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    Saturday, July 13, 2024

    Lyman Allyn exhibit explores the art on the ocean floor

    This photo of a Venus flytrap anemone is featured in “Beyond Three Hundred Fathoms” at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum. (Photo submitted)

    Concurrent exhibits at New London’s Lyman Allyn Art Museum take viewers down thousands of feet to the ocean floor, and both are in collaboration with Titanic-discoverer Dr. Robert Ballard of Old Lyme and the New London-based Ocean Exploration Trust (OET) educational/vocational program. But that’s where the shows part ways.

    “Dark Water, Deep Treasures: The Art of Discovery” is comprised of 21 paintings from Ballard’s private collection, many of which have appeared on book and magazine covers. This is the first time the paintings have been exhibited publicly.

    “Beyond Three Hundred Fathoms,” in an adjacent gallery, is a collection of 25 high-definition underwater photographs of deep-sea creatures living in total darkness, hidden from the human eye, taken by OET’s high-tech robotic underwater vehicles.

    “We’ve done exhibits in the past with Lyman Allyn and this is a continuation of the one we did two years ago — ‘Lost at Sea’ — on ancient trade routes of the ancient world,” Ballard explains.

    “One of our goals is we have a major commitment to science and technology, and the buzz word is STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). We like to add an A and make it STEAM as we believe the arts are as critically important to young people as the sciences,” he stresses. “So we want to do whatever we can to enlarge our STEM program at the Coast Guard Academy, Connecticut College and the Williams School — and this is really our effort to add the arts.” 

    A treasure trove of art

    The original works in “Dark Water, Deep Treasures” are mostly photorealistic paintings executed in oil or acrylic paint, spanning 1975 to 1999. The majority are by California artist Ken Marschall and include the iconic centerpiece of the exhibition — and Ballard’s favorite — “Titanic,” painted in 1987.

    “I met Ken under interesting circumstances,” Ballard says. “When we found the Titanic in 1985, we returned in 1986 to film it, and while we were at sea, Time magazine called and said, ‘We’d like to have you on the cover of our next magazine and it would require you to come in now from your expedition to meet with the artists who are going to do the cover.’

    “I most gracefully declined. I wasn’t going to terminate my expedition. So then they called back — it was the old days of satellite phones — and said they had an artist named Ken Marschall and if I would describe what I was seeing to him, he would then do the artwork. When I came back from the expedition, I was handed this cover and thought, ‘Oh, my God, he did this based upon what I told him over a satellite! What if he saw the real images?”

    Later when Ballard was working with a publisher to publish a book on the Titanic and needed an artist/illustrator, Ballard met with Marschall in his office in Woods Hole and told him, “The only problem I had with your art was that’s not the way I remember seeing it.” I had a model of the Titanic’and I put it on his nose and said, ‘Look up. That’s what I saw.’ I said, ‘You never look down at the Titanic.

    “Marschall’s art became the cover of the book,” Ballard says, “which then launched a long relationship on every subsequent book I’ve written.”

    Ballard comments that all the paintings in the exhibit have a story. He notes that his work with artists began pre-Titanic, with David Meltzer, who illustrated the first article he ever wrote for National Geographic. The artwork is titled “Alvin caught in Fissure.”

    It was a life and death moment for the pilot and scientists onboard the submarine that was stuck deep in a crack in the rocks, Ballard says, and the artist captured it exactly, but even though it’s still a beautifully executed painting, when the director of The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute saw the art, he insisted that Meltzer touch it up so the submarine wouldn’t appear stuck.

    Ballard also worked with National Geographic illustrator Robert Hynes, whose original illustration of hypothermal vents is on exhibit. Also on view are paintings of various World War II battleships and several other paintings of the Titanic.

    “These are the artists I’ve worked with over the years and from that I’ve developed a tremendous respect for their talents,” Ballard says. 

    Captured on film

    Where the paintings, mostly in shades of deep blue and gray, are hauntingly quiet, devoid of animal and plant life, in contrast, the digital images in the “Beyond Three Hundred Fathoms” exhibit are full of diverse sea life, activity and incredible color.

    Laurie Bradt, OET’s director of archives and exhibits, curated this show, selecting the two dozen or so sea creatures in brine pools and underwater landscapes to turn into still images from a database of more than 100,000.

    The sea creatures were photographed between 2013 and 2015 in the Black Sea, Mediterranean, Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and, most recently, the Pacific, Bradt says.

    She points out that earlier explorers didn’t think there was life below the sunlit layers of the ocean, and so it’s thrilling to find most of these images many thousands of feet under the water’s surface, where it’s totally dark.

    “I searched the database for the ones that were going to reproduce nicely,” she explains. “What I couldn’t print out, I put in the slide show (in the exhibit), which has another 30 images … We’ve seen with cameras maybe three percent … what’s the other 97 percent creatures we have never seen?”

    A team led by Ballard goes on expeditions between four to six months a year, using a robotic vehicle system with a floating lighting platform.

    He describes the underwater videoing process.

    “The robot can hover, so while it’s hovering, the video engineers will zoom the camera in, set the focus, set the lighting balance, and then take the pictures,” he says. “It’s like ‘On The Road with Charles Kuralt.’ As we encounter (the creatures), we take these pictures. It’s a video game. We’re there. This is our window that we see them through.”

    Ballard and Bradt are excited about photographic advances that will allow them to get even more spectacular images.

    “As they say, ‘You haven’t seen nothing yet,’ because we’re now moving from HD to 4K,” Ballard says. “New cameras are 16 times the resolution of HD and they’re talking now about 8K.”

    Another benefit of the exhibit, Ballard and Bradt agree, is that besides being a treat for the eyes, it helps people realize how important it is to save our oceans.

    “People looking at a show like this realize how much life there is, how beautiful and valuable,” Bradt says. “It brings people’s attention to the abundance of life in the ocean and the (need) for protecting it. By following our explorations it will inspire children, and even adults, to do more and become involved.”

    Follow OET’s robotic underwater vehicles online and see the images as they’re collected at www.nautiluslive.org/videos.

    “Titanic,” 1987, by Ken Marschall; oil on board in “Dark Water, Deep Treasures” at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum. (Photo submitted)

    IF YOU GO

    What: Exhibits: “Dark Water, Deep Treasures” and “Beyond Three Hundred Fathoms”

    Where: The Lyman Allyn Art Museum, 625 Williams St., New London

    When: On view through May 15.

    Info: Call (860) 443-2545 or visit www.lymanallyn.org

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