Shaping a Vision of Cornwall - The Art of Tom Henderson Smith

Painting: Stream flowing to the sea, Cot Valley Painting: Summer sea Painting: Leaving harbour, Newlyn Painting: Winter Sun

Archive for March, 2008

In the ocean light

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

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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?

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