Beyond the sea

I mix up a sizeable amount of modelling paste and smooth it out onto the chalky virgin canvas. It flakes and moves about, so I have to press it in with my fingers.  I work with bare hands because the creamy texture of the paste is soothing and tactile.  My fingertips work unconsciously, feeling out a landscape and soon I have a surface to work on.   I lay pieces of plastic over the paste and press it down.  It creates faint imprints and crevices suggesting rocks and boulders.  I see a seascape developing in my mind and begin blocking out the composition of the painting using burnt sienna and alizarin crimson, loosely applied with a thick brush.  Once I have this quick sketch, I start working with the paint.  Cerulean is always first, then exotic Ultramarine.  I am wary of white, it can dominate, so it is the last pigment I use.  I apply the myriad blue hues in lines across the painting, mimicking the rolling waves and it’s only when I start working with darker greens that I remember mother.

We are sitting on a wooden bench, looking out over the crashing waters of Kwaaiwater in Hermanus, South Africa. This was my mother’s favourite place, we could spend hours watching the sea, hoping to catch a glimpse of a majestic Southern Right whale in the months when they came to calve.  Mum sits with her grey anorak and silk scarf pulled tight over her ears, tied securely beneath her chin, so she doesn’t get earache from the wind.   It’s blustery up here, the tide is turning and gulls swarm about screaming into the wind. A fine mist of spray wafts across us but we don’t bother, we are talking about nothing in particular, glad to be here together in this truly wild place.

I leave her for a few minutes because I am young and I should be clambering over the rocks, like young people do, in search of things that young people search for, whatever that is. I manoeuvre out onto a group of rocks but immediately realise that this isn’t the best place to be standing, I could fall into the surf or onto the jagged rocks below. I move back like a responsible person, like an older person, like my mother.   I hate myself for moving back but I’ve done my exploring.    I make my way back up onto the path to go and sit with her.  She looks so tiny and fragile sitting up there by herself on the bench.

Suddenly, I look down at the canvas and see all the white.  It’s splattered in a rage all over the rocks.   Down below, the churning white swell blasts out massive forceful sprays, sending the water pluming high into the air some fifty foot above our heads.   My eyes are stinging so much from the sea spray.  At least, that’s what I tell myself. I  pack up the paints.


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