On a windswept and rainy Saturday evening, somewhere on the cusp of March and April, a moody and sometimes sinister show featuring water and the sea might be just the thing to pull one out of a funk, or draw one in more deeply. Either way, “On an Eastern Shore,” featuring the work of Peter Ngo and Ingrid Silva, is a show that remains with you, rain or not.
Montauk’s Outeast Gallery, set between a small pond and Fort Pond Bay, offers water views from each room, from both front and rear windows. It is a perfect setting for works devoted to water. It makes them seem swept in from the last high tide and links interior to exterior both literally and in the subconscious.
In the front room, Ms. Silva has two series on display, “Water Dreams” and “The Universe Within.” Both feature underwater photography. “Water Dreams” has a more straightforward, as-is approach. The backgrounds are dark and uncomplicated. The bodies may be posed in convoluted contortions and embellished with gossamer fabric, but what you see is what you see.
On the other hand, “The Universe Within” carries more allusion and illusion. Multiple figures are posed together and a layering of backgrounds from different scenes comes into play. The figures are still underwater, but they might be superimposed with a facade from a Cambodian temple, mountains, or clouds. Because the figures are already floating, the transposition of these kinds of settings makes sense visually and the mind has no problem applying the filter that allows for a world where these images are believable, or at least relatable.
This series also references Renaissance imagery, particularly Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel paintings. The hard-edged shadows that make precise outlines of Ms. Silva’s figures echo the strong linear style of fresco painting. Her choice to leave the figures faceless makes them timeless, too. They allow a contemplative space where anything is possible yet still feasible on some level.
Ms. Silva’s paintings set the stage for the even more fantastical world of Mr. Ngo, where seas turned stormy and electric with multihued currents and sudden lightning flashes might give rise to spectral images from an alternate reality. Mr. Ngo, who is also a photographer, blends fantasy even into his realistic images. His female subjects tend to be playacting or posing as types borrowed from fashion: biker girl, rancher, shipwrecked damsel. The faces and poses of some of these women may cross over into the paintings as disembodied heads drifting over the horizon.
Sometimes there is nothing but sea, or nothing but atmosphere. But even background is dramatic, color-soaked, otherworldly. The transformations of the figures from woman to snail, flame, or tree have allusions to the elements and classical mythology.
In a few works just nature is suggested, as with a feather dancing over water or an inverted jellyfish hanging over the sky like some literal version of a constellation. Within the four walls the display can seem singular and insular, but with the backwaters of the infinite sea beckoning just beyond, the world depicted appears less strange, plausible even.
The show is on view through April 27.