Visual Arts

A Boatload of Friends: "A Fleet for Abby" at Art League

A year ago, 16-year-old Abby Sunderland took to the high seas on a solo mission to be the youngest person to sail around the world. Some people applauded and some lambasted her parents for allowing such peril to come to a young girl. Houston artist Catherine Colangelo took a very different approach to the news blitz; she created for Abby a convoy.

In her latest exhibition, "A Fleet For Abby," Catherine Colangelo drew from the young Sunderland's sense of adventure and her own motherly intuition to create a vibrant series of gouache and graphite paintings of boats, which have set sail for the walls of Art League Houston beginning Friday, July 15.

To Colangelo, the boats are a metaphor for a group of friends that she imagined could have accompanied Abby on her voyage. The metaphor isn't an illusive one, either. Each painting is named after one of Colangelo's friends, beginning with some of her earliest relationships. Similar to the boats, which seem to be floating in various directions, Colangelo has seen friends sail in and out of her life, some taking anchor, and some not.

"I wanted to protect Abby," she tells us, "I imagined, what if Abby had a group of friends like mine to follow her along the ride, not too close, but she always knew they were there?"

That protective spirit resulted in 16 boats painted on Japanese Okawara paper. While the boats are distinctly different, there are hints of patterns and colors that are replicated throughout the series. Each sail is a multi-colored system of shapes and angles, some geometric and some floral. What is consistent is their coloring, which brings to mind Russian folk art dunked into a vat of PAAS Easter Egg Dye. Colangelo is very influenced by non-Western art and textiles and it shows in her work. There are bold strokes of gold and silver that almost appear woven into the fabric of the sails.

Colangelo hopes that people will walk away from this show with more than just a "whimsical feeling" about the boats she has created and reflect more on the patterns of personalities and situations we surround ourselves with. Couldn't we all use a fleet of colorful friends, at times, to keep us afloat?

A Fleet For Abby features 16 new works on paper by Catherine Colangelo and will be on exhibition at Art League Houston, 1953 Montrose, from July 15 through August 26. There will be an opening reception on Friday, July 15 from 6:00 - 8:00 p.m. and an artist talk at 7:00 p.m. Catherine Colangelo is a recipient of an Individual Artist Grant Award funded by the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance.

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Abby Koenig
Contact: Abby Koenig