MEGHANN RIEPENHOFF, ‘LITTORAL DRIFT’
The great American writers about the sea, like poet Hart Crane and novelist Herman Melville, were always fascinated by the sketchy, evanescent line where water meets land and each dissolves into the other, timeless yet everchanging. That’s one reason why we humans do like to be beside the seaside, as the old English music-hall ditty puts it: to feel a part of what Crane called “the vast wink of eternity,” the perpetually flowing in and flowing back out of waves and tides.
San Francisco photographer Meghann Riepenhoff employs a distinctly untechnological method to capture what are in essence “watercolors” of the ocean’s convergence on the shore, the results of which are on display in the exhibition “Littoral Drift,” through March 26 at Memphis College of Art’s Rust Hall. Traditionally, the cynotype, a 19th century method, was used to fix images of plants and flowers or manufactured objects on a piece of chemically treated paper through the action of sunlight. The result is a ghostly image on a background of unearthly blue, and the reason why blueprints are still called by that name.
Riepenhoff departs from tradition by making moisture the catalyst. The labels for the pieces at MCA describe the process succinctly: “rainstorm and mist, seven hours”; “downpour, two hours”; “twenty-three minutes in tidal stream, wind tossed”; “two minutes on tidal flat with ferry waves.” In other words, rather than exposing the photo-sensitive
Meghann Riepenhoff, “Littoral Drift #296” (detail), cyanotype triptych, 24-by-57 inches.
paper to the sun, the artist exposes it to waves, tides, pools, rain and snow and wind. The pieces, most of them made on Bainbridge Island, Washington, are overwhelmingly beautiful and evocative. They also beg to be touched — don’t do it! — because even in their seeming fragility they offer a sense of texture and irresistible physical presence.
The element of chance plays an important role in these works that seem paradoxically to move and flow and shift, even as they feel imprinted in some compromised form of permanence. Leaving the treated paper in, say, a tidal pool for some number of minutes means that the accidents of nature dominate the artist’s part in creating the work. In three tall, narrow twosided pieces that hang from the ceiling, for example, the streams of white and gray and blue, the whorls and swirls and lines of force, were determined not by Riepenhoff but by the energy of the
water, a form of landscape hieroglyphics imposed beyond the artist’s ken.
Most of the works resemble dista nt land- and seascapes seen from an airplane high in the ether, at the same time as they feel close-up, intimate and, in a few cases, slightly menacing, as do all natural phenomena over which we have no control. The primary example is the magnificent “Littoral Drift #284,” an expansive square arena of many sheets that seems to embody all the mythos and pathos of the human relationship to the oceans that surround us, as well as being a sort of star map to the nebulae and deep space beyond. The fear of the void is here, as well as the gorgeousness of the exhaustive and visceral experience of nature. Look closely, and you’ll see bits of seaweed incorporated into the surface of some of the sheets and tiny rents in the paper that seem to indicate something of the force with which it was pounded by the waves. It’s an immersion, an unforgettable encounter. Through March 26 at Memphis College of Art, Rust Hall, 1930 Poplar Ave. in Overton Park. Call 901-272-5111, or visit mca.edu. ANF Architects, 1500 Union: Bill Price: “Buoyancy and Balance,” ends Thursday. Sculptural forms. 901278-6868. anfa.com ASU Mid-south (Donald W. Reynolds Center), 2000 W. Broadway, West Memphis: “Art and Soul III,” through March 29. Curated by DELTAARTS, exhibit features multimedia pieces (150 pieces for sale) created by more than 80 clients from Mid-south Health Systems. Email Kdaniel@mshs.org, or call 870-732-6260. Circuitous Succession Gallery, 500 S. Second: “Strong Women,” through March 14. Photographs by Lawrence Jasud. 901-229-1041. circuitoussuccession. com Dixon Gallery and Gardens, 4339 Park: Joshua Brinlee: “Amalgamations: A Digital Reimagining of the Dixon Gallery and Gardens Permanent