Oyster Bay, 48"x48", 2014. First in a new series of oyster paintings.
According to local wisdom, months that contain the letter "R" are the best for eating oysters, at least in the Chesapeake Bay area. If this is true, then we have now entered Oyster Season. I love to eat oysters on the half shell and am lucky enough to live in an area where this is part of the local culture. I can have my pick of several restaurants that offer an array of oysters from different areas. Or I can just go pick up a few dozen at one of the seafood markets on Lynnhaven Inlet.
This is a privilege I do not take for granted. There have been many efforts made to restore the oyster population in the Bay over the last several years, it having been decimated to only 1% of historic levels due to over-harvesting, pollution and disease. (Read about the important work of Lynnhaven River Now and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and find out how to help.) Saving the oysters is not just important for coastal economies, it is an vital part of restoring the Chesapeake Bay.
My passion for oysters is not only culinary or environmental, but certainly artistic. The textures and colors of their shells are an amazing microcosm of the colors of the sea and sky of the Atlantic coast. Though many may not find these the most attractive shells on the shore, there is something about the combination of the dark, rough, craggy exterior contrasted with the pale hues of the silky smooth interior that captures an essence of coastal terrain and atmosphere in a way that eludes daintier mollusks. In other words, the oyster, just by existing, accomplishes much of what I strive to do in painting.
Of course the more popular way the oyster offers us beauty is in the pearl. It's ability to turn an ongoing irritation into a pristinely beautiful object makes the oyster a perfect metaphor for the creative process. Being a vital part of the marine ecosystem as a filter of the ocean is another reason it is such an apt symbol for turning something bad into good. (For the Buddhists out there, maybe they are little practioners of underwater tonglen.)
In this new series of paintings, I am excited to explore the wisdom of the oyster and what it can teach me as an artist about texture and color. (And yes, sorry oysters, but also how you pair with the perfect white wine.)