A portion of The Phantom Ship painted by Jesse Talbot in 1850

A portion of "The Vision of the Phantom Ship" painted by Jesse Talbot in 1850

Dana Wigdor: "The Journey to Alpha Selona" at Gallery In The Woods

Wigdor's Arrival to Alpha Selona

"Arrival to Alpha Selona" (36x72)

Editor's Note: Gallery In The Woods, at 143 Main Street, Brattleboro, is hosting a new show of paintings by Dana Wigdor. The following is extracted from the artist's notes on this series.

I was sifting through my mother's copious genealogy notes and hand-drawn charts from the 1700s, when a woman named Selona Vining leaped out towards me, and I was immediately enchanted. I don't have a special interest in genealogy per se, but there is a certain fervor about it that's oddly familiar to me. When you're an oil painter, everything you do and touch is so loaded with history, you can actually feel the human psyche in your tools. I am standing on the shoulders of 600 years of oil painters—al of the souls who have wrestled with this stuff before me. I call this presence in my studio: the murmur in my tools.

Selona Vining was married to Mix Turner, born in 1789, a descendant of Nathaniel Turner, who was lost at sea in 1646 on George Lamberton's ship. This ship was famously lost, then re-appeared as a mirage floating above the horizon. Many people stood together and witnessed this sight—a consensus that the floating ship was real. This aberration inspired the poem "The Phantom Ship" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Why did this journey happen to me? Why did my encounter with genealogy cause me to travel through space to a distant planet? Was it something about Selona Vining as an individual—her connection to the Phantom Shippe of New Haven? I have a few ideas, but I'll leave the question unanswered—it's something about the murmur in my tools.

Wigdor's The Poet, The Comic, The Exile

"The Poet, The Comic, The Exile" (36x72)

The Journey to Alpha Selona starts with the canvas More Than You Know, which is farewell. I sprayed a careful mist of diluted white—the droplets came to rest in the deepest ultramarine. I saw the gateway to the heavens. I mixed 3 different whites and diluted them even more until the light churned in circles. This was the last view of the place where I stood. A purple mountain dissolved, gravity released, and I was gone. The subsequent canvases have a tumbling point of view with no horizon line.

How does a story become embedded in the skin of an oil painting? It's not enough to create a likeness or illustrate a picture. There must be a reenactment of the atmosphere and the events themselves, in the turbulence of painting.

I poured loose glazes over the canvases horizontally on a table. There was gas and dust, intense heat and frigid bleakness—infinite. I encountered the darkest galaxy—a claw-like star system suspended in time, reaching out to an eclipsed planet below. I scraped through the elastic paint skin with cleaning scrub brushes, barber combs, sandpaper folded into blunt shapes.

There was a small system of planets, each with their own personality it seemed—a comic, a poet, and an exiled moon jettisoned off to the side. There was an orange event so joyous I could barely take it in, oil paint recreating the incomprehensible vastness of space—a horizon into another realm.

I first saw the atmosphere of Alpha Selona through a purple lattice of hazy particulate. I sprayed turpentine over the thick, weathered surface, soaking loose material with rags, house painting roller covers, pieces of cardboard, and fistfuls of Saran wrap bunched into crystallized sponges. A warm resin glaze of burnt umber dissolved into the blue atmosphere that surrounds Alpha Selona....

Copyright 2019, Gallery Walk, Brattleboro, Vermont

Return to Gallery Walk Archives for articles in past issues

Go to Gallery Walk home page