"Water is very hard to paint well, it's to do with transparency, weight and motion, very few people can paint water well but if you can paint water well it doesn't mean anything to most people because they don't even think about it."- Alex Katz
I like that typically funny but bluntly accurate quote by Katz this week at the opening of ‘Give Me Tomorrow’, an exhibition of his beach scenes at Turner Contemporary in Margate. It also leads me to my final post about my Scandinavia trip and the couple of days we spent at the beautiful beach at Tisveljt on the Danish coast, where I ended up doing quite a lot of painting both on my i-pad and in oils. On our very last day there I found myself really absorbed making painting after painting in quick succession.
It was nice for us all to enjoy the sea and sand, although Isaac was a bit intrigued by the family of naturists that set up their camp for the day next to us (it is Denmark after all). At one point as they were playing hand ball on the beach just a few yards from us, Isaac wandered in the middle of them to stare. It wasn’t the nudity that interested him though. Like a lot of children he was just coveting their bats and ball.
It is hard painting water, as Katz says, but it was also really interesting and enjoyable: just trying to capture something of the ever changing movement and momentum was like trying to hold onto a slippery fish. I tried painting the sea close-up at the water’s edge, and then moved up into the dunes to look at the more expansive landscape, and the different bands of light filled blue and green. It was as far from the so-called ‘edgelands’ that one could possibly imagine.
Later in the evening as I packed things up, when looking at a lot of the work I had made in my time in Scandinavia, I felt both excited and surprised by most of it: much of it looked like nothing I had made before. I enjoyed the new palette of colours and light in the pieces. I felt they had managed to capture something of the essence of the places I had found myself in. I think the thing I had enjoyed most of all though was not the work made, but the experience of making the work. In a short time I had quickly refined and developed some new ways of working outside easily, and had really got a taste for it.
It is now six weeks since I came back. The other night I completed my final nocturnal motorway painting for now. I’m keen to attempt to make a discrete group of new paintings based on the work I made in Scandinavia over the next couple of months but when I look at what I made now, so many of the forests and seascapes look well, so popular and traditional like a thousand other artists that it troubles me. How can I avoid this to do something more original? It’s a problem, but one of those good problems that painting so often presents you with.
As I find myself in the middle of another beautiful English autumn though, and with winter not far away, I’m also keen to return to the edgelands landscape of the Midlands with my box of painting gear and my i-pad. The trip has given me a much needed sense of purpose and renewed energy. Despite the difficulties, it was all worthwhile.