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Artists at Sea: John Marin and Maine

After writing a 1,000 word piece about Winslow Homer's eighteen month stay at an English fishing village, I'm writing a series of primers about other artists who made similar journeys.


John Marin (1870-1953), American painter.

Coastal association

Maine, in northern New England: first at Phippsburg, then Stonington, and finally bought a home in Cape Split.

First coastal visit

The coast of Maine in 1914.

Reasons for visiting

Like his near contemporary Marsden Hartley, he loved Maine because it was so remote from the art world that he felt he could make the subject matter his own. Marin also hated New York City in particular, and felt very much drawn to the tradition of artists finding 'truth in nature.' He also wrote:

"Seems to me the true artist must perforce go from time to time to the elemental big forms To sort of retrue himself up to recharge the battery. For these big forms have everything."
Dates visited

After 1914, he and his family spent most summers in…
Recent posts

Wagner in Etchings

In March I revealed two things that most people tend to keep to themselves for fear of being cast out of polite society: a) I only listen to opera; b) I belatedly began liking some of Wagner's operas.

After five months of listening to virtually nothing but Wagner, and even seeing some of the music starting to seep into my studio work, I suddenly remember a series of etchings by English artist Christopher Le Brun that I saw more than 20 years ago.

Le Brun was a passionate lover of Wagner's music, and in 1994 he made a set of eight photogravure etchings titled Wagner. The names of the individual works -- Fafner, Siegfried, Brunnhilde -- indicate that his inspiration was the Ring cycle.

Back in 1998, I didn't like Wagner's music and hardly knew anything about it, so I looked at these works purely from an aesthetic standpoint. As I consider them now having listened to more of Wagner's music, what strikes me is that these etchings still don't require anything more …

Artists at Sea: Turner and the English Channel

After writing a 1,000 word piece about Winslow Homer's eighteen month stay at an English fishing village, I'm writing a series of primers about other artists who made similar journeys.


J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), English painter.

Coastal association

Where to start? Water and oceans were his chief inspiration, comprising the central or supporting subject of many of the 20,000+ paintings and drawings he created over a long life. But mostly he painted the waters around the English coast, either directly in his sketchbook, or in his studio-produced oil paintings.

First coastal visit

1786, Margate, on the north-east coast of Kent, when he was 11 years old.

Reasons for visiting

Many reasons, both personal and artistic, that interlock in complex ways. His earliest visits were because his parents packed him off from London to spend the summer with an uncle. During his apprenticeship as an artist, he was influenced by the methods and subject matter of Dutch seascape artists such as Clau…

Artists at Sea: Monet in Normandy

After writing a 1,000 word piece about Winslow Homer's eighteen month stay at an English fishing village, I'm writing a series of primers about other artists who made similar journeys.
Who Claude Monet, French Impressionist painter
Coastal association Normandy, France.
Reasons for visiting Monet spent his childhood in Le Havre, Normandy. Dates visited Almost his entire life from 1840 to 1926.
First visit 1845, aged 5, when his family moved to Le Havre. As an adult, after working and gaining some success in Paris, he spent the summer of 1867 painting in Sainte-Adresse, near Le Havre.
Effect on Work His earliest plein air paintings were made near Le Havre when Monet was 16, under the guidance of Eugene Boudin. Ten years later, Monet's time at Sainte Adresse moved his work away from 'salon' style subjects of bourgeois life to a deeper consideration of how to use pure colour to capture the light on objects.
Rating 8 sea points out of 10.

My best open studio

The best open studio for artists is the one where they sell a lot of work. I mean, really, what else would qualify? Maybe having Person Famous in the 1970s come through the door and respond very positively to a series of etchings (actually happened). (Although he also left without buying anything, so...)

But I would say that one of the best open studios (the second best one, perhaps) was the one where I premiered a six minute stop motion animation film. Here in fact is a clip from that film:

I worked on it for six months in 2013. It was the first thing I completed in my new studio in the Cornelia Arts Building. I felt the need to explore subject matter and imagery related to my childhood in an English mining town, but in a medium other than painting or printmaking. A medium where you could tell more of a story, a continuous narrative as opposed to a static moment.

I was pleased with the film, and invited people to come and see it for the first time in an open studio at the beginning …

My worst open studio

Most open studios are notable for nothing really happening. You sit there waiting for people to come into your studio, eat all your nibbles and guzzle the free drink, and then leave after a cursory glance at your work. Usually, the worst thing that happens is that you get stuck in a boring conversation with a dull person,

But there was one time a few years ago when I got into one of these conversations, and quite quickly the person I was talking to started to make homophobic remarks about another artist in the building. After a few minutes, I decided I'd had enough and asked him to leave. He seemed genuinely surprised that I had any objection to what he was saying, which in retrospect makes me even angrier if he thought he had a sympathetic ear.

He asked me why, and I told him I didn't like people talking that way, and I said: "This conversation ended 30 seconds ago." So he left.

So, nothing dramatic like Jackson Pollock getting drunk in a fancy New York apartment a…

Anna Atkins, Cyanotype Pioneer

While cyanotypes are on my mind, I decided to do a little more research on the history of the process, and came across some fascinating information.
You create a cyanotype by coating paper with a 50/50 mixture of ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide. You then place objects such as feathers and plants onto the paper, and expose them to sunlight for a little while. You wash the exposed paper under a tap or in a water tray, which reveals the white outlines of the objects against a striking Prussian Blue background.
The first person to formulate this method was British astronomer Sir John Herschel in the 1840s. He developed it as a quick way of seeing plans and diagrams -- this gave birth to the term 'blueprint'. But the first person to use the cyanotype process in a significant way was a woman named Anna Atkins (1799-1871). Most of what follows draws on some excellent sources (here and here) containing a detailed account of her experiments.

Atkins' father was i…