The photographs are shown in their original state as taken and are not digitally manipulated in post. Using a proprietary proofing process to achieve the most accurate colors possible, John prints straight to canvas utilizing a state-of-the-art digital darkroom with a wide-format printer and archival inks. Once printed, canvases are given a protective UV coating, stretched over custom-designed stretcher bars, and framed with handmade, locally built wood floater frames, made to order in dark walnut or painted black.
BACKSTORY TO THE ATLANTIC SERIES
In the summer of 2012 Mike Lata approached me about artwork for his new seafood restaurant, The Ordinary. I’d been showing a series of seven of my large-scale abstract landscapes at his now legendary restaurant FIG since 2007. The artwork at FIG featured the beauty of the coastal landscape, marsh, creeks, rivers, islands and beaches - highlighting the subtle shift of color in the marsh and sky throughout the seasons. For his new place, I thought I should get out in the ocean to create artwork inspired by the open sea without any land in sight. I immediately thought of my friend Mark Marhefka, his daughter went to Montessori school with my son and we had become friends over the many years of pickups and dropoffs and school events.
Mark is a rare individual these days, a small commercial fisherman who runs a boat out of Shem Creek South Carolina and supplies most of the top seafood restaurants in the region with fresh, local, sustainable fish directly. He also started one of the first Community Supported Fishery programs in the country, allowing local fish-lovers weekly shares of his fresh catch for a monthly fee (just like a CSA, but for fish).
He had been working with Lata already at FIG, and would be supplying Lata with fish for his new place too. It seemed a great fit if I could get out on his boat with him for a trip offshore for some ocean inspiration, so I called him up to ask if I could join him one day.
“Sure”, Mark answered, “I’m going out on a four day trip next week, you wanna come?”
Hmmm I thought, “I was thinking more of just a day trip!”
“My boat is so slow, and uses so much diesel that it doesn’t make financial sense for me to go any fewer days than that.” Mark replied. “This is a short trip! I usually prefer 7-10 days!”
I hadn’t planned for this, but something told me to just go for it. “OK, I’m in. Tell me where and when and I’ll be there.”
Lucky for me I didn’t ask any further questions, because if I had I probably would have politely declined, and missed the trip of a lifetime. His boat did not inspire a lot of confidence at first glance. I later learned that first impressions can be deceiving, it didn’t need to look good, this operation was all function over form. We left first thing in the morning at a snail's pace, to which I assumed was out of respect for the no-wake zone, but I later learned was actually max speed. We arrived at the continental shelf sixty miles offshore later that evening. When I finally asked about the bathroom, Mark replied, “You just hang your ass off the side of the boat.” Woh, wasn’t expecting that. The small bunk fit like a coffin one size too small, with my 6’5” 200lb body hitting all the edges. My legs were curled up, my head was against the front edge, and when I rolled over my shoulder hit the top!
But I wasn’t there for the accommodations, I was there for the view, and it was endlessly captivating. This was the first time I had been out to sea with no land in sight, and it took my breath away. It was one of those beautiful moments when my sense of smallness and relative insignificance in the universe became palpable, and yet I felt endlessly expansive at the same moment. I have since referred to these moments as feeling ‘finite and infinite’ simultaneously. It captured my attention to the exclusion of all other thoughts of the past or the future - I was fully immersed in the moment.
The ocean and the sky shifted and morphed hour-by-hour, and from day-to-day, in ways that surprised me by how vastly different it could appear from one moment to the next. At times it was placid and calm, and then there were huge rolling waves. I was mesmerized. Huge thunderstorms poured rain, lightning, and thunder on and around us and turned the water into what looked like tall sand dunes. It was a magical experience, and one that I will cherish for a lifetime. I was lucky to have a guide in Mark Marhefka who is a true steward of the sea, and who feels more at home offshore than on land. The Atlantic series is the result of this trip, a body of artwork born on the ocean.
The artwork resided at The Ordinary for a short spell, and then they changed the interior design layout and there was no room for artwork. The series now hangs in Opal restaurant in Mount Pleasant thanks to owner Patrick Owens, with a panorama piece of an approaching storm that at 50x120” is one of the largest photographs I’ve ever produced.