The wooden-hull oyster boat Suzanne out of Bridgeport, Connecticut, works the waters of Long Island Sound in Brechin Morgan’s oil painting. At first glance, the scene is peaceful and idyllic, with an almost photographic quality. But the artist conveys what’s past the painted surface, what he calls the grit and beauty, the raw physicality of working on the water.
“I have an emotional connection to these hardy wooden vessels,” the 73-year-old Morgan says from his home in Bridgeport. “My first job out of art school was as a deckhand on an oyster boat, the Eban Thatcher, very similar to the one in the painting. It was run by the Tallmadge Oyster Co. in South Norwalk,” also in Connecticut. Working in the first days of spring, Morgan helped dredge up young oysters and move them to fresh beds. “I can still feel the cold of early April, the seawater and sand in my boots, the hot thermos of coffee, and the captain yelling at me,” he says. At the end of each day came “exhaustion and dreamless sleep.”
In 1998, Morgan left Ballard’s Wharf on Block Island, Rhode Island, in his 27-foot cutter Otter. He sailed westward around the world, making countless sketches and paintings along the way. The 32,000-mile voyage earned him the Joshua Slocum Society Golden Circle Award, and honed his artistic skills. “I love the connection between realism and painting,” Morgan says. “Look closely and it’s just paint; step away and it becomes an oyster boat on the water. Photos are flat with color variation limited by the printing process and inks used. The reason I paint is to deepen the sense of space, color and atmosphere, making it an emotionally engaging and personal experience.
“I’m not always sure how I get certain effects,” he adds, “except by keeping an emotion in mind and keeping the brush moving until it all settles out and looks right.”
This article originally appeared in the July 2020 issue.