COVE loomings
Work by Christopher Volpe.

Christopher Volpe is an artist, writer and teacher living in New Hampshire. His paintings often combine oil paint with unusual materials such as tar, ash, salt, earth, rust and gold leaf for their poetic and political overtones. 

His solo exhibition, “Loomings,” runs Dec. 7 to Jan. 27 at Cove St Arts.

The show is named after the first chapter in “Moby-Dick,” revisited as a cautionary, apocalyptic vision of the American quest. The tar, a byproduct of fossil fuel refining, carries an undertone of industrialism. The imagery reflects cosmic, elemental forces beyond human understanding or control. Stabilized with chemical driers, the tar is dry and odorless in the completed paintings.

“Why tar? It’s toxic, an alchemical base matter, and it’s a fossil fuels by-product, both organic and industrial,” Volpe says. “Tar is the earth, it’s ancient life, primal material from millions of years of prehistoric time, and it is central to our story right now, in our own time in history.”

Volpe relocated from his native Long Island to earn a master’s degree in poetry from the University of New Hampshire. He turned from literature to painting during a stint teaching college art history and quickly made visual art his central pursuit. 

COVE Volpe headshot High Res
Christopher Volpe

“As a painting medium, tar magnifies painting’s basic challenge: to transform the material into the immaterial,” Volpe says. “Can I wrench and charm this poisonous muck into something meaningful, even something beautiful and poetic?”

Titled with quotes from “Moby-Dick,” the paintings suggest parallels between the fate of Ahab’s doomed whaling ship, the Pequod, and the world’s stubborn pursuit of fossil fuel energy at all costs. 

“Melville created art in the mid-1800s that raises profound questions about the story of humanity itself and still serves as a devastating critique of the nation we’ve made,” Volpe says. “Melville had a very modern sense of human folly. I hope Loomings invokes Moby-Dick as a evocation of the limits of human knowledge as well as a cautionary, foundational myth for our own age of accelerating climate change and social disruption.”

Cove Street Arts is at 71 Cove St., Portland. Call 207-808-8911, email [email protected], or go to for more information.

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Categories:   exhibitions, gallery, Portland, shows