John Pomianowski: Light, Water, Air

John Pomianowski
John Pomianowski said he came to Montauk for the waves, not for the famed East End light. Russell Drumm

    John Pomianowski does not pose as a painter. In talking about his work on Saturday at the Out East Gallery in Montauk, his speech was as refreshingly free of opaque jargon as his paintings are free of schooled artifice.
A visitor to the gallery attempted to lure him into a discussion of the light the East End was famous for among plein-air painters past and, presumably, present. The oils and watercolors large and small, mostly seascapes, now hanging at the gallery are full of light. The oils were done in the late 1990s.  
The light question drew a smile. Mr. Pomianowski began making Montauk his home in the late 1970s. “I came for the waves. I didn’t come here for the light, but I found it. The light is beautiful in Hawaii, too, and Indonesia has light,” he said, naming two of the many places around the world he has traveled to for waves.
For the past few years, he has traveled with a small watercolor kit. While introducing groups of watercolors done in Hawaii, Indonesia, and Montauk, Mr. Pomianowski spoke about how the spontaneity of working in the medium was not solely his own, that the atmosphere, including raindrops, contributed.
    “The brushstroke captures the air, it’s not deliberate,” he said, pointing to an Indonesian seascape, its colors obviously muted by humidity. Watercolors of Montauk beaches in fall exhibit sharper lines, brighter light. “The paper can absorb and capture the light.”
    The artist also noted how the details in his watercolors done in Sumba, Indonesia, were centered, an “unconscious nod to the spiritual feeling of the place,” he said he realized after the fact.
    Did he find his watercolor work liberating? He did, he said. The challenge was holding back. “In watercolor you can only add color, one brushstroke can be too much. I try to stay empty-headed. I try to be the filter to what I’m seeing.”
    Working in oil was the other side of freedom, he said. The oils can be re-worked for days, weeks, months, or years to evoke the memory of a given day. “Time is built into the canvas. You can see the history on the surface.”
    Both techniques work extremely well. And, speaking of light, the Out East Gallery with its windows welcoming the afternoon light that pours off Fort Pond Bay is perfectly suited to kindling Mr. Pomianowski’s colors and supporting his strong compositions. The Out East show will continue through Wednesday. 
    What’s next in oil? The artist said he was breaking with the horizontal plane of most land and seascapes in favor of studio work, still lifes, and figures. He intends to continue traveling for waves with his watercolor kit close at hand.