So vivid and enrapturing are Ran Ortner's massive seascapes that he frequently must remind people that he is a painter, not a photo-realist.
"The contemporary eye is so accustomed to photography when they see something resembling nature," he said.
Ortner, who stormed the art world several years ago, is showing some of his acclaimed works at Franklin & Marshall College's Phillips Museum of Art from March 22 to April 21 and from May 6 to 8.
The San Francisco-born artist, surfer and motorcyclist struggled for more than 30 years before his "Open Water No. 24" won the inaugural ArtPrize in 2009. The $250,000 art award is the world's largest and is based solely on a public vote.
"On October 7 , Ortner was an artist who couldn't pay his phone bill," according to ArtPrize. "On October 8, Ortner was in every major newspaper in the world."
The artist has captured the public imagination, said Tamara Goeglein, professor of English and interim director of the Phillips Museum.
"His paintings have been so eagerly received by patrons and the public that he has become very in-demand by museums," she said. "The College is honored to show his works."
Ortner said he looks forward to the exhibit in the museum's high-ceilinged Dana Gallery — a space Goeglein described as ideal for his paintings. He also likes that his works will be the focus of cross-discipline study at F&M, from art and art history, to earth and environment, to biology.
"I think the academic setting is the most thrilling because that's where the next generation is considering what they're launching from, and what they're connecting to," Ortner said.
With paint and brush, Ortner creates elements of light and water on canvases reaching 8 feet in height and 32 feet in width.
"They show no land, sky, boats, figures or other reference points, merely what Herman Melville calls 'this sea, whose gently awful stirrings seem to speak of some hidden soul beneath,'" The Sun magazine wrote in a 2012 profile.
"What I'm attempting to do is capture a poetic iteration of something, an emotional charge," Ortner said. "I'm really interested in passions. I feel we're swept away by life's largest experiences."
His work exhibits worldwide. The Netherlands in 2013 commissioned "Element No. 5" as a centerpiece for the U.N.'s World Water Day at The Hague. His "Element No. 1" and "Element No. 2" are on display in the lobby of 7 World Trade Centre.
In a 2013 documentary on Ortner, patrons at an exhibit reported having their breath taken away at the first sight of his paintings.
"We are not told a gorgeous landscape is gorgeous, we just feel it," Ortner said. "Or when we see a loved one, we don't go through the process of rationalizing whether they have appeal to us or not. We are simply, profoundly connected. It's this profound and fundamental connection that I'm exploring in my work."