For the past twenty years the Waterfront Museum, which floats on the edge of New York Harbor about a mile south east of the Statue of Liberty, has featured numerous exhibitions that concern our waterways and coastline. The current exhibition, Derelicts: Oil Paintings by Jim St. Clair, is thanks to the film, theater and television production designer, Dean Taucher who met the museum’s president, David Sharps, and quickly organized the exhibition matching St. Clair’s gritty and highly tactile paintings with this unique and wonderful institution.
St. Clair’s paintings can be seen as windows into a lost world of degraded and decrepit, once seaworthy hulks of wood and metal that nature is slowly but surely reclaiming. St. Clair’s vantage point, which is always from the deck of his boat, gives him the opportunity to often set his subjects against a landscape. For instance, in Dinnerboat (2004), we see a skyscraper at the far left of the composition, a vertical patch of dark gray that repeats its shape and color twice in the beaten and battered hull cautiously linking the old and the new.
Below: Jim St. Clair, Dinner Boat (2004), Oil on canvas, 24 x 80 inches. All photo: courtesy of the artist.
As with many of St. Clair’s paintings, there is a distinct suggestion of cascading movement induced by the collapsing skeletal framework of this once proud vessel. Stuck in the green muck and weighted down by the overcast sky, this static mass of misfortune bears its shame in the nakedness of its incapacity.
Right: Two Ferryboats (2013), Oil on canvas, 22 x 56 inches.
In Two Ferryboats (2013) we once again see land in the background, only this time it is a benign mound of grasses. Stuck in the foreground like two giants who died long ago in a lose/lose battle to the death – rusted relics frozen in one last attempt to slay and defend – you may find yourself lost looking at the swirling shapes and the suggestion of a sweeping wind. Also in this painting, one can easily see how St. Clair both builds up and cuts back into the surface of his paintings using both ends of the brush adding detail and expression to the forms, while his mindfulness of capturing the changing colors of a lost culture come to the fore.
Below: Twisted Coal Pier (2005), Oil on canvas, 16 x 60 inches.
Twisted Coal Pier (2005) is one of those distinctive sights one would have seen for many years along the west side waterway of Manhattan. Gone now, but not forgotten, St. Clair paints it against a city skyline that mimics the grid of the ever-so-slowly meandering mass of metal. New York, a city that is always changing, is best remembered from vantage points like this where the similarities between the old and the new is most profoundly echoed.
Left: Binghamton (2015), Oil on canvas, 31 x 64 inches.
Binghamton (2015), despite its representation of neglect, has a certain sense of merriness to the narrative. Perhaps it is the knowing of the pleasurable activities this ferryboat turned restaurant once offered, or is it the roller-coaster ride of visual cues captured in the connections between the curious light and contrasting color. Whatever you may garner from his paintings, St. Clair always reveals the boldness and beauty of the beckoning beasts that find their life’s end along the edges and underbelly of ‘progress’ and history.
By D. Dominick Lombardi, Contributing Editor
Derelicts: Oil Paintings by Jim St. Clair will be on view until May 26, 2018 at New York’s Waterfront Museum. Please check the Museum’s website at www.waterfront.org for hours of operation.