Marc Castelli | Chasing the Silver
40 (or so) Years of Painting Racing Sails

June 7 – August 7, 2024

Opening Reception:
June First Friday – June 7, 5-8 pm

Artist Talks:
Saturday, June 8, 12 noon
Sunday, June 9, 12 noon

July First Friday – July 5, 5-8 pm

In the MassoniArt Cross Street Gallery @ 113 South Cross Street, Chestertown, Maryland

For browsers and collectors – the June Castelli exhibition widens the lens on the subjects Marc has painted over his long career. Chasing the Silver is a retrospective featuring the watercolors of major world yachting events over the last 40 years. It is the first time such a collection has been gathered from Marc’s personal portfolio for exhibition.

In his own words…

Back in 1984 I found a photograph of the J Boat, Velsheda (1934) in a copy of Sailing Magazine. Something about that hull discovered in a Hamble, UK, mud berth captured my imagination. The long overhangs of her bow and stern emerging from the marsh mud and grasses stayed in my mind. I then picked up a book, The America’s Cup; An Informal History, by Ian Deare. My first of what would become a decent collection on the subject. In it was an amazing photograph of an America’s Cup defender, Columbia (1899) in dry dock. The shape of that huge and beautiful hull with pretty much the same overhangs as Velsheda once again captured my imagination. It is odd that both pictures were of J Boat class yachts out of their elements. It was also around that time that the Americas Cup challenge and defense was once again to play out in Providence Rhode Island. That regatta with its rich history of characters, phenomenal racing, and controversy took hold of me. I was living in West Michigan on Lake Michigan, racing on an inland lake. At the time, I was in the first decade of my 40 or so years of sail racing career.  I had been crewing on the over canvassed C-Scows of the Midwest. Intense, cutthroat, one design class competition featuring scows with slight changes since the classes’ inception in the late 1800s. My initial exposure to sailing was racing, not cruising for pleasure. It was then that I learned something about myself.  Rather than own and skipper, I would rather be a crew member responsible for the task of sail shape, trim, and allow the skipper to get his head out of the boat and race. I have always preferred an honest second seat when working. To this day I am barely able to relax on a cruising sail. My hands itch for a sheet with which I could make sail adjustments. Watching the America’s Cup races had been likened to watching grass grow or paint dry. No matter who you are, and if you raced sail boats/yachts, you would understand the attraction of getting a chance to watch an America’s Cup Regatta in person. It is after all the holy grail of sailing. It is even better if you are credentialed and on a photo boat with on and near course clearances denied the public. At the time there was little if any television coverage and most sailors depended on magazine coverage using great photographs from the best of maritime photographers to heighten sailing readers’ interest. I used to cut out these photographs and hoard them in folders, they appealed to my newly refined sense of grace, geometries, and their interaction with the water. Gilbert Murray wrote that there is the beauty of a modern yacht, where there is no ornamentation at all; our whole sensation of pleasure in watching a yacht under sail comes from the fact that every line of the craft is designed for one purpose, that everything about it furthers that purpose, so that it has an organic, living simplicity and directness.

Water! In all my travels growing up I had not once lived near a body of water that would be always within walking distance. It got under my skin and in my blood. Oddly enough, water has always been to the west of where I have lived. It was in 1983, when the 12-meter yacht Liberty, captained by Dennis Connor seemed to be losing the cup to the Australians that all of sudden it became something the news networks got caught up in. And there it was, all over the evening news. 150 years of undefeated defenses against all comers was being threatened by Aussies and their secret weapon of a winged keel. Then before we realized it the Cup was going to Australia. That challenge would be in Perth (1987) and would involve 13 challenging yacht clubs from seven nations. I have a good friend, another very good skipper in the C Scow fleet, who was going to Perth to watch the Louis Vuitton challenger series and eventually the defense. He knew just how much seeing that meant to me. So, we concocted a plan in which I would buy a lot of film for him to shoot color slides, from which I could try my hand at such a genre. I also told him I would pay to develop the film in exchange for the opportunity to paint from ones I would select. He would be able to retain all his slides. Not only did it work out quite well it was also a format I used for the next challenger series when he would go to San Diego and watch Dennis Connor on Stars and Stripes compete to see who would eventually defend the Cup. This was after the “New Zealand Big Boat vs the Stars and Stripes catamaran challenge and defense of 1988. I took my family down to the Philadelphia docks to see this gigantic boat on its tour of the U.S. and did one painting of it up on the barge.

