Atmospheric inspiration

Have you watched the sun rise recently?  Or relished the approach of dark storm clouds threatening rain? Or paused to witness fog slowly enveloping the coast in murky obscurity?

Two exhibitions at PEM demonstrate the powerful inspiration that artists, past and present, have drawn from elemental forces of the natural world:  sky, sea, light, weather, season, time of day and ever-changing atmospheric conditions.  The exhibition, Turner & the Sea, presents over 110 works by British painter, J.M.W. Turner, and other artists that include magnificent and varied depictions of seascapes and marine views.  The range of subjects includes moonlit fishing scenes, yachts racing through choppy seas propelled by the wind, the waterways of Venice glowing in the rays of the sun and a solar pillar exploding with light off a rocky coastal promontory.


Joseph Mallord William Turner, Venice: The Dogana and San Giorgio Maggiore (1834). National
Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Widener Collection

Haunting interpretations of human interventions with the natural world include cataclysmic naval battles and shipwrecks, the blood stained waters of whaling voyages, or a dark silhouetted steamship trailing black smoke as it advances towards a pale sun hovering low on the horizon.  Turner was tireless in pursuit of subjects for his watercolors and oil paintings and he traveled almost every year to remote and picturesque locations around the British Isles and across much of Europe in his quest for inspiration.  Within the six galleries of the exhibition, the paintings evoke a wide array of emotional response, from tranquil, to foreboding, tempestuous, to the sublime.

Fiercely the Red Sun Descending

Thomas Moran, Fiercely the red sun descending/Burned his way along the heavens (1875-1876). North
Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, purchased with funds from the North Carolina State Art Society
(Robert F. Phifer Bequest)

Another artist inspired by atmospheric conditions is American photographer, Robert Weingarten, who created works of astonishing variety, several of which are on view at PEM in 6:30 a.m.  Robert Weingarten .  Throughout the year 2003, Weingarten photographed the view from his home in Malibu, California, on a near daily basis at precisely the same time, 6:30 a.m.  Looking across Santa Monica Bay towards Los Angeles, Weingarten’s camera captured the sea, sky and distant city in myriad variations of color, light and weather patterns.


Robert Weingarten, 6:30 am series No. 129, 2003. Inkjet print.

His disciplined habits captured the skyline and bay as it emerged from night-shrouded darkness; bathed in a pale crepuscular light; as a study in blue ranging in gradations from pale to deep indigo hues; and as fiery glowing red and orange vapors hovered over the bay.  Electric lights and the faint silhouettes of buildings and the airport are minor intrusions of human occupation in these breathtaking scenes.  Emotions stir and symbolic and metaphorical meanings spring to mind as I stop and linger over these works.

I am inspired by the visions of Turner and Weingarten, impressed with their disciplined pursuit of their subjects, and uplifted by the incredible results of their creativity.  Their example also encourages me to seek out and enjoy the natural wonders of the local coastline and seascapes and relish the effects of weather, wind, time of day and season.  I hope you will find your own special places and experiences of nature that spark creativity and uplift mind and spirit.  To that end, I invite you to visit Turner & the Sea, and 6:30 a.m. Robert Weingarten, at PEM this summer, as an inspirational artistic adventure awaits you.


  1. gail spilsbury says:

    These words are paintings themselves and have the movement and inspiration of the canvases and photos. Thank you, Paula!

  2. Robin says:

    As the season begins, here on the North Shore, what better gift than these artists who have caught it for us for all time … for us, we only get a moment, that moment, to head out at dawn as the sun rises and run to where you hope the fish may be, then there’s the turn of the tide, and last the turn home… Though we may be only 20 – 30 miles out, not mid-ocean, it’s Mother Nature still to humble you with High water or sunrise/sunset beauty – the choice be hers. That’s all we know. These gentlemen are so gifted to catch it all..

  3. Bryanne says:

    I love the connection you have made between these two artists’ work referencing their discipline. I have been in awe of Turner’s ceaseless sketching and was similarly impressed by Weingarten’s early morning commitment. And I agree the results of their perseverance are engaging and encouraging.

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