Bernard Chaet’s “Seascapes” to Open Today in List Gallery

10 mins read
Deborah Krieger/The Phoenix

Tucked away in the Lang Performing Arts Center, the List Gallery is a little gem of a space that has been serving the Swarthmore College community for around two decades.  The small space puts on several shows per year of both well-known and of more obscure artists; in addition, the gallery hosts the College’s senior art major exhibitions.Some background on the current show: Bernard Chaet, born in 1924, is a native of the Boston area.  He received degrees from Tufts University and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, to name but a few, and has held teaching positions at institutions such as Yale University.

The seashores of New England have captivated many artists, and Chaet is no exception. Many of the works on display in the List Gallery were painted en plein air, or outdoors and on-site, at various locations in Massachusetts and in Maine. Others were reworked many times in the artist’s studio until he found the perfect combination of color, atmosphere and form.

And what forms they are! The List Gallery starts the year off right with this collection of vibrant oil paintings and watercolors. List Gallery Director Andrea Packard ’85 has meticulously and thoughtfully curated the exhibit, which opens today. It is a survey of sorts, a collection of Bernard Chaet’s seascapes from 30 years ago to, more recently, 2008-2009.

Taking visual cues from the Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Expressionist movements, the works in the gallery display luminous color and tangible texture. The oil works in the gallery’s first room are somewhat literal recreations of the sea and of the shore, while the watercolors occupying the second room are looser and more abstract.

The most striking aspect of Chaet’s works is his glorious use of color.  Recalling the works of painters such as Cezanne and Matisse, Chaet’s paintings glow with sometimes surprising colors. The palettes of the works range from hazy pastels to murky ochres to arrestingly bright hues. The exhibit is organized and hung so that the works complement both the gallery space and one another in a lovely array of visual harmony.

The highlights of the exhibit are several of the oils in the first room as well as one work in the second room. Chaet paints vigorously, with gusto and with a sure hand.  The love for his chosen subject matter is present in the joy with which he applies oil to canvas and watercolor to paper. The aforementioned standouts include the works titled “Soft Morning” (#1), “May” (#2) and “Bass Rocks 1” (#15) as well as the watercolors “Morning Message” (#6) and “Rain” (7).

I urge my fellow Swatties and art lovers to take a walk over to LPAC to see this exhibit! The opening reception is today, September 6, from 5:30-7:00 p.m. Chaet is not able to appear at the gallery opening, unfortunately, so his wife, a fellow artist, will be making an appearance. In addition, there will be delicious edibles! The show runs from September 6 to October 24.

An Abridged Conversation with List Gallery Director Andrea Packard ‘85

Deborah Krieger: What led to the selection of the artist? Of his works?

Andrea Packard: This show was selected, like many of our shows, [from] a conversation between me and the studio art faculty of Swarthmore… We see each other constantly and exchange ideas, but we have formal meetings at least once a year to talk about the future, and we try specifically to choose exhibitions in a variety of media that inform our studio arts curriculum. Then, in addition to that, we look for shows that might provide bridges to other disciplines, or appeal to broader audiences, and so we were discussing sculptors, video artists, you name it… Logan Grider, who teaches here, suggested Bernard Chaet. And so we all looked at his work online… and thought, of course, “Of course; we should do this”… It was left to me to explore the feasibility of this idea. I talked to the galleries that represent the artist and I talked to the family of the artist and figured out how this show could come together… I went there over the summer and selected about 19 works… this work comes from three sources: two galleries and the artist’s own collection.

DK: How far in advance do you plan the exhibits?

AP: At least a year in advance.  Some shows have been planned two or three years in advance.  I already have a plan for a show in the spring of 2014 to coincide with our sesquicentennial at the college…

…A lot of this work is recent; I think some of it’s as new as 2008 or 2009… Here’s an artist who has sixty years making paintings and he taught for at least thirty years… We’re just sort of celebrating a really varied and accomplished life in art by bringing this show here. It’s by no means comprehensive because he has a much broader output and we really decided to narrow our focus just to his seascapes. But his landscape paintings and his seascapes, I think, are the heart of his art; it’s really, perhaps, arguably the core of his practice… I hope this show represents something of the essence of his spirit of inquiry.

DK: So how many years are spanned in this exhibit?

AP: …Of the works I brought here, I hung 19 works out of about 30 works that I borrowed…  The works that I brought here span from 1977 to 2009.

DK: So… why the sea?

AP: I can’t speak for him, obviously, but so many artists throughout history have engaged with the sea as a topic.  It’s universally mesmerizing…

DK: Like Edward Hopper and Winslow Homer.

AP: Yeah, although I would say his antecedents are… [different]… when he was coming of age, at that time in Boston a lot of artists were the expressionists [such as] Max Beckmann… he studied with artists who connected him with the European expressionists…. When you look at his paintings, immediately you think of a lot of great expressive interpreters of the landscape… Chaet’s about the elasticity of the brushstrokes and the drawn line, and if you look at the pictures, a lot of times you just look at the lines and how they do from wispy and thin to meaty and thick. There’s a tremendous range and musicality.

DK: It’s interesting because you mentioned that he was inspired by the many expressionists, but I did some research on his works and I thought Cezanne, Gauguin, that Post-Impressionist style…

AP: Absolutely.

DK: And a little bit of Fauve… maybe a touch.

AP: Yeah, maybe a touch.

DK: Because of the brightness of the colors.

AP: There are some works that are not in this show that are quite intense! It’s just that when you hang a show…what paintings you put next to each other can really make them cancel each other out…and make them lose their uniqueness… Even though they’re all seascapes, there’s a tremendous variety… hopefully we’ve captured something of that…. It’s not that each work derives from [an artist inspiration] but that each artwork is an opportunity to think about certain problems…paintings is a little bit more like poetry than a novel in that sense, that you take a particular focus and you’re not trying to be epic.

This is Deborah Krieger’s new column for the Phoenix, “I On the Arts: The College Years”, signing off.  Until next time!

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