Our love of water is very primal – we need it to survive of course, but it also engenders a sense of purpose and calmness when we look at it. At least it does for me. When I look at water, it reminds me how small I really am and that whatever problems or daily struggles I have, they are insignificant in comparison to the force of nature and to the rest of the world. And in feeling small, I feel better about whatever I may be struggling with.
The main characteristics that captures people’s attention when looking at my Seascape paintings is the vibrant bold blue. While blue is not my favourite colour (yellow is, if you’re curious), I adore the history and the significance of the colour blue. Historically, blue has been a particularly difficult colour of paint to create as the natural sources are very limited. Unlike other nature inspired colours such as ochres, reds and browns, and even greens, blue is not often found in nature in a raw state. In the olden times, the blue that you see in paintings of icons, Renaissance paintings and Old Master paintings most often comes from a blue semiprecious gemstone – lapis lazuli. Because of its rarity and expense, blue was often used as a final accent or particular significance – such as the veil of the Virgin Mary in countless paintings of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Even though modern day paints are mostly manufactured without needing to grind rocks and gems, this history of blue colour in artwork is particularly significant for me. Particularly during a time, when I can use a huge variety of blue colours in my artworks with wild abandon.
I’m clearly not the only artist or person to love the history and the serenity of the colour blue. It is said that blue is the favourite colour of more than half the population. Why is that? I recently did a blog post about the colour blue that you can see here to find out more.
Blue seems to be all around us in our skies and water. Yet, blue water loses its colour the second you try to take some with you. The second you plunge your hands into the sea and cup them to hold some water in, the colour changes. It is most certainly no longer blue. Blue sky is not truly blue and we can never really touch it. Perhaps it is this distance yet ubiquity of the colour blue that makes it particularly captivating, significant and emotive for humans. Blue is such a complex colour and has such strong symbolic associations with various ideas and fundamental parts of the human experience, that no wonder it’s such a beloved colour.
As an artist, I adore using blue in my artwork. I feel very lucky that modern day paints and inks come in such a huge variety of blues – from the dense dark indigo through to ultramarine pure blue and into cobalt blue and into pale almost translucent blues. Blue is captivating and eye catching. It’s expansive. No other colour has the same ability to make the painting look bigger than it is, than blue. In my art practice, blue means space. Whether it’s water or sky, blue expands across the painting to carry the eye of the viewer. I particularly love blue’s ability to set an atmosphere and capture a mood. I appreciate the elegant way that the colour blue and my chosen medium talk to each other through water. I work predominantly in water based media – a variety of inks and ink washes. Ink fundamentally relies on the interaction with water (and paper or canvas) to bring out its true ability, its true hue and its texture. I love the fact that water and sky are most normally seen as being blue and that for me to create my Seascape paintings, not only are blue inks necessary but so is water.
In my art practice, I paint from memory. Rather than trying to paint a specific place or location, I want to paint the atmosphere. The mood. The emotion I felt when I was in that particular place. A common link with my Seascape paintings is the drama and movement of the water and the sky. Particularly the water of my painting is tumultuous – waves crashing, ripples forming, undercurrents pulling… These stormy waters were inspired by my numerous trips to Ireland, particularly the southwest coast of Ireland, by Galway, Kerry, and Killarney. The landscape there is all cliffs and sea. And as far as the eye can see, little else. It is a stark landscape and one that is full of drama. With my seascape paintings, just as with my landscape and floral paintings, I am not interested in representing an accurate image of what I have seen during my trips. What I am interested in taking away the distractions and the minutiae and distilling the whole visual and emotional experience into its fundamental component lines and shapes. Into one single image that captures the essence of the mood and can be understood by those who have not been there. It is an often imaginary image that comes about from combining several memories and trips and feelings.
Conflicting emotions emerge when I stare out into a stormy sea that never seems to end. First is the sense of space. The pure expansiveness of the water that’s in front of me, which seems to be neverending. A sense of freedom and opportunity and a longing for travelling across the water to foreign lands. Then, there is the sense of place. Of context and of history. I am here in this specific place on this specific coast in this specific village looking out into a seascape that might be similar for others in other coasts in other countries but in this moment is specific to me. Partly, I like the sense of place – this is mine, this is where I am and I will look out at this view forever. And partly it makes me curious about other places and other coasts and villages. And lastly, there is a hint of danger. Storms are like that. Stormy water and stormy skies are incredibly evocative in real life – watching a big storm out at sea is a sight to behold. It is yet another reminder of how small we are and how big the world and nature is. It is my memories of these emotions that I want to capture in my Seascape paintings.
I use the horizon in my Seascape paintings to continue the emotional journey. Compositionally speaking, having a distinct separate horizon that is more than just a faint line allows me to separate the sky and water into distinct areas and treat them differently applying different colours, paints and textures to each area separately. But the horizon does much more than that. I use exclusively metallic colours for my horizons in my Seascape paintings – a combination of gold, copper and bronze. These three warm metallic illuminate a painting that otherwise might feel too cold and brutal. They add texture and interplay with the light. The metallic paints positively shimmer in the light unlike the other inks which have more of a dense matte quality. Difficult to see in a scan or digital reproduction of the original painting, but the light hitting the metallic paints bounces off and creates a shimmer and shine that really catches the eye. Beyond purely compositional and visual considerations, the metallic shimmering horizon serves another purpose. It completes the emotional journey of viewing the painting. Importantly, the horizon has lots of colours including gold. Unlike many other horizons represented in other artworks (which are often a darker colour), mine are metallic shimmer and gold. This completes the story – that a land of gold is waiting somewhere ahead after a long journey at the sea. A land of opportunity and plenty of prosperity for all. But all is not what it seems. The gold is mixed with other metals – copper and bronze – they intermix to the point that it’s sometimes hard to tell what metal is what colour. When you are longing for a promise of a land of gold, is that what it really is, you ask yourself? And lastly, is it even real. Is the golden horizon even a real land of opportunity or a mirage that has been created by the sunshine peeking through a cloudy stormy sky. It’s this sense of longing yet questioning that for me truly completes the painting and the inspiration behind my Seascape series of paintings.