Bathers: These pieces are inspired by my visits to the Caribbean where the people of the island use the sea to socialize, relax and refresh. Each morning, groups walk down to the beaches and share time together in the sea. These meetings are sometimes locally referred to as “the breakfast club”. From childhood, at weekends and after school, the children spend time together in the sea. This experience forms an important part of their lives on the islands.
Observing a group of bathers is, to me, a representation of how we can interact, both with each other and with nature. On the fringe of our world we push just slightly into the unknown space of the ocean. It’s a place where, for a short time, we can leave the material “stuff of life” behind, and simply enjoy the company of family and friends, or spend time alone to reflect. If we enter the sea on our own or break off for a few minutes from the group, we can swim a little, float, walk or stand, and there – in isolation – have nothing impinge from the outside into our thoughts. It can offer the chance for reflection or dreams; perhaps, even a neutral state where we can spiritually relax too.
I found these scenes uplifting and was compelled to try to capture the experience. I love the sea and the Caribbean is a wonderful blend of natural and cultural richness. Upon visiting, walking slowly along the beach at the beginning and end of each day becomes a ritual, however, sketching from the beach has to be quick. There’s little detail to be seen and bathers are constantly moving. Whether bright sunlight or overcast, the rich starkness of the figures’ forms silhouettes against the warm, pale sea and this is the most important image I hold in my emotional and visual memory. After returning to the studio in London and working from fleeting scribbles made on the beach, I wanted the drawings and paintings to reflect these figures and scenes exactly as I saw them.
I began with using the beach sketches as a source reference to make preparatory working drawings and, in turn, used these to paint the panels. The first bather was painted in February 2014 and the final piece in May 2015. During this period I continued to make new drawings using charcoal and acrylic paint on layers of polyester film. These sketches helped me to continually progress the painting. I chose oil on panel for the main pieces because wood offers a smooth surface to work with. This aided the techniques I used to both apply and move the paint around to communicate the sense of water and bathers immersed in the sea.
Dogs: This group of oils, painted onto panel or paper, was produced between June 2014 – May 2015, and is an expression of particularly fond memories from an early summer trip on the river Thames with friends and their dog, Horace. The Thames is a beautiful river which, affected by the light and weather, can change so much as it flows through different landscapes. It was a few years later I decided to work on paintings of a dog in water and was able to use photographs and sketches from the time spent on the river with Horace.
Apart from the simple image of a dog enjoying the water I wanted to try and depict the varying quality of light reflecting off the surface of the river as the dog moved through it. Thus, apart from using wood panels for some of the pieces I chose oil on paper as an alternative substrate that would offer a softer feel to the painting.
My love of water and the connection we have with the sea and rivers is the underlying interest I have in the subject of figures in water. Because we have spent hundreds of thousands of years living near or navigating along the natural waterways and coastlines our relationship with water is almost primordial. I believe for most of us, there has always been a special and strong attraction to the sea.