My paintings from the 1980s series of challenges and subsequent defense reflect my coming to terms with a new subject and they also reflect my then interest in graphic design. I had not really started to explore color until after 1981. The colors are purer, the shapes more sharply defined and many of the paintings are composed of very delineated shapes you could almost lift them right off the paper. Much like puzzle pieces and the organic shapes of inlaid semi-precious gems used to decorate the Taj Mahal, which made a long-term impression on me as a young boy. 

My first real time witnessing of an actual defense of the America’s Cup came in 1992. Getting close enough for the type of pictures that would reflect more of my emerging sense of composition was in itself quite a challenge. I needed media credentials. Fortunately, I had the sympathetic ear of an editor at Sailing Magazine. She had witnessed several scow regattas and we had gotten to know each other from our work that she said she would give me journalist credentials for the right to use any artwork I created from the trip free of charge. I jumped at the chance. A couple of memories stand out. Back then the photo boats were allowed in the boxes at each end of the starting line. I remember one such start when the French challenger came through the small gathering of photo boats during the prestart jockeying for position. The boom swept overhead as it tacked close by us. It was moments like that for which I was grateful for not having a huge lens with which to work and was able to get some decent shots. I also remember how large the swells were just outside of Point Loma. There was three to four feet of chop on top of them. The company that had a contract with Louis Vuitton to provide chase boats pulled out leaving it up to the event to scramble to provide boats. Fortunately, many private owners stepped up. Most of the boats were just barely adequate. On one of the boats from which I got to work was a journalist from Kansas who was nowhere near prepared for the motion-induced discomfort, neither was I. My being a sailor from Midwest inland lakes did not prepare me. He started to get seasick and like the plague it spread through some of the other photojournalists. I made the mistake of going down below to change out film, my temperature went up and I came back up to the stern of the boat to get some fresh air and to knock down the intense discomfort I was experiencing. A Frenchman, with whom I got to be good friends at later America’s Cups, looked at me and said,” You have ze look. I give you 5 minutes”. It wasn’t but three or four minutes later I was washing my face in the Pacific. I looked up from the water and saw the ESPN camera looking at me, I gave it the one finger salute and regained my composure. Francois Mousis an excellent photographer gave me some Sen-Sens and said I would do better the next time. I would continue to meet up with him at four more regattas.

Another instance would be a matter of gaining a measure of professional respect from some of the other career photojournalists.  A German gentleman in particular, looking askance at my small collection of lenses kept elbowing me out of the way on the rail as we were setting up to shoot at mark roundings. After a couple of such purposeful instances, I made ready to bump him overboard. I felt a tug on my sleeve, looking down, I saw a Japanese photographer who waged his finger at me. I then retook my position at the rail and asked the German photographer what was the most he had ever been paid for one of his photographs. He puffed up and looked at me and said eight hundred dollars. He then asked me how much I had been paid. I then told him I was an artist and that I had recently been paid several thousand dollars for one painting and that I deserved a space at the rail just as much as he did. I then said that I wasn’t anyone he needed to be worried about and that I wasn’t in competition with any of the photographers in the pool. Word must have gotten around as I never had that issue again. In fact, a few of these professionals would eventually advise me while shooting so that I could better understand what would make for a better photograph from which to paint.

Through the graces of the editors at Sailing Magazine, I made it to several America’s Cup regattas, specializing in the Louis Vuitton challenger series. Why not the actual Cup, you might ask? For me it was the chance to see more than just two of these remarkable beautiful yachts duking it out for the actual cup. The challenger series would give me the chance to see two races a day involving yachts from different syndicates. More opportunities to capture a lot of racing. There was something I felt that painting the actual Cup rendered any rendering instantly historical and a done deal. I guess that I just have not considered myself a traditional Maritime painter of historical subjects. But, it is after all is said and done, history.

