Ship 'n shore: Subtle colors heighten pleasure

The artistic statement Roy K. Patterson wrote to accompany his oil paintings tells you all you need to know about his work. The actual aesthetic and personal statement– the why-my-paintings-look-a-certain-way-and-all-about-me-as-an-artist part of the statement– comes at the very bottom, and is only a couple of lines long.
Patterson instead devotes the bulk of his statement to detailing the mid-Atlantic seafaring culture. Patterson’s no-nonsense, information-dense prose all about ships and sailors reads like a cross between an encyclopedia entry and text from a museum brochure– a remnant, surely, of Patterson’s past life as a philosophy and history professor.
Patterson really likes boats, which is very clear considering his paintings are packed with them. And his paintings are every bit as no-nonsense as his prose– workman-like renditions of the boating life with titles that sound like journal entry headings. 
Something about the defiant verticality of sailboats on the water, an unrepentantly horizontal place, attracts Patterson. His paintings tend to frame his boats rather tightly, often cutting off the very tip of the mast, as if to suggest that these vessels are just too big to be fully captured in oil paints. (This particular compositional quirk also turns up in the few non-seafaring works on display, as with the pointed and truncated church steeple in “Congregational Church, Harpswell, Maine.”) 
Most boats appear in profile or straight on, all carefully placed line and detail, which are all marks of an enthusiast’s eye. The painterly side to Patterson’s work emerges in the color schemes, which do not strive to be realistic or fall into the most familiar sailboat painting clichés. In other words, no bleeding orange-red skies or swollen, billowing clouds over wave-cocked sailboats.
Patterson likes to work with complementary or adjacent shades– often blue, blue-purple, and green, giving his paintings a color-mood, a certain cast, which he likes to break up with streaks of mildly contrasting color. A salmon red turns up in both “Lobster Boats with Staysails” and “Seiners, Menemsha Harbor, Martha’s Vineyard” doing just that. In the former, a long, thin strip of salmon-colored shoreline splits the blue sky above from the blue sea and blue-green ships below. The ribbons of salmon reappear in the latter on the underbellies of the herd of docked ships, once again splitting the scene horizontally.
It’s a subtle touch– there are no broad or bold gestures here. Patterson’s boating scenes are almost studiously unspectacular, and the pleasures his work offers are those of craftsmanship. Still, this is an exhibit without pretension– a rare, refreshing thing. And sometimes craftsmanship is enough.

Roy K. Patterson’s “Ships and Shorelines,” an exhibit of oil paintings, runs through November at the New Dominion Book Shop, 404 E. Main St. on the Downtown Mall. 295-2552.

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