Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Imagining the Sea by Louise Balaam

Imagining the sea

I’ve recently (like a lot of other people) found myself confined to the house, through a horrible and stubborn chest infection. I couldn’t get out to my studio and paint as I usually do, but as I started to feel better I felt like getting off the sofa and doing something. I’d been thinking about why I find the sea, and coasts, so fascinating. The ocean presents a barrier to our own travels (unless you have a boat or a ferry ticket!) but invites the eye to roam across it, and to imagine. I was interested in the idea of the mysterious hidden depths of the sea, and of the way the fluidity and rhythms of the sea seem to affect us all psychologically. Maybe it’s to do with the potentially immersive aspects, the way we imagine ourselves to be lost, and drowning in the depths.

I found a beautiful quote by Helen Chadwick : “…Looking at the sea … the specifics of personality wash away… Our state of consciousness takes us out of our body into rhythms that are fundamental and primary.” The iconic blue colour of the sea seems important for these aspects – a colour which is essentially ungraspable, always receding from us, implying depth and distance. I suddenly thought as well of the Chagall stained glass windows in the tiny church at Tudely in Kent, not far from here – the main window commemorates the drowning of a young woman, whose family commissioned the window. It’s worth seeking out if you’re nearby – it’s the only church in the world where all the windows are by Chagall. To me, there’s a real sense of the sea as a different space, with the lost girl in the depths – and is there a more resonant blue than stained glass?

I took out a range of water-based media – old watercolour sets, gouache, acrylic, pastel pencils, oil pastels – and some off-cuts of mountcard I’d found when turning things out a few days before. I spread everything on the floor and started some mixed media studies on the theme of the sea. I swooshed liquid blue watercolour washes onto the card, then worked into it with gouache and white acrylic, scribbling with graphite or pastel, or splashing more fluid paint onto it. Using a different medium from my usual oil paint means that the work changes – some things are possible in watercolour and gouache which wouldn’t work with oil, and perhaps some of the ideas about the fluidity and indefineable nature of water are naturally more suited to water-based media.  I don’t usually do studies in preparation for painting exactly, but I do feel that themes and motifs which emerge in studies find their way into paintings as well.

Sea Study 1
Sea Study 2
Sea Study 3
Sea Study 4

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this inspiring post Louise. I'm an artist living in the isolation of Stinson Beach, California and sometimes find my beach almost too beautiful to approach artistically for fear of cliche. You present a way in. I shall bundle up my things and
    embark. Good health to you!