My first paintings were of 12 meters in Australia in 1987. Since then, the yachts had become what became the America’s Cup Class yachts with a different set of scantlings than the previous 12 meters. They were bigger, incorporated more recent technologies, and used newer sail materials. The newer ACC class continued to use large panels of Kevlar materials and presented an almost color field abstraction to their shapes. And, were actually quite fun to paint. Unfortunately, the newer sails that look like contour maps, are on the one hand much more efficient but also a true pain in the butt to draw out and paint. Think translucent contour maps of the mountains and you might have an idea. Of the rather amazing defaults to fall onto my lap are the requests to use my art in books about the world of sailing and working on the water. Recently through the auspices of William Koch, a painting of mine made it into Volume 7 of the beautifully produced series, titled The Holy Grail of Yachting: The Art of the America’s Cup 1974-1987.

In 1992 I saw Il Moro lose to A3 (Kansa) and then in 1995 I watched Young America, skippered by Paul Cayard which had won the right to defend get shanghaied by Dennis Conner of Stars and Stripes only to lose to Team New Zealand. The syndicate Young America had commissioned a noted artist, Roy Lichenstein to create a full hull graphic and designs for their spinnakers. The graphic featured a woman looking much like a mermaid with eyes close, facing forward at the bow. After having lost a few races to the Kiwis some crank painted her eyes open. Did not help any. I then realized that to be able to record I would need a bigger lens. Many of the photographers would be able to borrow large telephoto lenses from the manufacturers who had offices in place. I purchased a 500-telephoto reflex for my Minolta. One capable of the close-up shots but much shorter and better able to handle the “gross vibrations” of waves and chop. Now I was able to start to compose my shots and get in tight for the details. Through an acquaintance here in Chestertown I eventually got hooked up with SAIC who would sponsor me to two regattas in New Zealand while retaining my Sailing Magazine credentials. The deal was I would paint a watercolor to be donated from pictures taken of the challenger’s sea trials. These two syndicates were America One (1999) and One World (2002). I was able to take pictures of America One from a chase boat and actually from on board, during sea trials off the California coast. I got to meet Paul Cayard, had him sign a painting or two of mine from the previous Cup with Il Moro vs A3. I gave him one featuring his then mentor Raul Gardini. The deal I had made with Mr. Tobriner and Mr. Beyster of SAIC was that I would donate an original painting to the St. Francis Yacht Club and a small edition of signed and numbered prints (paid for by M. Tobriner) to the sponsoring syndicate, SAIC. The syndicate would then pay for my airfare and housing in return. It was the same deal for the One World syndicate out of Seattle. In that instance the world renown photographer Sharon Green gave me permission to use one of her photos from which to paint the print. It was a win-win for all involved.

I then made it to two America’s Cup Louis Vuitton Challenger series on the Hauraki Gulf outside of Auckland New Zealand. Such yachting events always featured a reunion of professional photographers. Many were from the very top echelon of marine photographers, and I am still to this day in awe of their work. Yet as a painter there was still a measure of respect for my work. It did not hurt that I was the only artist in their company with photo/media credentials. There was always a new crop of photojournalists coming along. I had thought that since October in New Zealand was their Spring that I would not need really warm clothes. Boy was I wrong. Southerly winds which I had always associated with warmth actually come from off the Antarctic down that way. Thank goodness I had a decent set of oil skins and sweaters. One day there was a young Japanese photographer on the boat who was freezing. I loaned him a light jacket of mine and another photographer loaned him a hat. It was one day that I got quite cold despite my gear. As I walked back to the hotel I noticed a wool stocking hat in a shop window. I turned around walking right in, plunked down my credit card and told the young lady that I wanted to purchase the stocking hat that was in the window. While they packed the hat, I noticed just how well dressed they were and how good looking they all were. I also noticed just how nicely decorated the shop was too. The clerk brought me my very nicely bagged hat, sealed with a wax seal, and my receipt in an equally nice envelope also sealed with wax. And I was off to the hotel. I got home, opened the envelope to see what the damage was. It was then I noticed that the shop was a Louis Vuitton franchise and my hat had cost me $300.00 NZ! I thought how was I going to explain to Phyllis? It made just a smidgeon of a difference when I told her that $300 NZ was actually only $150 US.  She also told me that in no way was I to lose that hat. I still have it. The Louis Vuitton people wanted to take my picture in my yellow oil skins wearing the hat as all the colors were theirs. Noted Chesapeake Bay photographer Bob Greiser who was there took a photo of me. In addition to one of my America’s Cup paintings the photo was used in Russell Jinishian’s wonderful book, Bound for Blue Water about American Maritime artists of note. I have many good solid memories from those regattas. Many of them come flooding back when I go back through the binders of color slides.

