The sea has inspired generations of artists.
Carla Goldberg has long been part of this grand tradition.
But the Hudson Valley mixed-media artist’s lifelong fascination has taken on a more formal note in the past year.
Goldberg is nearing the completion of a series directly inspired by visits to the Connecticut coast, work completed through a grant awarded as a way to encourage healthy coastal and marine ecosystems.
It’s a natural fit, says Goldberg on a recent morning in her Nelsonville home studio.
“For the last 10 years, I’ve been working almost exclusively with water and memory,” she says.
This latest work, in which Goldberg explores the motif of sea foam, has been made possible by Goldberg’s winning proposal for a Connecticut Sea Grant.
A SHORE THING
“The grant always deals with something that has to do with the ocean and Connecticut,” Goldberg says.
It was in the early months of 2014 when Goldberg learned she was awarded the grant, made possible through a partnership between the University of Connecticut and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
To fulfill her proposal, she has been making monthly visits since June of last year to different beaches along the state’s coast and then creating a 2-by-4-foot sculptural drawing inspired by her trips. She is also documenting the project by photographs and will create a short film.
Sounds like the perfect fit for Goldberg, as even a quick scan of her website yields the fact that past collections carry names that include “aqua marine” and “ripple effect,” as well as “sea foam.”
Her site, in fact, carries a subtitle of sorts, “Liquid Rhythm,” and there Goldberg describes her approach: “The fluidity of line meandering through deep layers of watery, pooling resin is my visual language.”
A DAY AT THE BEACH
Goldberg started her year of shore trips on Sheffield Island off Norwalk and was set to wrap things up in May at Eastern Point Beach, near the University of Connecticut’s Avery Point campus — significant as the series will be exhibited there in 2016.
It’s become a family affair, with Goldberg often heading out with husband, two teenage daughters and sometimes even the dog in tow.
The project, she says, expands on a lifelong fascination with the beach that began with trips to the Caribbean and Hawaii with her grandparents.
After graduating from high school in Palm Springs, Calif., Goldberg earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Redlands in California, double-majoring in studio art and art history. Graduate work would lead to an MFA from Maryland Institute College of Art’s Mount Royal School of Art.
Her solid background in artistic traditions combined with her unique use of materials has become a Goldberg signature.
Each month, she says, she learned something new in her quest for sea foam — especially on one wintery trip that led to a revelation.
“It had just snowed the day before, and there was no sea foam,” she says. “Then I realized this is what the project is all about. I just started looking around. …What exactly is the memory going to be?”
Nearly all the beaches were new to Goldberg, which added to the excitement of discovering everything from rocky shores and unrelenting wind to the simple beauty of crashing waves.
She’ll talk about “beautiful ripples” at one beach or how another is just so “different from all the others.”
“Most of them don’t look alike,” she adds.
Summer crowds, she says, were never really an issue because of the close-up nature of her studying.
“I’m always getting very sandy and wet,” she says of the process that often found her lying on the beach, observing.
“I try to get, as often as I can, so close to the wave.”
AFTER THE BEACH
The works, depending on the intricacy, take from five to seven weeks to complete.
“What I do is I write down my impressions of the day… things that I’m smelling, things that I’m seeing…”
She will look at the photographs in the day or two after each visit, but then works from memory.
“I don’t know how accurate I really have been, but that’s not the point,” she says. “The goal is to make sure each has its different feeling and it represents the place.”
She will then create her work on a Plexiglas panel and demonstrates, using a pen with “a tip as fine as the head of a pin.”
“The drawing on Plexiglas is oil ink, then I paint with resin.” It is precise work.
“Everything that I do I cannot make a mistake. There’s no erasing,” she says with a little laugh that belies the serious work at hand.
Pieces can be frosted and then set with a nontoxic resin that dries naturally.
She creates a wooden back panel, its custom-blended latex hue further evoking the particular beach.
Purples might remind her of a dramatic post-sunset moment, while green commemorates seaweed. She’s also affected by shells and rocks, the movement of birds or the sounds of the surf.
“We are dealing with nature, and nature’s unpredictable,” she says, as is each piece.
Goldberg’s even discovered new methods. Ground glass — old light bulbs to be exact — “makes beautiful frost and snow.”
“I really like exploring unlikely materials.”
THE PROCESS CONTINUES
Throughout the year, of course, Goldberg is juggling all her other projects, which include serving as director of bau (Beacon Artists Union) gallery. Goldberg, whose work was featured earlier this year at both Gallery 66 NY in Cold Spring and as part of “Nature Inc” at the Rockland Center for the Arts in West Nyack, also exhibits across the country — and the world, from Germany to South Africa, Sweden to New Zealand.
Most recently, she gave up directing the Skylight Gallery in Manhattan, choosing to devote more time to her own work.
After all, she says, “I’m an artist first.”
And this project and its panels, she adds, finds her both challenged and rewarded.
“They’re a labor of love. They really are. When one comes out, it’s almost sad because I don’t get to engage in that piece anymore — but it’s a celebration, too.”
For more, visit carlagoldberg.com.