Art Critic Review
A Ride on the Sea of Philosophy
Published on 25 October, 2009 in Arts & Entertainment
News and Observer
Raleigh, North Carolina
Tom Grubb found his artistic voice on the deck of a scallop boat. While dredging the bottom of Georges Banks off the coast of New England, Grubb studied the lines, ropes, and riggings aboard with an artist’s eye, seeing abstracted volumes of space. Alone in the wheelhouse at night he looked at up at the stars and thought about time and metaphysical navigation.
It’s safe to say that Tom Grubb was not your typical fisherman, but then he’s not your typical artist either.
He’s a bit of a Renaissance man with bachelor’s degrees in history and political science, a master’s degree in fine art, and professional experience as a math teacher, ship captain, artist, and executive director of the Fayetteville Museum of Art. He is also a diet cola enthusiast.
“Sometimes the hardest part of an art project is keeping track of my Diet Coke can,” Grubb joked at a recent artist’s talk.
Though his seafaring days are behind him, Grubb’s newest body of work reflects his nautical influences. His exhibit Celestial Passages - A Journey through Time and Space is up through October 31 at The Mahler gallery on Fayetteville Street.
Entry to the gallery is dominated by an enormous sculpture spanning nearly the entire width and height of the room. The piece ‘Time Voyager’ is constructed of black bamboo poles bound together with nylon rope and knots. The sculpture strains against the lines that seem to barely keep it in shape. It is a tense encounter that perhaps references the dangerous conditions Grubb experienced sailing in the northern Atlantic.
“When you cast off from the docks you don’t know if you’re coming back. There are a few boats lost every season. It’s a hazardous zone, but you’re really living when you’re out there,” Grubb recalled.
In contrast to the large sculpture, most of the works in the exhibition are two-dimensional pieces with sculptural bamboo elements framed under glass. The fragility of the glass itself, typically overlooked as an expected part of a frame, is highlighted by the tension of the images which threaten to shatter its shadow box-style presentation.
In ‘Orion The Hunter’ rolling waves of wax and ink smash across the work, simultaneously obliterating and revealing traces of charts and constellations printed underneath. A ship-like bamboo sculpture appears to hover above the surface of the painting, bravely navigating the storm. There is a sense of a hard life lived and obstacles overcome.
“I‘ve tried to abstract the concepts of navigation and time using primitive materials to explore sophisticated space,” Grubb said.
While the scenes are thoroughly abstracted there is a sense of humanity in them, as though one might expect to see tiny people clinging to the string riggings. A look at Grubb’s titles (‘The Word’, ‘Ascension’, ‘Path of the Just’) reveals that the rough seas depicted refer to Grubb’s sense of spirituality as well.
“I push myself to articulate in an artistic way things that I may be exploring philosophically. . . In a lot of my works I’m dealing with the conflicts we all have between the dark and the light,” Grubb said. “I think that’s needed in today’s world by everyone, including myself.”