Both Louis Vuitton Cups 1999 and 2002 featured many challenging syndicates and sponsors. Getting to shoot two races a day featuring two different syndicates gave me the opportunity to record and shoot in differing light circumstance. One second race had difficult conditions and was delayed due to unfavorable wind conditions so many of us thought we would not be able to work. But the committee decided to hold the race in the late afternoon, which for me is one of the most beautiful times of day to shoot.

We shot the race and headed back to Auckland on the Kawai Jet, a very sturdy rigid inflatable boat. On the way into the port were surrounded by a pod of killer whales. I started to try and take pictures but quit when I realized I was actually missing the show. The pilot, a Kiwi, with whom I became good friends would later commission me to do a small watercolor of his father’s motor yacht. I like the New Zealanders. Back then many would tell me they remembered how we saved their bacon from the Japanese in W.W. 2. The cooks, mostly Kiwis, for America One would always have something for me to eat when I would make it to the compound.

Compound securities were always very tight. One had to know someone in the team to get through the front gate and then get past the desk. When out of the water almost all of the boats wore skirts hiding their keels from the always prying eyes of other syndicates. My brother who was at the time with the embassy in Italy had an Italian friend whose wife was a journalist connected to the Mascalzone Latine Team. She got me connected with the team and I would spend some mornings when they had no races at their compound doing a lot of drawing. I was very lucky.

Such events draw many disparate types of people. At times many syndicates would find spots for sponsors on the photoboats. I met a lady whose company made the yarns which were used as rot line to bundle spinnakers. I shared a boat with Arthur Spithill’s father and eventually gave him a painting of the Sydney 95 challenger which was skippered by his son in that regatta. The media pool was divided between writers and photographers. The writers considered photographers to be bottom feeders for the most part. We were usually sequestered off to one side of the media building. Not too sure why the credibility was not there. Maybe it was because at the end of the regattas the walls in the photo portion were covered in photos of beautiful women in swimsuits. Each day there would be a contest for not only the most impressive yachting photo but also for the most striking photo of a woman or a group of women. I couldn’t afford the luxury. We all used film back then and Fuji had an on-site lab for processing. Which was great because we got our film processed, at a special rate which also prevented airport security from exposing all that film to their x-ray machines.

New Zealand would beat the Italians who had defeated America One for the right to challenge. For the following Cup it was Team Alinghi eventually winning the Cup to defeat Team New Zealand. As Alinghi was from Switzerland no one knew where the next Cup would be held. The rules stated that any challenger would have to be from a yacht club on the ocean. Up to that point no one had really challenged that. Buddy Melges had a Mid-West challenge from Chicago claiming Lake Michigan was an arm of the Atlantic. Eventually Valencia, Spain on the Mediterranean was named the port from which the next regatta would be contested. Sponsorship was going to be a challenge as SAIC was no longer in the America’s Cup business. Credentials would still be available through Sailing Magazine. Sponsorship came from the brother-in-law of a good friend of mine who owns a local bookstore. As things would have it his wife is married to the then president of the Bolsa de Madrid, the Spanish Stock Market. This fine gentleman asked around and managed to get me hooked up with a very high brow Spanish art magazine for who I had to do an online interview and then donate a painting to the sponsoring Valencia Yacht Club. All of which I jumped at quite quickly. I also managed to snag sponsorship from the Desafio Espanol, America’s Cup syndicate. In exchange for all my promises I was given a nice hotel room not too far from the waterfront.

