An expressive coastal scene rendered with thick and vigorous brushstrokes in bold colors, Goose Rock, Small Point, Maine strikes the exquisite balance between elements of abstraction and realism which earned John Marin distinction as one of the most venerated American artists of the twentieth century. Painted in 1931, shortly after Marin had transitioned from working exclusively in watercolor back into oil, this painting is exemplary of the artist's daring works that capture the Maine landscape, one of his favorite subjects.
In 1914, Marin began escaping the bustle of New York City to spend months at a time painting the rugged Maine coast. The rocky promontories and wild, churning sea had a profound impact on his artistic direction. "After Marin discovered Maine and its seascapes in 1914, it became his most compelling subject matter." (S. Hunter, Expression and Meaning: The Marine Paintings of John Marin, exhibition catalogue, West Palm Beach, Florida, 1999, p. 14) Fascinated by the rugged natural environs of Maine, Marin returned to the area frequently until his death in 1953. He continually strove to fully capture the wonders of the area in his paintings: "In nature/You see things objects back of one another/in painting they are all on one plane/therefore the great transposition/but there is no way out/You make things in paint as they are made in nature/things are built in nature things are built in paint." (as quoted in C. Gray, ed., John Marin by John Marin, New York, 1977, p. 53)
Recognizing the challenge of depicting a fluid three-dimensional subject in a static two-dimensional medium, Marin worked hard to accurately relay his dynamic surroundings on canvas. Marin's skillful depiction of the roiling sea is particularly evident in Goose Rock, Small Point, Maine. Here, Marin places the horizon line high, flattening the natural elements of the seascape against the picture plane. To express the undulating waves and strong current of the ocean, he employs several hues of blue and gray interspersed with expressive, dark diagonal lines. The windy sky is geometrically represented by arrow shapes against an otherwise white sky, and the rocky peninsula is a thin, craggy mass parallel to the horizon.
Having worked primarily in oil from 1910 to 1914, Marin had abandoned the medium for the freer watercolor. However, in the 1930s, he began to revisit oil painting. As seen in Goose Rock, Small Point, Maine, his rediscovery of the oil medium provided a new means of expression for the artist. "When he used oil pigment, he could also handle it thickly and deliberately, or with an extraordinary swiftness and lightness, reconstituting those summary, spontaneous indications of movement that seemed even more appropriate to his poetic watercolor études of landscape and the sea. Although Marin showed no profound desire to explore abstraction as such or the material possibilities of the weightier medium, he used oil paint with the same originality and flair he brought to the lighter watercolor medium. That was in itself a considerable accomplishment." (Expression and Meaning: The Marine Paintings of John Marin, p. 18)