The Natural World: Water.

Living With The Abyss

Water is perhaps the earth’s most malleable natural asset. It moves between its function as a simple daily resource that sustains our lives; to delineating global borders; and overwhelming human life by filling spectacular oceans. For some, those rivers, lochs, waterfalls, and seas are of unparalleled beauty; but for others the sheer power of water is the greatest source of fear. So, whilst we may often consider water to be a mundane, unremarkable substance, it has the capacity to rouse all sorts of emotions; control the actions and reactions of humankind; and represent a multitude ideas, emotions, and forms. Considering the power and variety of this entity, water has been the subject of art across the world in innumerable ways, for innumerable millenia. It takes the form of many different phenomena: from wild, sublime cascades, and turbulent storms and floods; to vast, perfectly still seascapes, and meditative pools. As such, art has represented this variety through many different approaches and media. We want to show you how a few of our artists have depicted water, to exemplify some contemporary human responses to this ubiquitous substance…

Sandy Grant

The Natural World: Water.
Sandy Grant’s Living With The Abyss

Not only by the nature of its liquid state, water is a ‘fluid’ entity that is in a constant state of flux. It hasn’t got one simple texture or colour, or even a clear cut form that an artist can capture and render in paint. Then, if we consider water in the form of a vast ocean, its un-quantifiable scale is impossible to communicate without reducing, simplifying or altering it in some way. This is where the creative process kicks in, and each artist finds a subjective way to communicate the form and ‘life’ of such a unique natural entity, into a manageable work of art. In Living with the Abyss, Sandy Grant forcibly contains the ‘abyss’ of the ocean by representing it as a tightly packed cube. Waters’ fluid nature and transient colours and textures are presented as three flat surfaces of block colour. Whilst the somewhat painterly quality of the brushstrokes delicately suggest the texture and movement of the water, it is ultimately fixed in a static, geometric form; seemingly held together by the encircling buttress of land. The plain white background pushes this ‘shape’ forward, so that its compact form is satisfyingly stark. And so, in order to contend with such an ‘abyss’, Sandy has frozen it – ice cube style – and allows the viewer to consume it in a single, aesthetic mass.

Heather McNab

The Natural World: Water.
Heather McNab’s Wave

Whilst Heather McNab in her work Wave, similarly, contains an ocean within the confines of a geometric shape; she uses the space within that to articulate the force and flux of the phenomenon of a wave. To capture the aesthetic appearance of a wave, Heather has employed numerous shades of blue, which have been intertwined and laid onto the wood surface, in various minutiae of textures. This communicates the ephemeral quality of a wave; constantly shifting surface quality and colour as it moves across the sea. One of the unique qualities of water is that it is not a living entity in and of itself, and yet it has a powerful agency that can nurture or destroy at will. A wave, for example, can evoke peace and serenity; it can be tamed by humankind, in sports or by architecture; and yet, it can equally destroy entire countries if its full force is set free. Heather has captured the strange ‘life’ of a wave, by representing it as almost an anthropomorphic being. Its sinuous, tentacle-like form pushes against the round confine of its border; like a snake trying to break free of a tank. In doing so, she manages to capture the dual nature of the wave – simultaneously beautiful, but also pretty unsettling…

Shanshan Jiang

The Natural World: Water.
Shanshan Jiang Water 2

Rather than capturing the ‘living’ character of water; or condensing its scale into a manageable form, Shanshan handles water on a micro scale; she simply observes the aesthetic of water’s surface. Her seemingly abstract approach to Water 2 paradoxically naturalistically captures the movement of water through her loose brush work; the play of light and reflection on its surface; and implies depth by varying colour and paint density. In doing this, she perhaps articulates something intangible too.This play of light, colour and texture additionally expresses an emotive quality. She freezes in time the visual effect of a water’s surface, and in doing so imbues that image with the emotional potential of an abstract work of art.

So, whilst it may seem fairly obvious how we might go about painting an ocean, a river, or the surface of a loch; depicting water in art can be as convoluted, literal, or as abstract as we each feel it should be. It exemplifies that we each experience the natural world differently, and that it can have an infinitesimal variety of different effects on humankind. As one of the earliest subjects for art across the world, water remains, even now, to be uniquely reinterpreted by contemporary artists – including those here at Art Pistol. We hope you’ve enjoyed exploring a few of those interpretations with us. And as always, thanks for reading!