Valencia, like Auckland, was interesting in that I did not get to spend any real time there. Though I got in a morning walk with Bobby Grieser into the town of Valencia and saw a lot of beautiful buildings, a whole plaza paved in marble and the amazing fish/farmers market structure. Every day I would walk past a couple of churches that eventually caught my eye so that I would stop and do some drawing of their details. The waterfront had some of the most incredible period customs buildings decorated with statuary and mosaics. I did a lot of sketching to be inked later in the evenings back in the hotel room, along with some small watercolors. Unbeknownst to me at the time I was the only film photographer to be in the pool. Which meant that there was no on-site Fuji lab to process film. Getting all those rolls of film through customs would prove to be a nightmare later. Most mornings I would check in to see what races were scheduled and in what photo boat I was assigned. Usually there was a certain amount of open time. I went to the neighboring commercial fishing docks and managed to shoot a couple of days until I was asked to identify myself and to explain what I was doing. This proved most difficult as I was to learn firsthand that most Spaniards do not speak any English. My Maryland Watermen Association membership card did me no good and I was asked to leave. I did manage to get some shots from which I was to later paint. That was nothing compared to the nightmare that Delta airlines and Iberia Air inflicted on my way home.

I made more acquaintances, renewed friendships, handed out a lot of gallery invitations featuring my watercolors, and got some incredible photographs from the Louis Vuitton Challenger series. I have one more story to tell about this trip. While sitting with Bobby Grieser in the photographer’s designated area a beautiful young lady came up to me and asked if I was Marc Castelli, the artist. I said yes, made space for her to sit down. She then asked me if I would paint her portrait for her to give to her boyfriend. I was told that she was Moet Champagne model that year. I was flabbergasted by her request. And then the other shoe dropped, she told me she would want me to paint her nude. You could have heard a pin drop at the long table of photographers using their computers to edit, compose and work on their photos from the day before. Now, I was embarrassed at the choice before me. I eventually looked her in the eye and told her while she was quite beautiful and that I would be honored to do such a watercolor, but I was not trained in portraiture and would have to decline the commission. The falling dominoes sound of heads going around hitting the table was remarkable. After she thanked me for my honesty, she then left the table. To a man the photographers told me I should have said yes, taken loads of photographs and have won that day’s bikini babes contest. I knew Phyllis, my wife, would have preferred that I not accept the commission. That was more than reason enough. The next day I drew a stick figure with circles for breasts, signed it and delivered it to her with my apologies. She laughed. The Mediterranean is a beautiful and at times wild body of water, especially for the racers and the photoboats trying to keep up with them. Valencia was my last America’s Cup trip. It was also the last of the seriously monohull regattas to be sailed for the Cup. Besides if you know what you are watching, then watching grass grow or paint dry can be fascinating.

In addition to these events, I have also been fortunate to get hooked up through yet another Chestertown connection, with George Collins’ Team Chessie and their bid to win the last of the Whitbread Around the World Races. It was soon to become the Volvo race and is now in yet another incarnation. Through Living Classrooms I managed to get to ride along during a day of sea trials in Rhode Island. I was able to shoot the start of the event in Southampton, UK. I have never seen before or since then waters so chopped up by spectator boats as those on the Solent. Later when the boats would reach the southern end of the Chesapeake Bay, I got out to see them finish above the Bay Bridge. I remember being mildly amused upon hearing how upset Dennis Conner was when he snagged a crab-pot in the lower bay. Then I got on a private boat to photograph the boats as they raced up to the finish in Baltimore. Using my credentials from Chessie I was able join a photo boat to photograph the subsequent start using the Chesapeake Bay Bridge as the starting line. I will never forget the Colosseum-like roar of the Bridge Walk crowd as the boats passed underneath.

