Discretion

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A Chesapeake Bay waterman prepares his pound net off the Love Point lighthouse as a tropical storm bears down on Kent Island, Maryland, in Marc Castelli’s painting Discretion.

“Leaving one’s gear in the water during such high wind and tidal events can destroy a pound net,” says Castelli, 69, who’s been painting scenes like this one for more than 30 years. “Discretion is the better part of valor.”

The bay and those who harvest from its waters have been the inspiration for Castelli’s workboat paintings over the years. (He’s also well-known for his dramatic, colorful America’s Cup paintings.) “Working alongside many watermen while they go about their business is how I gather my material for paintings and drawings and articles,” he says. Castelli even works as a waterman at times and carries his own Tidal Fisheries License; he’s fished with the family of the waterman pictured in Discretion for 15 years.

Castelli favors watercolors to capture the bay’s delicate atmosphere, subtle moods and the timeless actions of its watermen. “It is the medium with which I choose to explore this subject and several others,” he says. “It has taken me years to understand the battle plan and logistics of watercolor.”

Composition is another important element for the artist. In Discretion, the viewer is inevitably drawn to the waterman’s presence. The gear, lines of net and poles initially lead you into the painting, but they don’t necessarily guide you to the figure right away. “Arriving at the figure will be a given when you think just how quick the viewer’s eyes will search out something they can relate to,” Castelli explains.

Perpetually drawn to the bay, Castelli spends as many as 100 days per year on the water, where he also races in the Chesapeake Bay’s iconic log canoes. Along the way, the artist has won the friendship and trust of those he paints. “I am very fortunate that so many watermen have welcomed me not only to their boats, but into their families,” he says. “I am truly a very lucky man.” 

This article was originally published in the October 2020 issue.

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