Painting the High Seas

14 Apr 2020

From the romantic era forward, the sea has been a constant subject for the painter and Scotland with its long and extraordinarily varied coastline and islands has been inspirational. Thomson of Duddingston's Fast Castle, the human drama of fishing boat, storm and harbour by Sam Bough and much of the huge oeuvre of William McTaggart supply examples of European significance. The latter at Machrihanish or Carnoustie, the Forth Estuary or Carradale was wholly committed toplein air painting before the Impressionists, his historical narrative secondary to the ever-changing subject, benign or terrible.

In the last century Peploe and Cadell's work in Argyll and Iona in particular, has left us a body of work now part of our national identity. Click here to watch Guy Peploe and Michael Palin discuss how Iona inspired them.

Painting the High Seas
Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell RSA, RSW (1883-1937) Traigh Geal, Erraid, Argyll, c.1925, Sold to Private Collection, 2018

This is the only known work by Cadell of the Island of Erraid, a mile or so down the coast of Mull from Iona. The subject is Davy Balfour bay and the view south towards thePaps of Jura. The bay derived its modern name from Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Kidnapped when the eponymous hero is shipwrecked on Erraid, swimming ashore after his captor’s ship strikes the Torran Rocks. The author had spent some summer months on the island aged nineteen when the family engineering firm were beginning the construction of the Dubh Artach lighthouse with granite quarried on the island and taken out on barges, but perhaps he was dreaming of becoming a writer and the adventures ahead.

Guy Peploe, Modern Masters 2017

View the work of F C B Cadell here

Ross Ryan

Many contemporary painters see the world with a weather eye, Ross Ryan quite literally from the deck of his boat Sgarbh, his floating home and studio, each location a risk assessment of the sublime.

Painting the High Seas
Ross Ryan, Pressure Dropping, Kintyre, 2020, oil and pastel on board, 116 x 122 cm - £4,950
Painting the High Seas
Ross Ryan - Stevenson Light, Skerryvore, 2019, oil and pastel on board, 122 x 123

During the winter I painted from the shore, recording the sea in all her anger. Here is a force that could move a beach overnight and flick rocks like unwanted peas. Many of my paintings are from when the pressure dropped, started and completed in the one sitting. Not all of them made it.

Ross Ryan, 2020
Painting the High Seas
Ross Ryan, Barra in the distance from Balephetrish Bay, Isle of Tiree, 2019, oil and pastel on board. 96 x 122 cm - £4,200

View the work of Ross Ryan here

David Cass

David Cass's most recent exhibition explored the abstract notion of a rising horizon, using beautifully painted seascapes as vehicles to explore themes of global warming and sea rise. Paintings appeared on diverse surfaces such as metal signs, antique tins, a copper boiler and re-formed plastic-waste panels (commissioned by the artist, containing thousands of compressed items of plastic food and drink waste packaging).

Painting the High Seas
David Cass, 100 Percent, 2017-2019, oil on pasted canvas coach destination signage scrolls and wooden supports, 139 x 129 x 6cm, £4,250
Painting the High Seas
David Cass, The Regular Safety Match, 2020, gouache on wood within matchbox, 3.5 x 9 x 1.5cm, £175

Cass has been in thrall to the wonder and beauty of the sea for as long as he can remember and since he has looked with an artist’s eye - to enhance, edit and interpret – he has been struck by the conundrum of the horizon.

Guy Peploe, 2018

View the work of David Cass here

Matthew Draper

Matthew Draper’s extraordinary sunburst pastels are derived from regular road trips to Skye forming the truthful crux of his 2019 exhibition.

Painting the High Seas
Matthew Draper, And the Deluge Begins, 2019, pastel on paper, 88 cm x 155 cm, £9,950

The body of work made for Sound of Raasay is the result of numerous visits to the Isle of Skye. My fascination with the Island started some 23 years ago when I first moved to Scotland. It was the same year the Skye Bridge was opened. For some, the bridge was a controversial scheme but, nevertheless, it offered ease of access to the Island and meant that, on my first tentative trip exploring the West Coast of Scotland, it was relatively easy to make an unplanned extension to my journey. For the first time I experienced the rugged, dramatic and varied landscape of this unique Island and regular trips have occurred year on year allowing me to further explore that particular wilderness. Although there are several areas of the Island that I regularly visit, I always make sure that on every trip I visit the Eastern side and in particular, drive the coast road north of Portree and beyond the Storr. It’s from here that you travel up the length of the Sound, with views of the Islands of Raasay and Rona, beyond which are the mountain ranges of Torridon and the mainland. Looking south whilst undertaking this journey also provides spectacular views of the Red Cuillin. With the variety of potential subjects or compositions that this landscape provides and the endless possible vantage points to view the Sound, I knew this relatively small area of the highlands would provide me with more than enough inspiration to make an entire exhibition.

Matthew Draper, 2018

View the work of Matthew Draper here

Kate Downie

Another romantic vision carried on from Eardley to Sylvia Wishart to Kate Downie comes from deep familiarity and respect, the coast at once a limit and the point of jumping-off, the marches of the limitless.

Painting the High Seas
Kate Downie, Iona Wave Form I, 2018, ink, gesso and watercolour on paper, 38 x 57 cm, £1,600

During the stormy months of February and March of 2018, I visited the island of Iona and the Ardnamurchan Peninsula to make initial studies towards the completion of large watercolours.

Kate Downie, 2019

View the work of Kate Downie here

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