Artist’s Statement: For the last few years I’ve painted in response to a body of poems by Nathan Shepherdson. Nathan wrote the seventy-seven Slack Water poems in 2017, using Grant’s Guide to Fishes as material and ground. Nathan draws on Ern Grant’s marvellous language, to build a strange universe with its own peculiar physics, where the relationship between fish and fisherman, sky and horizon, surface and body, are inverted, fragmented and re-imagined. Grant’s epic Guide has over eight hundred pages, each page about a different fish. The title of each poem is a page number, and each poem is made from words found in the text on that fish. The poems are powerful, abstract, visceral, and the ocean swells within them.
I started by painting text from the poems, playing with the rhythm of words and allowing the patterns of letters to evolve into large abstract painting. I started working with colour for the first time in many years. Working from the Slack Water poems gave me a different access to the Pacific than what a more literal approach might have done. I sank into them. Shepherdson’s poetic images tangled with my memories of fishing on the coast as a kid, of time spent out on the reef, on beaches, headlands, tidal flats, at mouth of estuaries.
I think of these little watercolours as traps for light and colour, as vessels to hold the poet’s metaphors and the meanings that might be found in them. I imagine atmospheres at different times of day, fragments of sky and horizon. I imagine reflections from above and below the water. I imagine the pull of the wind and the tide, the glare across the shallows and the glint in the depths. I pretend that I’m pulling the surface of the water up onto the wall, to make a window across hemispheres. I pretend these are the windows of a fish chapel to offer prayers for the suffering reef and coast. I pretend these windows are also mirrors that reflect the ocean within. This process has been my fishing while here in Berlin, my contact with the Pacific coast, with home.