Conn.-based artist James Prosek subject of NBMAA exhibit

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The New Britain Museum of American Art announced the opening of “James Prosek: Wondrous Strange” in the McKernan Gallery for changing exhibitions. The largest survey of Prosek’s work to date, this exhibition brings together his multi-faceted, multi-media works-over 50 in all-from monumental watercolors, prints and murals to bronze and wood sculptures, and taxidermied specimens.
Press materials from the museum explain Prosek’s practice is inspired by the long tradition of depicting nature: from animal drawings on cave walls to the works of Albrecht Dürer, William Blake, and John James Audubon. His influences are wide-ranging, from Milton Avery and Lee Bontecou to Ed Ruscha and Martin Puryear. As Director Douglas Hyland observes, according to the press release,  “James Prosek’s paintings combine an 18th- and 19th-century sensibility with the inventiveness and drama of 21st-century creativity. He addresses our environmental concerns in a world where we are losing natural diversity faster than we can discover it.”
The works in “James Prosek: Wondrous Strange” range from realistic to fanciful, though all are rendered with meticulous precision and detail, many of them referencing the artist’s extensive travel, collecting trips, and biological expeditions to places as distant and diverse as South America, Central Asia and Micronesia. Exquisitely crafted, frequently witty, and always thought-provoking, the release said, Prosek’s art invites viewers to engage with realms that science cannot quantify or solve-those spaces in between fact and folklore, science and myth, real and imagined, wondrous and strange. Conceptually, he also focuses on how we name and order nature, including the limitations of language in describing biological diversity. His art challenges us to reflect on how our culture, our priorities and our values are manifested in systems we use to classify and harness nature.
The exhibition will present numerous examples from Prosek’s series “Ocean Fishes,” such as the 15-foot-long watercolor “Blue Marlin” (in the permanent collection of the museum). This body of work represents 35 Atlantic fishes that the artist painted life-size from specimens he traveled to see firsthand. As he writes in his book, “Ocean Fishes” (Rizzoli, 2012), the paintings “are not pictures of fish to represent a species in a field guide, but portraits of individual fish that I had a personal experience with.” Ocean Fishes serves as quiet conservation statement-simply showing the beauty and monumentality of the creatures we are losing from our oceans.
Prosek’s hybrid paintings reach into the realm of pop art and surrealism, combining two different species into a single, imagined organism. “Blue Parrotfishe,” for instance, merges the scaled body of a fish with the feathered wings, beak and tail of a parrot. By reimagining a parrotfish to literally become the name that humans gave it,
Most recently, Prosek spent several months in Zimbabwe and Tanzania, a trip that resulted in his newest body of work dedicated to Africa.
“The Museum is excited to be able to debut his Africa series,” said Hyland in the press release, “which in scale and technical virtuosity inspires us all to a renewed appreciation of the creatures and landscapes of the African continent that are fast dwindling-making beautiful works that also confront difficult issues like the illegal international trade of wildlife and animal parts, in particular ivory.”
A native of Easton, Conn., Prosek is self-taught as a painter. In addition to being an artist, he is a naturalist and the author of a dozen books.
An opening reception will be held Saturday, Feb. 22 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. at the museum, 56 Lexington St., New Britain. www.nbmaa.org

‘Blue Parrotfishe’ by James Prozek is part of a new exhibit at the New Britain Museum of American Art, which opens Feb. 22.
‘Blue Parrotfishe’ by James Prozek is part of a new exhibit at the New Britain Museum of American Art, which opens Feb. 22.