Another race I have been lucky to paint from included the BOC Global Challenge. A race started by Chay Blyth for amateur sailors who pay for the experience to race around the world AGAINST the wind. Each boat is skippered by a professional captain and first mate. SAIC sponsored me to go to Southampton, UK early on to photograph and sail with the crew of their namesake entry during sea trials. From that trip I created a painting of their yacht flying a spinnaker with the SAIC logo on it. I gave the original to the sponsor in return for a trip back to the UK to shoot the start.  The start was made in horrendous conditions heading East into the Bay of Biscay, notorious for nasty storms. The crews during the start were to a boat enthusiastic, cheering loudly and excited to be finally off to the races. Later at the house where I was staying, we heard and read on the computer how the decks were awash with vomit. Sobering to say the least.

While staying in the South of England I had the luck to stay with and begin a long-time friendship with a great sailor, and an all ‘round great person. Eventually I would stay with him and his wonderful wife on Hayling Island for several trips. The last being the chance to take Phyllis with me to watch the J Class yachts racing on the Solent. We had wonderful weather for taking photographs, watching these graceful giants with towering rigs and huge gear go by us. Once again, I was gobsmacked at the turbulence churned up by the more than enthusiastic spectator fleet. They came out to watch in all sizes and manner of watercraft. England IS a sailing country.

I have been most fortunate over the years to be asked to create artwork for various regattas, world championships and to witness important races. The Star Boat World Championship opportunity came about from knowing people in the log canoe racing circuit. For that regatta I created several paintings, one of which became the overall trophy, while prints were made from another for other trophies. The pen-and-ink drawings I created were given out as daily trophies. The request was made as a chance to put the Eastern Shore on the map, especially Oxford.  I had agreed to donate the use of much of what I created to be used for the trophies and publicity. The original painting went to the Tred Avon Yacht Club. My only request was for the use of a photo boat for one day’s worth of racing. Boy, did I ever pick a great day to shoot, complete with great skies, growing winds and a starting line with over 60 boats. Log canoes also brought me into the circle of racing celebrity Dr. Stuart Walker. He joined us on the Jay Dee for a couple of races one weekend. I have to admit to a certain unabashed admiration of this gentleman. I own several of his books (signed) and eventually owned all of what he has written about sailing, racing, and campaigning. I gave him a painting of the Jay Dee with him on it. From there many opportunities came my way, and a burgeoning friendship. He asked if I would paint a picture of Soling class boats racing to be used as a trophy for a Soling World Championship Regatta to be held on the Chesapeake. I agreed and a few prints were made to be used as trophies also. Racing with him one weekend I had a serious bad reaction to some blood pressure medication I was on at the time. While hiking out with my feet fixed to the floor of the cockpit and throwing up everything in my stomach he reached over and told me to show him my wrist. Now imagine this scene. He is skippering in a serious series of races in heavy winds, boats all around us and he wants to take my pulse with his free hand. I did as he instructed, bared my wrist from the dry suit sleeve and he took my pulse. He then informed me that I had no detectable pulse and went back to racing. Once on shore he told me to wait in the car and warm up. After shivering as hard as I had never in my life it became clear that I was hyperthermic and needed to get my core temperature back to normal. I was staying with the Stuarts, his wife Fran ran a very warm bath for me, heated some towels and turned on the electric blanket on my bed. At dinner that night not only had I regained my composure but my appetite. I was ready to sail again the next day minus the dry suit and no meds. Did all right and managed to snag a few good pictures of the doctor at his pleasure.

Through the offices and friendship of Jon Wright Chair of the Vanderstar Chair at the USNA I was invited to join him and another coach of the academy sailing team to watch A days’ worth of racing for the intercollegiate Kennedy Cup to be held on the Chesapeake Bay. And yet again I was/am blessed with wonderful friends, incredible weather and good inside spots from which to photograph the Navy 44s being raced.

Congratulations if you have made it to this point. Now you have some background to the 40 or so years of painting from my chasing the silver so to speak. Many friends, and great opportunities have come my way but most of all, none of which would ever have been possible with the 40 or so years of my soul mate Phyllis’ constant support, faith, and her love. I am truly a lucky man. I am also blessed with the continuing confidence of Carla Massoni in me and my work.