Many of us are drawn to and are fascinated by the ocean, feeling refreshed or rejuvenated in its presence, and it has long been a source of inspiration for artists. The rhythmic sensation of waves against the shore is mentally calming, creating feelings of peace and awe, and watching the rolling waves can place us into a mildly meditative state. In this blog post, a collection of pieces in the Royal Society of Marine Artists Annual Exhibition that focus on the textures of the sea and the surfaces of the waves are highlighted, hoping to recreate the mesmerising feelings of looking out to the ocean. 

First, we look at Tanya Avchinnikova’s soft pastel piece Barry Island Silver Tide which beautifully captures the waves as they lap against the sandy shore, shining in the sun. Tanya explains she worked in a realistic style to show the beauty of nature as it is. She says: ‘My visit to beautiful Wales, and one of its coasts Barry Island left a deep impression. The grey tone of its waters, wide shore and the silver shimmer everywhere was unforgettable. I wanted to capture the moment of the tide and tried to make an illusion of presence. This work is about a moment of appreciation, and a moment of unity with nature, which is always the same but always different.’

Tanya Avchinnikova Barry Island, Silver Tide Soft pastel 66 x 66 cm £750

James Bartholomew’s watercolour and pastel piece Porthchapel Rocks depicts the waves crashing against the rocks on Porthchapel beach in West Cornwall. James takes great inspiration from the coastline and enjoys traveling around the British Isles to gather material to paint. There is a lot of movement within James’ work, with rhythmic and textured mark-making techniques used across the surface of the waves, which really accurately reflects the liveliness of the sea.

James Bartholomew RSMA Porthchapel Rocks Watercolour & pastel 71 x 92 cm £1,750

All That Glistens by Sophie Beharrell is an acrylic painting with flecks of gold leaf, that has been used to really enhance the way that the light hits the water. Sophie explains: ‘Rock pools are the things I love to paint the most. This is an afternoon light where the barnacles and their reflections glistened in golden light.’ The pale reflections of the rocks in the pool slowly blend into a deep blue at the forefront of the painting, adding depth to the piece.

Sophie Beharrell All That Glistens Acrylic & gold leaf 42 x 52 cm £495

The next piece is Gareth Brown’s Harbour Reflections II. It is an oil painting that is second in a series of works inspired by reflections of colourful fishing boats in a Maltese harbour. Gareth likes to seek out unexpectedly beautiful and interesting subjects and finds that when working in coastal environments he is most easily able to reflect his love of colour, texture, shape and form. He will take a lot of photographs as inspiration, then draws and paints from his images. In this piece, he has recreated the rippling texture of the sea in the harbour, and the reflections somewhat resemble a marbled effect.

Gareth Brown RSMA Harbour Reflections II Oil 154 x 108 cm £6,500

The next pieces are two mixed media pieces by Rita Dee made using acrylics, inks and gouache. The first, Beneath the Surface attempts to capture the sensation of looking into a dark rockpool with a tangle of seaweeds. The bird’s eye view really transports the viewer to the rock pool and one can imagine that they are directly looking down onto the rocks and seaweed under the water. Rita explains: ‘working on a surface of crumpled tissue on board somewhat dictates the composition and helps to suggest shape and textures, as does the use of combining transparent ink and the more opaque gouache.’

Rita Dee’s Tidal Rhythms also features within the exhibition and was made with the same technique, working with acrylics, inks and gouache on top of a textured surface made from crumpled tissue paper. This piece suggests the soft ripples within a rockpool, transparency of the seawater, and light sometimes catching the surface’s movement. Rita developed the piece by working from drawings, shells and stones that she collected.

Rita Dee Beneath the Surface Acrylic, ink & gouache 52 x 46 cm £445
Rita Dee Tidal Rhythms Acrylic, ink & gouache 40 x 46 cm £425

Katherine Geoghegan’s Bull Island Tangle is painted in acrylic on aluminium. Katherine explains: ‘This is part of a series exploring the different habitats of the North Bull Island in Dublin Bay. This painting describes kelp and bladderwrack glistening in the light which penetrates the water's surface.’ There is a lot of movement captured in the twisting tendrils of the seaweed as it bobs at the surface of the sea.

Kathrine Geoghegan Bull Island Tangle Acrylic on aluminium 69 x 69 cm £1,800

Next, we look at Pippa Hamilton’s Beneath the Surface 2, a mixed media piece that incorporates fabric and embroidery creating exciting and varied textures, mimicking those of the sea. Pippa describes her piece here: ‘A fleeting window capturing the underwater world left behind by the tide. Pools and puddles provide sanctuary for varied forms of plants and wildlife, and rocks reveal the marks of time until obscured from view as the tide returns. Concealed beneath the rocks, or camouflaged under the spreading plants, wildlife is rendered almost invisible - but not forgotten. Changing ecosystems and fragmented ocean management present some of our greatest challenges.’

Pippa Hamilton Beneath the Surface 2 Mixed media 32 x 19 cm £350

As well as pieces of two-dimensional work, the exhibition features sculptural three-dimensional pieces, such as Valerie Kaufmann’s stoneware ceramic models Storm Surge and Swell. They are built in stoneware clay and decorated with vibrant blue-turquoise glazes, adding pearl lustre highlights.

Through her ceramics, Valerie captures the movement of the waves. Storm Surge conveys the power and motion of a stormy sea whilst ‘Swell’ conveys a more gentle wave. Valerie explains Storm Surge as follows: ‘A wave crashes down on the one side and rises to a crest on the other. The intention is to lead the viewer to see beyond the image in front of them and imagine the future form created by the force and movement portrayed.’ 

Valerie is drawn to the coast and having grown up on the South coast feels it is where her roots belong as she feels the wonder and power of the sea.

Valerie Kaufmann Storm Surge Stoneware ceramic 21 x 36 x 38 cm £450
Valerie Kaufmann Swell Stoneware ceramic 19 x 40 x 35 cm £395

The last piece to highlight is Deborah Walker’s watercolour painting Flux. Deborah explains: ‘Flux describes something that is constantly changing, the process of flowing, or flowing out. The tide, rising and falling, in and out of the tunnel, creates a state of flux which becomes hypnotic.’ In Deborah’s work, she looks at both the dramatic and subtle ways that light transforms a subject, and a recurring theme for her is the depiction of water as she feels it provides a consistent challenge. Working in watercolour paints she embraces both representational and abstract elements, pushing the character of the paint to extremes.

Deborah Walker RI RSMA Flux Watercolour 76 x 75 cm £2,500

Hopefully, you were able to feel transported to the sea by taking in the pieces in the Royal Society of Marine Artists Annual Exhibition that focus on the waves and textured surfaces of the water. Do make sure you visit the exhibition, at the gallery from Thursday 30 September to Sunday 10 October 2021.

Article written by Hannah Martin

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