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Ship Shape

Spellbinding Seascapes with Sunken Ships

Try to discover why a ship is referred to as a she and you’ll get a boatload of answers.

There’s the maternal rationale: “She holds the sailors like a mother and rocks them to sleep.” The sexist reason: “Like a woman they take much powder and paint to keep them looking good” (blame 15th century Prince Henry of Portugal for that one.) And the simple: “Because men love them.” It’s simple because, let’s face it, some women love ships, and some men love men.

In new paintings by Chicago painter Renee McGinnis, sunken ships emerge like angels in a dramatic blend of sea and sky.

"This all started after seeing a photo in a 1978 National Geographic," she told us. "The Antilles liner was burned out and decaying on a reef she'd struck. The captain was using maps from the 19th century. The image was so horrific yet so beautiful."

Most of these oil paintings are painted on large circular panels that are reminiscent of the portholes on a ship. McGinnis says she also wanted them to recall the porcelain collector’s plates that long ago would accompany the launch of a new luxury liner.

Along the edges, she applied gold leaf and crystals – delicate touches that ennoble the cracked, rusted, and sometimes burning ships at the center of the frame. Noble as they seem, the huge vessels are still stricken with fragility, a reminder that even ships “that will never sink” lie on the bottom of the ocean floor.

Renee McGinniss’ latest series of paintings is titled “The Girls.” The feminine fleet is docked at the always-interesting Packer Schopf Gallery under the el at 942 W. Lake St. until December 28th. View more images below.