Clarke Galleries Bahamian Exhibits Chet Reneson's Bahamian Watercolors Through June 4

PALM BEACH, FLA. Clarke Galleries' newest exhibit showcases vibrant watercolors of Bahamian Island vignettes and their inhabitants by one of the most widely recognized sporting artists in America, Chet Reneson. 

The artist has the rare distinction of having been named Artist of the Year by Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited and the Atlantic Salmon Federation.

The Clarke Galleries show is the first one-man show of Reneson's work presented by a gallery. Owner Grier Clarke explained that, "This show is very, very special particularly because of its focus on Chet's Bahamian works which are about abstract expression in color.... colors that flow. His paintings are full of motion and depict the breezy, open, sparkling, fresh Bahamian atmosphere. These dozen works capture Islanders' daily occupations and include a couple of boat paintings. One of particular interest is of figures on a drifting boat with a paddle across one figure's lap that is reminiscent of Homer's famous "'Turtles Hunters'."

Reneson's works are uninhibited watercolors that are honest, evocative and executed with such clarity and spontaneity that they need no interpretations. "The strokes of a watercolorist should be quick, decisive, and expert. He must get the whole scene right the first time, or scrap it and start over. Reneson is good at getting it right the first time and many art loving outdoorsmen regard him as the most evocative painter since Winslow Homer," said longtime friend and fine artist in his own right, Bob Abbett.

Chet Reneson would be the first to say that he has been influenced by Winslow Homer, and that Homer's art sparked his imagination the first time he saw it. Some critics see Reneson's work as being' too close to Homer's in both style and subject matter. Bob Abett disagrees. "I don't think it's a valid criticism," he says. "Homer went through many different subjects and many quite detailed paintings before evolving to a looser, impressionistic style and choosing hunting, fishing and the Bahamas as subject matter. Chet began there and has continued to grow."

Now in his early 60s, Chet Reneson believes he is in his artistic prime. "I really feel I'm doing the best work I've ever done. Creating strong shapes and using contrasting colors seems to come easier than in the past. I'm also using a lot more bright colors and with a lot more success. That's not to say that I'm not working hard; I always work hard on every painting. It's just that I don't have to struggle as much to achieve what I want. At this stage, I'm painting for myself... from my heart and soul. I have a chance to do something significant in sporting art, and I don't have time for anything but that."

For the past 30 years, Reneson has visited Georgetown, Great Exuma - usually in June when it is not winter, when it is windy and the tourists are few, with his wife, Penny. He characterizes these trips as adventures full of watercolor experimentation when he can throw contrasting colors around.

When Chet was only 28, eking a living as an animal illustrator in New York, he visited the prestigious Manhattan gallery, Sporting Gallery & Bookshelf. "I went there with a portfolio of my stuff , hoping they'd handle it. I looked around at all the other art for quite a while before approach ing old man Jeffrey. Full of apology, I said, "I don't know if you're ever going to be able to sell any of my stuff; it doesn't look like anyone else's in here. 

He said, "Don't worry about what other people do. Do what you do. Now get out of here. Go home and paint." The gallery has since sold numerous Chet Reneson paintings.

A prolific painter, Reneson pushes himself to the limit. Whether at work or play, he throws everything he's got into the activity. He spends a great deal of time in his studio. When not in his studio, he's outdoors gathering reference for future works. His idea of a vacation is to do the things he plans to paint next.

Actually participating in, or at the very least witnessing the events he paints probably accounts for the magnetic attraction between viewer and painting. When standing in front of a Reneson watercolor, you have no doubt that the artist has been there. Reneson's art forces the viewer to use his imagination. He omits superfluous details, making his viewer mentally fill in the voids. That is where the interactive excitement of his art exists.

Chet Reneson grew up "way out in the woods" near Colchester Conn., with gun dogs and game birds on a small farm where he made his own boats and decoys and fashioned his own fly rods. He began painting scenes of deer and waterfowl at age nine, and later attended the University of
Hartford Art School where his art teacher, Henrik Mayer, preached simplification to the point of brutality.

Following art school, Reneson worked commercially for a number of years before selling his first painting in 1966. Among his heroes are Homer, Cezanne, Wyeth, Hopper and van Gogh. An inveterate sportsman, Chet lives with his wife to whom he has been married for 39 years in Old Lyme, Conn., in a restored 200-year-old colonial home.

At a one-man show at the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vt., 24 paintings were exhibited; ig sold. His watercolors sell, not only because they are compelling images, but because they are priced within reach of many buyers.

The Chet Reneson exhibit runs through June 4, at Clarke Galleries located at Bradley House, 280 Sunset Avenue, open Monday through Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm. Telephone 561/659-3636.