In 1997, Michael Whelan held his first one-man fine art exhibition at Tree’s Place on Cape Cod. The success of that show—most pieces sold before the official opening—led Whelan to focus on gallery art and semi-retire from illustration.
While Whelan has exhibited paintings at galleries around the world, Tree’s Place in Orleans, MA has continued to be the main outlet for his gallery work for the last few decades.
The artist provided the following as a virtual walk-through of the paintings currently on display:
Acrylic on Canvas – 48″ X 36″
The Lumen paintings are a subset of my Faded Star series, which are all symbolic expressions of coping with despair and an anxious view of our collective future.
All the paintings in this series, however, reference the multiple meanings derived from the word “Lumen” (i.e.: light, cavity, window). Additionally, each one of them portrays a figure attempting to overcome great barriers to reach the light, attainable only with great patience, effort and will.
Oils on Canvas – 48″ x 42″
“Lumen” is a word with multiple meanings, and my “Lumen” series deliberately makes use of the double entendre of the title. The word connotes both an opening [as in the “lumen” of a blood vessel] and a measurement of light. So all the paintings in this series contain symbolic openings leading to sources of light. Light for me symbolizes knowledge, wisdom, understanding, truth.
Lumen 6.2 comes from an idea I had been carrying around in my head since the late ’70s, and initially based upon a topographic exploration by my friend John Crawford.
The deliberate placement of the “sky” below her is intentionally meant to be disorienting. Understanding is often attained only after determined perseverance, testing and rejecting false leads until the one open door is found, letting in the light at last.
Acrylic on Canvas – 48″ x 72″
This image originated from an idea that I brought home with me from the hospital in May of the year 2000. When the idea came to me, the only thing I had to draw on was an advisory pamphlet for patients, so I used the back of it for a rough sketch of the composition. I carried the idea in my head for years afterwards and didn’t get around to executing the painting until ten years later.
As in all my Lumen works, the essential metaphor is that of a figure making his or her way past great obstacles towards an opening, a source of light.
Acrylic on Canvas – 48″ x 48″
I had a dream in 1993 where I saw this painting on a wall in gallery. In my dream there was a figure standing next to the painting, who said, “Take a good look, for this is going to be your next large painting.”
As I scanned the image I realized that I understood everything about it: how it was painted in layers over a pink undertone, which blues and greens were used, and what the symbolic shape of the wave was meant to refer to, etc. When I began to shift my attention to the other works in the room, the figure moved in front of me and said, “You can’t see those until you finish this one first.”
Upon this declaration I woke up. I immediately sketched out all the particulars as I remembered them in my bedside journal. Due to my busy schedule, however, I wasn’t able to get around to doing the painting until a few years later.
I have been going to bed every night wondering whether I will revisit the dream gallery and see the rest of the paintings. So far, it has remained elusive. But I am content; I have more than enough ideas to work on for the foreseeable future.
Star of Peace
Acrylic on Watercolor Board – 18″ x 12″
This piece was done as a seasonal holiday card in 2002. As the end of the year approaches I find that simple “peace” tops my wish list for the world in the year to come.
In all my compositions stars represent ideals, goals and hopes. Untarnished and eternal, they beckon each of us to greater things.
Totem II: Nauset
Acrylic on Hardboard
Looking for subjects suitable for a still life I’ve been turning to mementos scavenged from visits to Cape Cod beaches during summers past. Each one of these stays have their own particular memories, and objects which are invested with personal significance that I’ve managed to hold on to through the years.
When I think of Nauset beach I am reminded of times I’ve walked the sands there in the early morning, wrapped in dense fog. However, one late afternoon a fog rolled slowly in off the ocean, something I had never experienced outside of Northern California. As we sat on the dune the water gradually disappeared and before our eyes the sun made a splendid “fogbow” in the mist. It seemed magical, and I knew before even starting this composition that a fogbow would have to be part of it.