Spotlight on the Arts
6:49 am
Fri December 13, 2013

Perils of the Sea: Giant Pastels Capture the Adventure of Moby Dick

"Queequeg's Long Last Dive," a pastel drawing by Mark Milloff.
Credit Mark Milloff

When he’s not playing professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, artist Mark Milloff sculpts, paints, and envisions gigantic pastel drawings. He also moonlights as a musician. But all things being equal, he’d rather be fishing.

Fortunately for us, Milloff’s work, spanning 35 years, captures his passion for the ocean and its boundless and often dark stories. According to Milloff, it all began in his youth. "I grew up fishing—south Florida," he said. "It’s all I did. Fish. And when I got to high school and read Moby Dick, it was like the best fishing story ever."

That realization has led to an ever-growing, three-decade collection of action and adventure scenes from Herman Melville’s masterpiece, which Milloff wills onto huge sheets of paper in raw and deeply expressive pastel arrangements.

Currently on exhibition at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London through January 5, Milloff’s Melville showcases those signature large-scale pieces as part of a collection of ocean art that is vivid, visceral, and like nothing you’ve ever seen. It runs in compliment to another sea-related exhibition, Greasy Luck: The Whaling World of the Charles W. Morgan.

An American Literature major, Milloff went on to do graduate work in art while also writing music and performing. As a result, he’s always been interested in exploring the intersection of creative forms, including literary work, cinematic storytelling, music, and several visual forms such as pastels, paint, and plaster. He believes his work communicates through a combination of texture, image, and musicality.

And those pastels? They are enormous—like a series of giant movie screens that capture compelling moments from the world’s greatest sea epic ever, Moby Dick. Milloff describes his multi-paneled drawings as “freeze frames,” an idea that was originally inspired by the cinematic style of Steven Spielberg, and a fascination with B-movies that Milloff insists he likes because “they are so bad, they’re good!”

Titles from Milloff’s collection include: The Hidden Lake (2012); The Chase—The Third Day (1985); Fata Morgana (2004-2006); The Dying Whale (1986); and Epilogue, or “Queequeg’s Long Last Dive” (2004-2006).

Milloff admitted his art doesn’t fit a popular mode, or fall into a predictable category, yet he’s pleased that his work "tends to speak to people who might not know much about visual art, but they like watching a movie."

If you plan to attend:

Milloff's Melville runs through January 5, 2014 at the Lyman Allyn Museum, 625 Williams Street, New London, Connecticut. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, and Sundays 1:00 to 5:00 pm. It's closed on Mondays and major holidays. Information: (860) 443-2545, extension 129.