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This exhibition of original contemporary art is a celebration of coastlines and estuaries and will showcase work by regular gallery artists, such as Jane Skingley, David Mankin, Janet James, John Henry, Betty Harrison, Laura Howarth and Tara Leaver. Guest artists include Sophie Parr and Andy Lovell.
This will be our third online exhibition since the lockdown started in March. For those of us who are land locked and in isolation it will be a breathtaking reminder of days we spent on the fringes of our land, watching the waves or scanning the horizon. Whether it was feeling the heat of a summer’s day or admiring the myriad colours of a rock pool, or experiencing wild windy weather and deep sea, I hope this exhibition will evoke treasured memories. No exhibition about the coast would be complete without a few boats too!
Sophie Parr “Purple Rocks in Turquoise Pools”
The paintings are also a reflection of our artist’s travels, something which may be stymied in future. So we have not just British coastlines but also those from Australia, Norway, Ireland and Spain. I have also included estuary paintings and wetlands.
“The coast offers us ozone, horizons, space and childhood memories of seaside holidays and can have a calming effect”
We live on an island of miles and miles of coast, varying in geology, depth and tide. With a proud naval tradition it is no surprise that marine painting has traditionally been a strong subject in the history of British art, with ship portraits fuelled by the patronage of wealthy ship owners.
“The burning of the Kent” by William Daniell c. 1825
All that changed with J M W Turner, whose paintings of the violent nature of the sea were more about the extremes of weather than glorifying the ships. It was his genius ability to “Stirringly and truthfully measure the moods of nature” (John Ruskin) that set him apart. In 1843, Ruskin commentated about “Snow Storm; Steam Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth” that it was "one of the very grandest statements of sea-motion, mist and light, that has ever been put on canvas". Turner painted this work when he was 67 and it was rumoured that he was strapped to the mast for 4 hours recording the storm at first hand. His work still has a strong influence on contemporary art after 200 years.
JMW Turner, Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, c. 1842, oil on canvas, Tate Britain
This tradition of painting ‘en plein air’ and capturing a mood was perpetrated by the Impressionists and in Britain continued to some extent with the Newlyn School and Stanhope Forbes. Coastal paintings became less about extreme weather or grand ships and more about fisherman and cottages and the everyday folk who worked on the coast. They are a social and historical record of life by the sea as well as being stunning paintings. This style of painting continued up to WWII and is still an influence on British painters today.
Stanhope Forbes “A Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach” 1884-85, oil on canvas, Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery
There has always been a folk art tradition in our seaside towns. One of the most famous of these was Alfred Wallis, whose naive paintings were lauded by the likes of Ben Nicholson when he moved to St Ive’s during the second world war. Nicholson no doubt saw the modernity in the simplistic representations of boats and probably admired the complete lack of perspective in the harbour walls, which would have tied in with Nicholson’s abstract work in which he tilted the plane, defying laws of perspective and flattening objects against landscape.
Artists can always find new ways of seeing. It was Peter Lanyon who took to his glider to view the coast from above, offering us a completely new perspctive on the coastal landscape.
“Wreck” by Peter Lanyon, 1963, Tate
Artists are always attracted to the coast whether it be St Ives, Norfolk or the western Isles where the light is said to luminous. The sea is an endless fluid challenge - how to capture it?
For most of all the coast offers us ozone, horizons, space and childhood memories of seaside holidays and can have a calming effect on us, offering us an antidote to the stress of everyday life. I hope you enjoy this online exhibition and that, for those of us not fortunate to live by the sea, it won’t be too long before we can all visit the coast once again.
Illustrated: Jane Skingley, Memories of Norfolk oil on board, 30 x 30cm