The Power of the Sea is curated by Dr Janette Kerr, and Professor Christiana Payne. I was lucky enough to meet them at the view of The Power Of The Sea, and asked them a couple of questions about the exhibition. It was a very interesting conversation, and their enthusiasm and passion for this exhibition was evident.
Why do you think Bristol is an appropriate city for an exhibition about the sea?
Dr. J Kerr: Bristol has a very strong maritime tradition and links to the sea as it is a
port. Historically, the harbour reached right into what is now the
city centre, so the city would be very much linked with water and
waves. There are also the links with the SS Great Britain and the
Matthew, which were both ships which went on long sea voyages, and
are now docked in Bristol.
[Newspaper stories on
the launch of the SS Great Britain are included in the exhibition,
which I really liked.]
Prof. C Payne: The
space at the RWA is very suitable as well, with the large, light
filled main gallery and the smaller galleries to the side. It works
well with the pieces for this exhibition.
How have artists
relationships with the sea changed over the time period examined in
Prof. C Payne: Well I
think it has changed, but there are also recurring themes. It has
always been a very two sided view-there is a lot of destruction and
death associated with the sea. It's something which is actually very
topical, with the recent high tides and the destruction of the
railway at Dawlish.
Wave Returning, Maggie Hambling, 2009, oil on canvas
Dr. J Kerr: Yes, and the
MH370 disaster. There's a Turner painting in the exhibition with
wreckage in the foreground, and it is evocative of the pictures of
wreckage from the plane crash.
Succession, Jethro Brice, 2010, found mixed media
Prof. C Payne: Also the
issue of climate change, the rising sea levels. But then on the other
hand people go on holiday to places by the sea. They want to look at the sea. It's bleak, but it's
Dr. J Kerr: One of the changes is choice of medium. There has been an
introduction of media and film, which wasn't there for the earlier
artists. We have a video installation by Joanna Millet, which focuses
on the movement of the sea, and being moved by that. She's turned the
images on their sides, and it creates a completely different effect.
It looks almost like hair. It's not been manipulated, it was just
from turning it on another angle. I think whichever medium is used
though, there is still a strong emphasis on observation. There's a
long history of artists going out on boats to observe the sea, so
they were surrounded by it. Artists today are continuing this
tradition. Norman Ackroyd, Sax Impy, Len Tabner, John Brett...they
all produce work based on observation.
Sax Impy, Celtic Night Sea
Prof. C Payne: There's a
story that Henry Moore used to spend so much time at sea, he impaired
his vision. He couldn't see properly on land. He also kept a stuffed
albatross in his studio.
A Winter Gale in the Channel, Henry Moore, 1872 • oil on canvas • 61 x 106.7 cm, ©
Wolverhampton Art Gallery
I mentioned that I
thought people were both scared of the sea, as it represents
something unknown, but also fascinated by it for the same reason.
Dr. J Kerr: I think
that's very evident in the piece by Andrew Friend. He's not just
imagining being at sea, he's imagining disappearing into it. And the
work by Rona Lee-the land and the sea are inverted, and you realise
just how deep the sea parts are.
And All The Seas Were Ink, Rona Lee, 2012, chromed polyamide laser built globe
Prof. C Payne: The exhibition coincides with the re-opening of the Dawlish railway, and the release of the film Noah. The sea is something that's being talked at the moment, and our relationship with it, the fascination with it.
The Power of the Sea is at the Royal West of England Academy until Saturday 6th July 2014. For more details, please visit their website. For my review and a look at some of my favourite objects from the exhibition, see this post.