Caught in Colorful Rain
Mar 5 – 27, 2021 at Gallery NAGA
The shift from winter to spring at Gallery NAGA will be marked by an exhibition of large and radiant paintings by Bryan McFarlane.
Bryan McFarlane: Caught in Colorful Rain will open to the public on Friday, March 5. Due to Covid-19 precautions, there will be no public reception for the artist. Gallery NAGA’s hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 11 to 5, with no appointment necessary.
Martina Tanga, art historian and curator who is based in the Boston area, wrote an essay to accompany the exhibition, the full text of which is included here.
The Color of Water
Have you ever felt the soft drizzle of rain on a warm summer’s day? Did you experience the enveloping moisture, the green dampness of foliage, the melodic tap of the drops on your forehead and shoulders? Jamaican-born painter Bryan McFarlane remembers this sensation as a young boy in his home country. Tropical rains in warm temperatures are consistent throughout the year, and McFarlane recalls the “pleasant and nourishing experience of rain, and the sun rays shining through.”
In Sun with Rain, from 2020, thin bands of color pull vertically downwards, giving visual form to the sounds of a downpour. The lines are narrow and close together; it is as if the rain is coming down so thickly that it creates a curtain to the outside world. Yet the brilliant, refracted light, in a kaleidoscope of colors, shimmers through the plummeting droplets. That light is golden at the center—dazzling yellows, soft pinks, and warm oranges—and progressively cooler at the sides—brisk blues and calm purples. While the eyes might be blurry from the rainwater, the senses—touch, smell, and sound—are all the more alert. Sun with Rain is an abstract representation of that very physical and bodily experience of being caught in a downpour.
The water that pours down from the sky has evaporated from the earth’s surface—its oceans, seas, lakes, and rivers. In this series, McFarlane’s vertically striped paintings contrast to his horizontally belted canvases, recalling the way water moves upwards and downwards—it ascends into the atmosphere and descends as precipitation—and moves laterally through tides or downstream. The paintings, such as Like the Weather at the Ocean, or Water Under the Bridge, evoke the undulating wave patterns on the water’s surface or the gradual striations of visible hues as one might experience slowly sinking into the depths of the ocean in a submarine.
The color strata are made by mixing chromatic greys and working intuitively; McFarlane combines a primary triad of red, yellow, and blue to create a wide range of hues. Compositionally, the horizontal lines tend to speed up our viewing experience, while the vertical arrangements slow it down. The act of looking, and taking in these paintings, emulates a bobbing motion as if floating at sea.
The oceans hold many secrets—their depthless floors are repositories for the history of the universe. Sediments preserve a record of exploding stars, the earth’s evolution, and the rise of humans. Joining scientists in exploring the mysteries of the earth’s vast hidden landscapes, McFarlane voyaged with a team from MIT and the Schmidt Ocean Institute, collecting data to understand the present and future impacts of climate change. It is heartening and terrifying that we might have the answers to such uncontrollable forces in the depths of our waters—if only we dare to look.
Water ripples and undulates much like the paint wavers on McFarlane’s paintings, and yet darkness seems to stir just below the surface. His work ultimately expresses relationships of opposing forces held in uncertain equilibrium. The contrasts between verticality and horizontality, darks and lights, warms and cools, wetness and solidity connect both to the oceans’ depths and the expansive atmosphere. Interconnected weather patterns—like rain—are at once sustaining and destructive. And the sedimentary visuals of the ocean ground evoke multiple temporalities—past, present, and future—and the hope that we will be able to live in balance with our planet’s natural forces.