Among the many images I have collected of the #BRotS (see The Bridget Riley of the Shingle for explanation) are images of the defences at the mouth of the Cuckmere, part of a system aimed at protecting the internationally famous and genuinely iconic Coastguard Cottages. The remnant of our coastal services from the 19th century, when there was a coastguard station here with a long-vanished boathouse housing a lifeboat, I knew they had reached international Icon status when Microsoft used their photo of them as the screensaver of Windows 7 when it came out. Indeed, that image brought me to Seaford with my partner when looking to move out of London.
I know that Samuel Johnson said that when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life, but I think these days the lawlessness and violence makes safety an issue in contrast to my experiences of London in the 1960’s.Having spent the best part of 20 years travelling the world, I wanted somewhere with landscape to enjoy, and the views from Seaford Head and across the Cuckmere estuary were too enticing, and I didn’t resist, especially as my partner is a Sussex girl born and bred and ‘won’t be druv’.
My fascination with the landscape continues but I have recently homed in on the sea defences. The defences constantly cause concern along this coast as sea rises and the increasing stormy nature of the seas continue to pound away, eroding our soft chalk cliffs. In the metal sheeting of Seaford’s jetty and he defences on the Cuckmere I have found beauty which I have now spent some months responding too in the studio, putting my trust in rust and using my camera to search out art in what most people simply take no notice of. As Andy Warhol said “Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it” and for me, a trained artist, I have delighted in finding parallels to work it is possible to see in our national galleries.
I have really enjoyed a very productive three or four months in the studio, producing some 25 pieces of studies and canvases in response to what I have seen. Initially my focus was on Seaford but recently I have been looking again at the Cuckmere defences, especially as It seems the Environment Agency has decided the views and walks that attract over 300,000 walkers a year to the paths from Seaford are not worth defending. They are set on allowing the cottages to follow the houses at Birling Gap into the sea.
More exposed, the metalwork here takes more of a hammering, and because it is not backed by concrete but by shingle it is attacked from both sides. This results in it being holed by shingle and draped with remnants of fishing nets, adding to the beauty of the rusting process. I loved the colour contrast the introduction of the blue of the sky gave me against the greens, greys, oranges and browns of the rusting metal, but the success of the paper studies led me to make an intellectual jump to including the cottages that I now see, with hindsight, as perhaps a mistake.
Including pieces of net and the shingle rocks that had holed and forced apart the metal plates drew me down a path to painting realistically where before, in just exploring the colour I had been able to delight in exploring paint and colour, textures, transparency and painterly concerns. Working from a photograph I took of the metal defences and the cottages beyond I tried to maintain the exploration of colour texture etc, and to contrast them against the white of the cottages, all on a large canvas.
The result I fear is a mix that doesn’t work either way. The realism is missing, unlike the imagery attained in the photograph, whilst the consciousness of representation has also stopped the vigorous exploration of paint and colour that characterise the previous paintings. In the first of the works exploring nets against the steel (see BRotS #19 here) I maintained the curiosity of the colour and avoided the trap of making it more realistic, this although I think of these works as representations of reality in their own way. On the larger canvas, maybe because the time it takes to cover a larger area, I thought too much. So It now leans against the wall in the studio. I have put its image up in a couple of places and invited criticism – do use the comment section if you have anything to say – and some love it so I may keep it but at the moment it is more likely to be taken off and the stretcher used for something else, Meanwhile I shall go back to exploring on paper and maybe that will resolve the issues enough for me to tackle the image on canvas again.
Every failure is a learning curve. The bag represents what was consumed in a week in making the images, the table top is my work area, the plates my palettes – by simply turning one upside down over the other i can keep acrylic paint wet and workable for over a week out of the tube or pot.
If you would like to contribute to saving the iconic Coastguard Cottages you can do it through the Cuckmere Haven SOS website
If you want to buy my work go to the gallery on this site