up close and personal to his subjects. And there may be a hint of humor in viewing underwater landscapes “piscatorially” — that is, from another fish’s perspective.
Surely there are reasons the Dallas-born artist, who grew up fishing East Texas bass lakes with both his grandfathers, and later lived for four years in Jackson, Wyoming, where he fished for trout, lives in Charleston. Hopefully, not all the teeming pristine salt marshes of the youth mentioned above, that I choose to see in The Day’s Finale, have been absorbed by gated communities and shopping centers, like what’s happened to Mount Pleasant. Even my old Isle of Palms rental has long been washed away and replaced by a mansion. Twice.
Puckett’s serene, meditative Flat Light Morning, bathed in a hue not unlike the stone blue winter sky outside my window, transports you on such days. The artist takes you fishing, on canvas, to the Bahamas, the Seychelles, Argentina, Cuba, Yucatan, and beyond. Puckett admits that, in Charleston, he gets “distracted by the Low Country tides and tailing Redfish.”
John Swan (b. 1948) grew up in Maine where he fished Rangeley Lakes near his grandparents’ cabin and was awakened to the beauty of nature. He studied art at the University of New Hampshire, and can paint everything in either oil or watercolors, from seascapes to nudes.
But Swan credits his fishing image on the cover of Gray’s Sporting Journal more than 20 years ago for launching his career as a sporting artist. And today he can say, “I paint wherever I can fish,” which sounds like the best possible motto to live by. This means a studio and gallery in the historic Stroudwater district of Portland, Maine, and winters in the Bahamas, not only bonefishing, but also just being among and painting these “easy-going people who appreciate the slower pace of life on the islands.” A laid-back pitch infuses Abaco Flats, which portrays more a moment than a memory, despite the relative closeness of the figures to the viewer.
His northern outdoor subjects Swan tends to catch in loosely brush-stroked oils that make them feel they were spontaneously painted on the spot; he prefers watercolors for the translucent waters of his winter sport (and my yearnings).
Swan has been named Artist of the Year for Ducks Unlimited (1987) and the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust (2017), as well as three times for the Atlantic Salmon Federation. He has exhibited extensively, and also illustrated two highly collectible books: the 1996 edition of Joseph Bates’s Atlantic Salmon Fishing–The Flies and the Patterns, completed by Bates’s daughter after his death, and Thomas McGuane’s 1996 Live Water.
Kent Lemon’s good-sized oil Bone On looks gorgeous on my computer screen, with all the sun-drenched seafloor nuances shimmering through the shallow waters in the foreground, tinted further by the purpling clouds in the background. It is a dance of pigments with origins in Monet’s Water Lilies.
Color, says Lemon, is his dialect. “To me it is the reason to speak in the language of paint and why the visual world is so full of wonder.” Crediting John Singer Sargent and Joaquin Sorolla as his influences, it is no wonder that even Lemon’s whites vibrate with color.
Lemon (b. 1960) grew up in Colorado Springs and Denver in an art-collecting family with close ties to the local creative community. He started pre-med studies at Colorado University (his father was a radiologist), but ended up at New York’s Parsons School of Design.
Lemon returned to Colorado, where he studied with artists Mark Daily (b. 1944), who applies bright colors with an impressionistic stroke, and noted Western artist Ned Jacob (1938), who describes his task as an artist as convincingly moving figures, whether human or animal, through weather, light, and atmosphere.
With a brushstroke and sense of light that recalls the artists who inspired him, in addition to Lemon’s sporting art, his oeuvre includes boldly colored, timeless Rocky Mountain landscapes and high-plain meadows that echo his origins. But it is his handling of all the subtleties of waters, whether dazzling tropical underwater worlds or rushing cold-weather rivers, that is hypnotically pleasing to the eye.
After a winter morning in the company of these inviting artists, bathed in their turquoise waters and azure skies, my woods look particularly gloomy. So I abandon the sea and console myself with the pheasants, waterfowl, and pleasing autumn colors of the artists in The Sportsman’s Gallery’s online catalog.
Unless you’re fishing, I suggest you do, too: https://sportsmans-gallery.s3.amazonaws.com/2021Catalog.pdf
Gray’s art columnist and would-be denizen of the tropics, Brooke Chilvers, says that no matter what Punxsutawney Phil predicts on February 2, it still takes 47 days to reach spring.