Beyond the shadow of the ship
I watched the water-snakes:
They moved in tracks of shining white,
And when they reared, the elfish light
Fell off in hoary flakes.
Within the shadow of the ship
I watched their rich attire:
Blue, glossy green, and velvet black,
They coiled and swam; and every track
Was a flash of golden fire.
Extract from The Rime of The Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1798
For me the potential of art is its ability to remind us of, or draw in to question, the presence or absence of important human truths: honesty, morality and humility among them. Through art (at its most authentic) we can address and take refuge.
I am writing this introduction at a time of relative turbulence within our society - London and other major cities in the UK have been gripped by riots, we reel from corruption within the media and perpetual economic turmoil and confusion is prevalent. When dwelling on such negative examples of 21st Century accomplishment, it comes as no surprise, that the way that many of us live our lives in the West has come in to question. A collective ego has created a scenario where we cannot help but focus on a series of genuine dilemmas. It seems topical, relevant and beneficial then; to focus on my first statement.
This exhibition is a passionate quest towards humility. It takes inspiration from Sax Impey’s direct experience of a storm encountered during a 36 hour period in the winter of 2009 whilst sailing to Portugal from Ireland. He describes a different sea to any he had experienced before, and though the Irish Sea is notorious in its reputation as violent and temperamental; on this occasion it was truly ‘awe inspiring’. Impey was very conscious of beholding something awesome, as the storm gradually built and revealed itself over its duration. Whilst on the dawn watch he was able to closely observe the change of light in the midst of the storm from the hours of darkness to the grey daybreak and diligently bear witness to the breath-taking immensity of the swells and skies around him. The only option was servility.
In conversation prior to Impey’s last exhibition, ‘Voyage’, he spoke of his periodic urge to escape to sea; “21st Century mass communication, the relentless, total, banal, vapid tedium of the seeming need to communicate, or be communicated to, all the time, disappears out there on the ocean. A mind can breathe, and observe, and reflect, away from the shrill desperation of a culture that, having forgotten that it is better to say nothing than something about nothing, invents ever-new ways to fill every single space with less and less. So a certain empathy with earlier travelers ensues: the sea is still the sea, as it ever was, direct and uncomplicated…” This exhibition offers us a expanded perspective; this collection of paintings truly are a reflection of man’s insignificance in the face of the formidable might of nature where the sea transforms from place of refuge and nurture to a place of malefic reverence.
When stood in front of these highly complex, physical and emotional works, the vicarious experience is majestic - a profound recognition of glory ensues - one enters another realm. As ‘Hell’ was a muse for Milton or Dante – the sea becomes a tableau where transgression can take place. These paintings are the closest that I have seen in some time to historical paintings relating to Religious epiphany. For me - they are modern alter pieces to the might of Nature herself.
Perhaps we can learn modesty and acceptance of a greater sense of order from the dominance of the natural world captured so emphatically within the paintings of this exhibition – perhaps they can serve as a reminder, at an important time, of a greater force than ourselves at work.
Joseph Clarke. 2011
ONLINE CATALOGUE (click below) :
ARTIST INTERVIEW FILM :
EXHIBITION VIDEO TOUR:
INTRODUCTION by Owen Sheers
‘…and the memory of those appointed to the grey ships – battleship, merchantman, trawler – contributing their share to the ages’ pavement of British bone on the sea floor’
From Defence of the Islands by T.S. Eliot.
The paintings of Sax Impey’s ‘Storm’ carry the charge of rescued images; residues of a survivor’s witness imbued with the knowledge that the sea, however much we might forget it, is a wilderness. For many years now Sax has chosen to spend half his year travelling into that wilderness, partly for work, partly to escape ‘the cacophony, the babble of the 21st century.’ When he returns he remembers. Working in his Porthmeor studio with the ocean (and sometimes its waves) at his window, Sax uses the view before him not as his subject but as a conduit, a sensory vessel to transport him back to his time alone on the open ocean.
Looking through this exhibition I became aware that although an element of Sax’s motivation in taking to the sea is to exchange a world of communication for a world of communion on his return there is, undeniably, a desire to communicate. To tell, to bear a gospel-like witness to what has been learnt and experienced out of sight of land. In ‘Storm’ this is more true than ever, the progression of the work charting a discernable narrative of a storm in the Irish sea. Through these panels we are taken there too, into that space of the awful and the awesome where the presence of the individual is reduced almost to nothingness, where time is at once forever and yet also, in the face of mortal danger, so unbearably limited and precious. The scale of this new work adds to this sense of total immersion. Standing before the largest of these paintings I could feel the spray on my face, smell the salt wind on the night. Most importantly though, I could feel the sea’s movement.
For any artist working with the sea as their subject there is an essential paradox to be overcome. Unlike a mountain landscape, a spread of rural fields, the skyline of a city, even the calmest of seas is never still. Its single element is continuous and constant, and yet ever changing. How then, to capture that protean fluidity, that reactive moment when light and water work off each other to create, just for a second, a vision deserving of evocation? I don’t have the answer to that question but I see it practiced in Sax’s ‘Storm’ paintings. Somehow within these frames the tectonic sliding of giant surface waves, the stirring of a wind-harried current, the rushing of a dawn surge of water, the settling aftermath of a calm are all not so much as captured as suggested. Which is, of course, much better. It is in suggestion that the power of art lies, in as Chekov once said, ‘asking the right questions’. And that is where for me Sax’s work finds its most potent achievement. In drawing upon his lived experience of the sea not simply to ‘tell’ us about it, or even to ‘show’ it to us, but rather to create images at once physical and abstract; images which have enough body to make us feel but also enough light, space and unknowingness to make us think.
Owen Sheers, 2011
Sax Impey was born in Penzance, Cornwall in 1969. He completed a BA(Hons) Fine Art at Newport in 1991 and returned to Cornwall in 1994.
Since 2005 he has produced alegorical works derived almost exclusively from experiences at sea. A qualified RYA Yachtmaster, he has sailed many thousands of nautical miles in many parts of the world.
Impey’s extensive trips at sea have had a profound impact on his life and subsequent development as an artist. Reconnecting to nature through this powerful element has the almost inescapable effect of calling to question some of life’s existential questions. This epiphanic moment of realisation, of revelation, is at the core of Impey’s oeuvre.
Reflecting on and capturing personal moments and making them universal, Impey’s work reaffirms the importance of introspection and confrontation, found specifically when surrounded by the natural world; “A mind can breathe, and observe, and reflect, away from the shrill desperation of a culture that, having forgotten that it is better to say nothing than something about nothing, invents ever new ways to fill every single space with less and less.”
Sax Impey has occupied no.8 Porthmeor Studios since 2003, part of an historic studio complex overlooking Porthmeor beach in St Ives.
In 2007 his work was selected for the ‘Art Now Cornwall’ exhibition at the Tate St Ives where he was placed on the cover of the associated publication, the same year he was heralded in The Times as one of the ‘New Faces of Cornish Art’.
In 2010 Impey featured in the Owen Sheers, BBC4 Documentary ‘Art of the Sea (In Pictures)’ alongside Anish Kapoor, J M W Turner, Martin Parr and Maggie Hambling among others. In 2012 he was elected an Academician of The RWA.
Whilst maintaining a solo studio practice Impey has also engaged in numerous collaborative projects, including film, theatre, performance and installation works. His paintings are in numerous collections including The Arts Council, Warwick University, The Connaught Hotel and other private collections worldwide.
Sax Impey is represented by Anima-Mundi.