"Luna Moon," an oil on panel painting. Photo courtesy of Andrew Moore

Andrew Moore's luminous realism

By Brooks Robards - August 24, 2006

Andrew Moore has built a reputation as a master of New England realism in his minutely detailed renderings of Vineyard fields, vegetation, shells and water vistas. His first show in several years, "Paintings from the Coast," runs through Sept. 3 at his Harthaven studio off Beach Road in Oak Bluffs.

The bulk of the work this time is in oil, with very few new watercolors on exhibit and one in egg tempera. The artist says he found himself immersed in oil painting, and a number of the paintings exhibited took him two and three years to complete.

"Hummingbirds," a large landscape in which the foreground is filled by vivid pink beach roses with two of the tiny birds hovering among them, with only a small swatch of water and sky in the upper left corner, represents a landmark of sorts. It is the first of Mr. Moore's paintings to carry a price tag of more than $100,000. It powerfully demonstrates his mastery of the medium.

"Sengekontacket" offers the viewer an especially appealing tangle of brush and snow backlit by light low on the horizon from an off-frame sun to light up the rest of the canvas. The painting works like a hymn to the beauty of the natural world with its subdued lighting, coloration and precise rendering. "Silence" relies on an arc of water and beach, echoed in shape by grasses and trees and heavily clouded sky to build its serene effect.

The artist standing with his oil on linen painting,
The artist standing with his oil on linen painting, "Snow Dog." Photo by Ben Scott

One of the biggest paintings in the show is "Snow Dog," in which a black, wolf-like animal lunges through a snowfield that stretches wide alongside a beach. Mouth open, the dog looks as if it has been suspended just before it launches itself into the sky.

Mr. Moore usually visits family in Tenants Harbor, Maine, for several weeks each summer, and "Out to the Nubbins" is set Down East. The foreground of this watercolor is dominated by lichen-covered rocks and seaweed, which Mr. Moore has reproduced in fine detail. They reach from one side of a shoreline into the center of the composition, while low, pine-covered islands hug the water in the distance. The balance between close-up detail and background perspective is masterfully executed.

The most unusual painting in the show is "Luna Moon." It consists of four of the rare, pale green moths fluttering like fairies around an outdoor light, while the moon peeks from behind a building cornice above. The spatial composition, in which the moths seem to swirl around and behind an orb-shaped house light, creates a dizzying effect. It is as if the viewer shares in the light-induced vertigo experienced by these otherworldly insects. Unlike most of the artist's other paintings, "Luna Moon" reaches tentatively toward a romantic form of surrealism.

"Hummingbirds," an oil on panel painting. Photo courtesy of Andrew Moore

A large seascape, "Trap Line," dominates one wall of Mr. Moore's studio, with its buoys colored a faded red and white, angling through grayish water. It seems a less common subject for this artist, as does "Flight," where two gulls spread their wings over a grassy bluff with a clump of gnarled, bare brush, overlooking a gray, swirling mass of ocean.

"Aquinnah" captures that section of the Island's beach plum vegetation and dunes grass with loving attention to minutia. "Katama" is a pleasing smaller composition that consists of dune grasses, flowering weeds and surf.

Mr. Moore has included a number of small, marine still lifes in the exhibit, the most notable of which is "Beachcomber Composition." The textures of the shells, sand dollars and sea glass arranged on a piece of weathered wood seem almost tangible.

Mr. Moore's new work is located on the main floor of his studio, while downstairs are many of his older oil paintings, water colors and egg tempera works. A look at this group after seeing the new paintings offers insights into ways in which Mr. Moore has grown more accomplished as a technician over the years.

A 1998 painting like "Stepping the Mast - Alabama," is dramatic in composition but its muscular mariners seem too heavy to be fully animated. The ducks of "Eiders," done even 10 years earlier, look more like decoys than real ducks. Such criticisms are not meant to fault the painter so much as to point out how much he has developed his remarkable talents.

The Andrew Moore Gallery in Harthaven, Beach Road, Oak Bluffs, is open Wednesdays and Sundays from 10 am to 6 pm.

Brooks Robards is a poet, author, and former college film instructor. She frequently contributes stories on art, film, and poetry to The Times.