Artist Anne Seelbach explores the essence of environment in latest exhibit, ‘Elements Adrift’

By Tara Mae

Nature’s beauty is at once defiantly delicate and stubbornly resilient. Elements Adrift, on view at Gallery North from Jan. 12 to Feb. 19, considers the alchemy and artistry of the natural world as expressed through Long Island artist Anne Seelbach’s oil, acrylic, and watercolor paintings as well as mixed media pieces.

Seelbach’s first solo show at Gallery North, it consists of approximately 35 works from three different series that organically ripple outward, encompassing the serenity of the sea and the perniciously predatory impact of pollution. Elements Adrift explores the inspiration found in the environment and the toxicity inherent in careless encounters with it.  

‘Thirteen Moons: Nature Adapts and Transforms’ by Anne Seelbach. Image courtesy of Gallery North

“Seelbach’s figural abstraction reflects her fascination and love of nature and interest in pointing to those elements that are polluting and deprecating it. In the past, she has tried to bring attention to that through her work,” said Gallery North’s Executive Director Ned Puchner.

Put together, each individual series transforms from island unto itself to an archipelago of artistic expression, chronicling Seelbach’s relationship with the world around her and transitioning the audience from one sequence into another. 

“Some pieces are really fascinating in that they show [Seelbach] moving on…you see her moving from one series into another, and I think that is really where the excitement in her work lies. She goes from series to series and in each series, she will sort of dwell on a topic and then move on, finding new avenues to build off of,” Puchner said. 

The first collection, “Troubled Waters,” follows the ebbing of natural resources as pollution flows into and interferes with sensitive ecosystems. Drawn to the seascapes of Peconic Bay off Long Beach in Sag Harbor and the Napeague Harbor at Lazy Point Beach in Amagansett, Seelbach’s work evolves to encapsulate the devolution of marine life as the disruption and detritus of humankind menaces it. 

“Instead of painting traditional landscapes, I always ask the question, ‘What is happening?’ in nature, rather than painting a beautiful view,” Seelbach said. “The landscape and seascape are created by forces of nature, the change of seasons, with the rotation of the earth. This is what I try to get at.”

Dance into the Unknown, 2014, oil on canvas, 30″ x 30″ by Anne Seelbach. Image courtesy of Gallery North

The vague abstraction of her fish renderings in this series came from fact, as the pollutants were actually getting into aquatic animal reproductive systems and causing deformities.

“When I started the series the fish were more realistic. I had to find a way to represent the effects of the chemicals. So, I stylized the fish form and duplicated it to create stencils of schools of fish,” she explained. 

Seelbach’s fish and other animal stencils are frequently made from repurposed and up-cycled washed up or left behind bits of metal, plastic, and netting from which she rescues the shoreline. 

While nature may have been shifting and changing around her, with rightful residents being harmed by invasive interlopers, Seelbach’s relationship with it remains steadfast and symbiotic, as reflected in her “Moon Paintings” series. 

These works, conjured from summer trips to Monhegan Island, Maine, illuminate the serenity she found walking along the sea cliffs, gazing at the lunar lit waters below. 

“I am still interested in the edge, where land, water, and sky meet…The moon shining on the sea and in tidal pools inspired these paintings,” Seelbach said. “As the sun nurtures the growth of everything by day, I suggest that the moon nurtures creative thought, ideas and possibility at night. I get most of my ideas at night when my mind is drifting, without a particular thought.”

Primarily painted on paper rather than on canvas, the “Moon Paintings” are imbued with deep blues and other hues that convey the depth of the setting’s nighttime repose. Yet, in these works, the moon is both a light and power source, rejuvenating sea, sky, and artist.

In fact “Earth: The Elements,” the third series to be highlighted in the exhibit, was a concept that came to Seelbach as she sat on the cliffside rocks and boulders. 

Earth: mercury (Vermillion), 2020, acrylic and reflective paint on linen, 30″x36″, relates to the planet Mercury by Anne Seelbach. Image courtesy of Gallery North

“They made me ask ‘What is the Earth?’ And immediately I thought of the elements. Thinking about each individual element, what it was and a bit of its history, I realized that many were acknowledged thousands of years ago, by the scientists of that time, the alchemists and philosophers,” Seelbach said.

Breaking down these otherwise immovable objects into their most basic essence, Seelbach sought to honor the individuals of the past who had understood better than to take them at face value. So, within some of these paintings, she includes the alchemical symbol of the historical elements and the periodic table designation.

Each element Seelbach selects is thoroughly, albeit abstractly, examined and expressed. Similar to the other two series, “Elements” inner complexity and vitality is amplified by Seelbach’s color palette and painting style. Rich, earthy tones and texture add dimension and definition to the paintings. 

“I was really drawn to the raw energy of them, dark and muddy in certain places,” Puchner said. “In all of her art, there is a kind of an endless search for beauty in nature. Even in the study of the earth’s elements, at root is her trying to explore the minerals and elements that exist within the nature that she brings into her artwork.”

Seelbach’s art is an outlet for her observations, an investigation of the inquiries raised by striving to be attuned to the world around her. At its core, her art seeks to explore and observe rather than obfuscate. 

“I paint what is. I see landscape as formed by the forces of nature, the seasons, the rotation of the planet. The question I ask sitting on the beach or a rock is ‘What is happening?’ What are the forces of nature that underly what I am looking at?” she said. 

Patrons are invited to make their own discoveries about nature through Elements Adrift. An opening reception will be held tonight, Jan. 12, from 6 to 8 p.m. As a complement to the exhibition, Gallery North will present a lecture on the marine ecology of New York’s waterways by Patricia Woodruff from the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University on Jan. 20 at 6 pm. Gallery North will also host an ArTalk with Anne Seelbach on Feb. 4 at 3 p.m. 

Located at 90 North Country Road, Setauket, Gallery North is open Wednesdays to Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. For more information, call 631-751-2676 or visit www. gallerynorth.org.

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