Color explodes in the Vault Gallery at the Dare County Arts Council this month. Appropriately named, “In Living Color” is an exhibit featuring the works of Outer Banks artists Dawn Gray Moraga and Ben Morris. The showing dips its toes in multiple genres that mix decorative, abstraction, and impressionism with recognizable imagery. The exhibit is on display at the Manteo venue through July 31.
Both artists show an interest in the sea with fish and coastal landscapes part of their focus. While creating vistas, they stretch the boundaries to include organic and geometric shapes that cohabitate with waves, fish and people. The artists end up forming personal and mysterious scenes that use a variety of techniques to keep the viewer engaged.
Morris works with spray paint on wood and acrylic paint pen, stencils, and paper to create images that include a huge diptych of a split face, a giant stylized wave, multiple images of fish combined with geometric shapes and a double canvas with a series of horizontal stripes.
Of note is an untitled work created with spray paint and hand-cut stencils. He forms an otherworldly atmosphere using techniques to create light, shadow and depth. A prominent black and white bullseye contrasts beautifully with the narrow horizontal piece that illustrates floating fish in various states from a monochromatic silhouette, and a more detailed, colorful fish to a fading outline of a fish. Soft blending works well with the clean edges of patterned stenciling and the vertical lines that bisect the scene into a series of rectangles. The colors, sense of light, depth and teasing display of fish appearing in this magical world is arresting as the viewer moves back and forth and in and out of the composition.
In another untitled work, Morris uses acrylics to paint a coastal scene that is broken into six horizontal layers. At the bottom is a pattern of white and turquoise spiral waves painted over vivid red that’s flecked with tiny bits of turquoise resembling sea spray. This section is outlined in black and leads to an orange-red swathe of water with currents depicted by small, aqua, horizontal lines and a splatter of green and turquoise lending motion to the seascape. The next two layers that move back into the picture plane, also edged in black, are orange and yellow ribbons of color. Beyond the yellow is a stylized green and blue cresting wave with crashing white foam. The scene ends in a deep red sky with an odd shaped yellow sun surrounded by a red and orange corona. Morris’ use of contrasting colors and alternating bands of color lend an expansive feeling that goes far beyond the edges of the substrate. Despite using rich hues, and forgoing natural coastal colors, he manages to impart that feeling one has when gazing out into a real, endless sea. While Morris’ subject matter is compatible with the coastal environment where he lives, he uses such care with every aspect of his work – that is never slap dash or haphazard despite its seemingly playful patterns, dashes and splashes – he ends up creating serious images that goes beyond the boundaries of beach art. Rather than being called a painter of maritime themes, he constructs original worlds that fish and sea happen to inhabit.
Dawn Gray Moraga celebrates life through color and shape and coastal themes. It feels like there’s a party going on as she creates seascapes with rainbow colors that float in her skies, on her shore, and flow through wind swept hair of a beach goer and adorn the body of a meditator at the sea’s edge. These wild patterns contrast against slices of sea that bisect her paintings to form a horizon. Her colors are summery and lush like a bowl of multi-flavored sherbets. She combines various painting styles in each work keeping the art visually stimulating and lively. Her seas are serene with their blues and greens. They contrast with sand that’s a riot of shapes and colors as if someone peeled back a layer of reality and revealed teeming microcosms. In “Moon Rising,” she pairs such a landscape with the meditating figure that is tattooed in brilliant organic shapes and colors. Above hangs a moon in a beautifully painted turquoise sky with hints of color peeking through. These seascape levels of sky, sea, and sand create a sense of sound running from a cacophony of color to a bedtime melody.
In Moraga’s mix also are still life works of vases with flowers, portraits of seabirds, an oyster, avocado, a surfer gal heading to the waves, and a school of fish in a colorful sea.
Overall, the exhibit vibrates with color, form and vision. It’s a stimulating experience created by artists who appear to be madly in love with their paint.