Being indoors the vast majority of the time causes one to note the weather a lot more carefully, both while looking out the window or, on rare occasions, when leaving the house. Sindy Lutz’s heavy and gritty seascapes, on view as a purely digital exhibition at Ricco/Maresca, are a rich repast for those of us with this heightened meteorological awareness. Drawn from the “deep memories” of an artist who grew up on the sea shore, these drawings are all meditations on brooding and melancholy, but that is not to say they are uniform in appearance. Lutz works within a mnemonic framework of visual cues that generate these specific feelings, and then modulates form, color, and cloud typology, fiddling with nuance, like a composer developing a musical theme and its variations.
The bottom of the page is the shore, then some sea, but most of the page is cloud. But a cloud can seem like a solid mass expanding to fill the sky, a storm coming in off the water, or it can be leaving. The rain can be ending, allowing a clear sky or sunset to break through—an uplifting experience—or the storm might give way to a darkening and gray sky or worse, just night—leaving us feeling deprived of our fair share of sunlight. In this series of 20 mixed media works on paper, all Untitled, all 8 by 8 inches, Lutz has presented a cycle that positions the viewer as a beach regular. We are familiar with the emotions elicited by the sea, sky, and shore in tandem, an ever-changing and endlessly repetitive, but nevertheless fascinating, spectrum of experiences.
Crayon and graphite on paper allows Lutz to direct our eyes to very specific cues: cloud shape, the color of the sky, and the relative placidity or querulousness of weather and water are all communicated by details of mark-making. The waxiness of the medium portrays the blankness and transparency of color in thin bands of sky that peek out between horizon and the bottom of the clouds. Monet-like, Lutz has no qualms coloring the sky as she sees fit, be it yellow, pink, purple, pale blue, or even electric green. By contrast, the spotty trace of smooth, soft crayon on rough paper gives a bulbous, dirty, and domineering aspect to the clouds. Lutz’s clouds are our nemesis. In his portraits of clouds on the beach at Trouville, Eugène Boudin similarly prioritizes the dramatic effect of the sky, but he does this by miniaturizing the crowds of beachgoers and tourists. Lutz’s drawings propose a single viewer standing resolute (wind in our hair?), a “transparent eyeball,” and the clouds come to meet us. Sometimes their presence is humble, but just as often they seek to push us back. When it rains we see them emptying themselves, or they peel off upwards, yielding ground to the sky—a rare sense of relief. The shore is a sidekick to these diaphanous presences, it reacts to the various cumulus, stratus, or cumulonimbus by curving away or snaking along in unison with the bottom edge of the cloud layer. These gestures are an allowance of working from memory, and they underline the fact that this is a one-on-one confrontation between us and the weather.
When seen on an illuminated screen, certain facts about the subtle modulation of volumes and densities in Lutz’s clouds are made more dramatically manifest. The artist’s focal elements, her clouds, literally function on a grayscale. Like looking out one’s window nowadays, checking the sky and sniffing the air, Lutz’s clouds evoke an instant shudder or an immediate sense of well-being. Stipples and dapples of white appear on her waves and foam, and light shimmers on the shore in small bursts. These flickers stimulate another set of emotional triggers. The highlights of the cloud cover transition from steely gray to pure white, and simultaneously, the emotional spectrum of the seascape transforms. On one occasion this effect becomes almost blinding, like the diffuse brilliance the sun sometimes assumes on an overcast day. Most of all, Lutz’s drawings are about longing, whether one’s emotions run high or low. While, across the board, they tend toward a looming and enigmatic obscurity, I find myself content just to look.