Chip Hooper's purist seascapes have always been about more than just the water. Quiet ruminations in superb black-and-white, Hooper's classic silver prints of California's Pacific and New Zealand's South Pacific and Tasman Sea intimate feeling and atmosphere through the sea's shades and shapes. Large-format 8x10 film locks in each detail of experience in a meditative process of inspiration and reflection. The ocean is Hooper's muse, his barometer, and, from his longtime home on California's Monterey peninsula, his daily routine.
Yet as he's photographed these vistas, the artist has also turned his camera downwards to the water's surface, voiding shore, cliff, and horizon line to focus his lens and his pursuit of emotion. Robert Mann Gallery is pleased to present Surf, the first exhibition of these deeply personal photographs taken over the past ten years. Like Vija Celmins in her enigmatic graphite topographies, Hooper approaches abstraction by reducing nature to pattern and value. Turbid waves, intricate ripples, and soft mélanges of sea spray form textural compositions in which water is not the subject, but the medium for conveying intangible elements of consciousness.
Abstraction may be a painter's legacy, but Kandinsky's original argument is just as applicable here: the rejection of specific representation in any visual art suspends narrative in favor of perceptual interpretation. Water without place or setting becomes only agitation, tranquility, lightness, and solitude. Thus in a phenomenological sense, Hooper's waves are more closely aligned with Rothko's emotive color-fields than with Ansel Adams' western landscapes. They are moments of the external expressing the internal — found rather than created, shaped through exposure and aperture rather than brush and oil — and only what we make them to be.
Chip Hooper was born in Miami in 1962, and raised in Chicago. His work is in permanent collections at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Cleveland Museum of Art, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Monterey Museum of Art, Portland Museum of Art, and the Tokyo Photographic Cultural Center, and has been featured in The New York Times, The New Yorker, ARTnews, The Oregonian, and the San Diego Union-Tribune, among others. He lives in Carmel Valley, California.
Chip Hooper's eight large-scale photographs of the ocean were assembled here under the title "Surf". These rather kinetic images revealed water caught in motion while also suggesting how quickly our visual metaphors for water can change with painterly shadow plays and expressive gestural effects. Hooper has long drawn inspiration from the sea; his series of photographs capturing the coasts of California and New Zealand take strong visual cues from the landscape photography of Ansel Adams. But in this show, Hooper's documentary impulse went deeper, as seen in extreme close-ups taken over the last ten years that focus on the nature of water in ways that can only be expressed by the camera.
In Surf #1176 (2003), the sea assumes a striated texture, as vertical ripples interspersed with wiry stitches of spray spreads across the surface. Dramatic works, such as this one, were tempered by the presence of a suite of three photographs of feathery, amorphous waters, in white and pale grays that almost appeared to be sketched in charcoal. Though these cloudy images may be less striking visually, they served to make the more charged photos, with their sharp contrasts, that much more pronounced.
Surf #1082 (2003) captures a moment of high drama in a sea of waves: by isolating an instance of water threatening to crash in on itself, Hooper calls attention to water's powerful but ephemeral forms with a sculpture's eye. By contrast, Surf #2154 (2012) stood out: in this photo, the foamy surface is not just an element of the water but a detail of the image itself. Hooper's work is less aligned with that of Adams than with the impulses of the Abstract Expressionists whose work emphasizes pattern and mood.