WHAT: Recent work by Alberto Rey, including oil paintings of fish
WHEN: Noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Through Nov. 17
WHERE: Adams Art Gallery, 600 Central Ave., Dunkirk
If all cultural acts - as the postmodernists would have it - are more or less equally significant, then fly-fishing ranks right up there with, say, fresco painting. In his current exhibition at Adams Art Gallery entitled "Trout Encounters," Alberto Rey may be the first artist ever to attempt combining the two for the sake of art.
Rey creates lavish oil paintings of the steelhead trout he catches (and some that get away) in the tributaries that run throughout the Fredonia region. He keeps a meticulous account of his fishing encounters complete with diagrams, then displays the pertinent pages along with printed transcripts next to each painting. In many cases he even exhibits the artificial fly used on that particular day.
Many of the fish are depicted freshly caught lying on the ground or snow, their luminous coloration still vibrant with life. They are invariably horizontal in the center of the panel. The compositions often darken toward the edge, an approximation of photo drop-off that further entraps the subject. Other times the fish are caught in the mysterious underwater domain of their natural existence. The result is somewhat akin to painted versions of mounted fish trophies in which taxidermy is replaced by illusionistic dexterity, thereby metaphorically capturing the cherished quarry.
But Rey aspires to do more than spin elaborately documented fish stories. Drawing from his own snapshots and underwater photography along with his extensive knowledge of fish, he paints on large panels of thick reinforced plaster. It's not a true fresco process in which water-based paint is applied to wet plaster, but Rey seems to have adopted this cumbersome approach for its association with the ancient technique.
Rey works wet paint on slick plaster much like a skilled angler plays a fish - with elegant force. For instance in "Brown Trout - Luce Road - XIII," he deftly captures the play of light upon luminous fish skin with vigorously applied, slippery-thin paint strokes. The fluid brushwork and final glossy finish is evocative of glistening streams or the slick and fluvial nature of fish.
Also on exhibit are several tiny triptychs, each one comprised of a separately painted waterscape, fish and fly. These seem more intimate by comparison, not only due to their diminutive scale, but because they function more or less as personal keepsakes.
There's a fine monofilament line between artistic potency achieved through ardent self-analysis, and art diminished through unwitting self-indulgence. If Rey escapes trivialization, it's because for him the act of fishing seems to be an extension of art itself. There is a spiritual tone to this work in accordance with the near religious fervor for which fly-fishing devotees are widely known.
The meaning of all this is not so much about painting, or even postmodernist relativism. It is essentially about the documentation of a particular area of human obsession.