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In the ocean light

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In the ocean light: This is the title of the exhibition at the Spring and Steele Galleries within Falmouth Arts Centre that I’m planning for this autumn. The show will open on Tuesday September 30th and close on Saturday October 11th. I thought it would be of interest to visitors to my website if I were to share some of my thoughts about what I currently aim to communicate through this series of paintings and charcoal drawings, ideas that will no doubt be developed and honed to something clearer and more specific as the time approaches.

The expression “ocean light” that has surfaced in my visual thinking lately of course grew out of what I find myself preoccupied with in much of my studio practice these days; the pervasive influence of the sea on the landscape that surrounds me here in the far west of Cornwall in the UK. There are different strands to this theme that I’m becoming aware of and some will no doubt be emphasised more than others in the final selection that I make. At the moment one point they all have in common is a sense of the ambient “ocean” light that, like many an artist before me, I am so often aware of here on the Penwith peninsula, this far westerly tip of Cornwall where my adopted home town of St Just is located.

The physical conditions that give rise to this phenomenon aren’t hard to spot. There are high places in Penwith where you can trace the line of the sea’s horizon around an angle of nearly 300 degrees and so often, if you stop to think about it, it’s as if you were all but surrounded by a giant mirror laid on the surface of the earth. So my guess is that the light bounces off this giant reflector and in combination with atmospheric reflection becomes this ambience that bathes the coastal forms here. Remember that in places the northwesterly coast and Mounts Bay are barely 5 or 6 miles apart. So it’s hardly surprising that, from some vantage points and at certain times of day and season, this phenomenon appears to penetrate well inland to the extent that the whole peninsula has about it an almost magical luminosity. I’m sure there are many places around the world where something similar happens.

So what, you may say! Well, to a painter for whom the experience of colours interacting on each other is like a drug, such ambient light is a gift from the gods! This is because, as those pioneers of colour theory such as Itten and Albers realized, the closer the tonal range (and ambient light has such a generalised range) the more that the apparently internal glow of colours is generated when carefully chosen combinations of mixed hue are placed side by side. This vibrancy within the world of a painting in turn becomes for me a celebration of the ocean light.

I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts on the significance of all of this as showtime approaches. Enough from me for now. How about you? Any thoughts? Do any of my ramblings resonate with what happens visually or around the influence of the sea for you?

6 thoughts on “In the ocean light

  1. Hi Tom.

    You have set out some interesting ideas. Hope I can respond to them adequately.

    I can feel the sense of place in your paintings, they don’t just look like places, they evoke memories beyond the visual. I don’t know anything about colour theory, but I do know it is difficult to achieve a sense of place in paintings of Cornwall.

    Maybe it’s the contrast between the mirror of light you describe coming from the sea, and the hard, broken rocks of the land. It’s very easy to respond to the Cornish coast, as so many artists do, by painting a jewel-like blue sea, much harder to combine that with the dark threatening rocks that reflect so little. I admire the way you achieve that combination.

    There’s something different about Cornish light. You can get the sea in 300 degrees of your vision on Portland or even Southport Pier. So why isn’t the light the same? I think you have alluded to the difference when you mention the high places. In your area, a few yards takes you a long way up above the sea, and the rocks don’t usually reflect the light.

    Perhaps that’s it, the Cornish light is not polluted by the glare of reflection that dazzles the colour out of other coastal locations. Whatever it is, you certainly are working well in capturing that light for the rest of us.

    All the best with the exhibition.

  2. Many thanks for your very thoughtful and positive comment. I hope you like the way the collection comes together over the remaining few months before the show.

  3. Hi Tom

    My girlfriend and I saw this exhibition last week while on a brief holiday in Cornwall and we really enjoyed looking at your paintings. Your paintings emphasise shapes, colour, tones/values and light in some terrific compositions. Cornwall has a truly inspiring landscape, and your vision of it is fascinating. Best of luck.


  4. Dear Tom, I am a US painter painting in the Mississippi Valley in the northern midwest. I have been a big fan of both the Cornish and Welsh landscape painters for many years. I believe that your work is singular and very special. I can almost smell the sea air and the sense of place is remarkable. One of my personal theories is that an artist’s work needs to show the “hand of the Artist” in its execution and I believe you are a kindred soul in that regard. Just wanted to say great work and great luck in the future. MS (Mike) Ryan

  5. Thanks for your thoughtful and appreciative comment on my work Mike and I’m looking forward to having a look at your paintings online as well. Best wishes from Tom.

  6. As promised here is my web site Your new work continues to be very strong. Congrats Mike Ryan

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