Anne Neely- Water Stories: Conversations in Paint and Sound (Museum of Science, Boston)

Art can be found in the most unlikely places. On an otherwise ugly street corner, a college student’s dorm (posters are their own kind of amazing, graphic art), or lining the walls of a restaurant. A few days ago, I found art in the Museum of Science, alongside optical illusions, weather simulators and buzzing electrical generators.

In retrospect, this shouldn’t surprise me. Art is a reflection of our experiences in the natural world, and science is the study of physical and natural phenomena. There is an inherent connection between the way things work and our personal sentiments about what we see and feel.

This connection is explored in Anne Neely’s current exhibit at the Boston Museum of Science: Conversations in Paint and Sound. Neely grapples with the beauty of water as well as its possible depletion on several large canvases. Her paintings are meant to leave the viewer with a sense of premonition- the beauty of the water is ephemeral, constantly on the verge of pollution or depletion. Neely’s paintings remain in a space that is neither comforting nor visibly dangerous. It is a space that exists for the moment Neely imagines it. After it is depicted, it is left to the devices of nature and the human race.

In her artist statement at the beginning of the exhibit, she describes painting as a means to “respond to and reinvent nature through color and form, and to explore uncharted territories of imagined landscapes.” Painting is a dialogue between nature and the imagination, a place to explore social issues surrounding nature and represent its intricacies.

The exhibit is organized in a small room filled with free-standing smaller walls. The series of walls creates a labyrinth for the viewer. From the entrance, one can only see three paintings. Around the corner, several more. The process of moving about the exhibit reminded me of walking through a forest of dense trees; one can only see what is right before them. Soundscapes recorded by Halsey Burgand play audio tracks of water bubbling, running and rushing. Being immersed in sound and sight simulates the experience of nature, while reminding the viewer how fleeting this experience is.

Here is a picture and a detail of one of my favorite paintings in the exhibit, entitled “Beneath.” I apologize for the quality of this shot. The glistening specks of paint are hard to photograph!

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These paintings imagine what the earth looks like from the inside, with all of its invisible underwater streams and aquifers. Upon closer inspection, specks of paint reveal themselves to be tiny rectangles. This modern update on Georges Seurat’s pointillism technique serves to show how complex nature is up close. Much like Seurat’s works, these rectangles blend together when the viewer steps back. (If you would like a comparison, go to : http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/51.112.6 ) In this cross-section of earth, one can see roots delving deep into the soil, and a pink-toned stream running underground. It seems unnatural for the stream to be pink, but how do we know it is not? There is an element of mystery to these unseen sources of water. Neely portrays this uncertainty by painting the stream an unnatural hue.

“Bloom,” another work in the exhibit, is an eerie marsh scene in which rectangles of green seem to float above the surface.

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While the colors are vibrant, there is an air of death to this painting. Beneath the green and red there is a wan yellow-white, as if the layers of thick green moss have killed the life beneath it. Perhaps these vibrant colors are unnatural, the products of chemical waste pouring into the river. The resulting image is stagnant and putrid. One can almost imagine an odor drifting out from the surface. I can envision the green rectangles in the foreground existing for two different purposes. Maybe they represent the nature beneath, clawing its way to the surface. Or perhaps they symbolize the pollution itself, encroaching on the water source like an invading army. The title “Bloom” could be a desperate desire for life to bloom once more, or maybe it is chemicals that are blooming. No matter your interpretation (there are many one could make), this image is desolate and haunting, and well worth discussion.

Lastly, I want to show you the painting “Spill.” This painting took me several minutes to make sense of. The forms are not easily identifiable, but once they are separated and analyzed, the painting becomes incredibly chilling.

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The title and the brown oozing liquid suggest an oil spill. The brown speckled line at the very top of the painting is the beach above the surface of the ocean. The blue-green mass is the ocean itself. I find myself drawn to the moment of incidence: the brown oozing liquid. It appears to come from nowhere at all. It disappears into turquoise waters, leaving it no origin. Perhaps this is meant to portray the oil from the vantage point depicted- to creatures under the sea, the origin of the oil is not important. It is the existence that is fatal to their survival. Its detrimental effects are visible in the darker, discolored sand on the viewer’s right. The corner looks almost black, and blends into a gray/beige/brown mass. The diagonal stripes of color imply current, suggesting that this oil spill will spread quickly.

I hope that you enjoyed looking at these paintings. If you live in the Boston area, be sure to check out this amazing exhibit, as well as the other exhibits this amazing museum has to offer. For more information about “Water Stories,” go to http://www.mos.org/exhibits/water-stories. These were just my interpretations, but Neely leaves much to be discussed in her magnificent paintings. Let me know if you disagree, agree, or have any interesting ideas of your own!

xoxo, Chloe ❤

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