Barry Gealt has treated the ocean before, in his Étretat series. During his recent stay on Prince Edward Island, the ocean once again claimed him as a subject, but with a crucial difference. Instead of looking down on the water, here he looks across the water in larger canvases, allowing the space for great sweeping horizontal movements to animate and organize a turbulent space.
When Courbet paints a landscape, he makes an unfamiliar scene vivid with his gift for describing a thousand component details. Gealt does not offer a set of objects on the canvas, nor detailed description. The only object is the painting, and its reality overtakes every detail. But Gealt evokes an experience of the ocean that is very familiar and intimate, and memory provides details: the low light of dawn poking through lowering clouds, a rush of storm clouds drawn across the horizon like a curtain, a deepening, luminous jade at the root of a wave.
In this group of paintings, Gealt finds a kinship with Winslow Homer: his emotional specificity and his very American vision. Homer’s high horizons put the viewer in the grip of the waves. Throughout history, mankind has tried to separate itself from nature, but anyone who lives on the water knows this as a fatuous illusion. Anecdotes from the end of Homer’s life portray him on a promontory before his estate in Maine, looking and looking out over the ocean. A lifetime of looking facilitates the complexities of Gealt’s brush. Long, clear frontal strokes establish an order for viewing and reading the paintings. A lifetime of looking enables the painter’s reward: the sudden instant of seeing.
– Tom Rhea, Indiana University, Bloomington