Chip Hooper: Surf
Robert Mann Gallery, New York, NY

April 2014

Chip Hooper’s eight large-scale photographs of the ocean were assembled here under the title “Surf”. These rather kinetic images revealed water caught in motion while also suggesting how quickly our visual metaphors for water can change with painterly shadow plays and expressive gestural effects. Hooper has long drawn inspiration from the sea; his series of photographs capturing the coasts of California and New Zealand take strong visual cues from the landscape photography of Ansel Adams. But in this show, Hooper’s documentary impulse went deeper, as seen in extreme close-ups taken over the last ten years that focus on the nature of water in ways that can only be expressed by the camera.

In Surf #1176 (2003), the sea assumes a striated texture, as vertical ripples interspersed with wiry stitches of spray spreads across the surface. Dramatic works, such as this one, were tempered by the presence of a suite of three photographs of feathery, amorphous waters, in white and pale grays that almost appeared to be sketched in charcoal. Though these cloudy images may be less striking visually, they served to make the more charged photos, with their sharp contrasts, that much more pronounced.

Surf #1082 (2003) captures a moment of high drama in a sea of waves: by isolating an instance of water threatening to crash in on itself, Hooper calls attention to water’s powerful but ephemeral forms with a sculpture’s eye. By contrast, Surf #2154 (2012) stood out: in this photo, the foamy surface is not just an element of the water but a detail of the image itself. Hooper’s work is less aligned with that of Adams than with the impulses of the Abstract Expressionists whose work emphasizes pattern and mood.