After being accepted at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island, Abe Goodale took a different path: he spent many years traveling around the world. Through his travels, the great-great-grandson of artist Charles Dana Gibson learned to appreciate hard work and the importance of a personal connection with nature. After these experiences, Goodale returned home to focus on his connection to Maine. His latest series of paintings highlights one of the hardest-working industries in the state and is a “tip of the hat,” as he puts it, to Maine lobstermen.
Goodale grew up on a sheep farm in Montville but spent a lot of time near the water. He had never worked on a lobster boat until doing research for his painting series. He doesn’t claim to be a part of the industry but does feel a connection to it through the people he has known throughout his life. For his project, Goodale wanted to focus on the fishermen themselves. “We [artists] only paint the flat water, the sunset, the lobster boat on the mooring. And for me that certainly is not the lobster industry. [Fishing] is extremely hard work and not always pretty,” he explained.
As an artist, Goodale’s goal is to capture what it feels like to be on the water. Looking at his paintings, it is as if you are standing on the deck yourself. In some paintings a corner of the pilothouse or a box of bait is shown, but most of the focus is on the faces and movements of the lobstermen.
There are layers of meaning within Goodale’s work. To create this series, he used a monochromatic palette of watercolor paints, which is a medium known to be challenging. Much as the ocean moves at its own rhythm, watercolors cannot be tamed – only coaxed to create a desired effect. Watercolor paintings usually have a very soft and abstract appearance, yet Goodale was able to create sharp detail within each painting, reflecting his talent and patience with each piece.
An even more obvious link between the paintings and the ocean is his use of salt. When paired with watercolor paints, salt causes unique patterns and designs. Goodale commented that the work he did on these paintings in his studio is nothing compared to the lifetime of work that some spend on the water. Each piece pays tribute to the grit and strong work ethic of lobstermen and honors the industry as a whole.
When beginning his series, Goodale made a decision to specifically target the older generation of lobstermen who had been working on the water for 40, 50, even 60 years. “In a hundred or two hundred years from now, I want these paintings to be a lasting representation of an era,” he said. “I admire the older ways of working, without the reliance on technology.” His paintings are a form of documentation of how lobstermen approach their work and day-to-day life during a time when the industry is changing. “I was with a guy who fishes solo, an old-timer, and he was calculating out that he was the fifth or sixth generation fishing those exact waters. And to go out with him in the fog, without any modern equipment, and have him reflect on what it felt like for him to be fishing the waters that he knew people before him in his lineage had fished, for me that was incredible,” Goodale said.
For Goodale, one of his high points was when lobstermen he went out with came to the opening show at Archipelago, the Island Institute’s gallery in Rockland. One of the greatest successes of the project happened when a lobsterman walked up to him and said, “You nailed it. This is what it feels like to be on the water.”
Goodale’s current project centers on the wooden boat-building industry. He welcomes comments, especially from those who are a part of the lobster industry. Goodale can be contacted directly by email at email@example.com. His work is available at www.abegoodale.com.