With expert and evocative curation from artist Janette Kerr and academic Christiana Payne, The Power of the Sea immerses you in an ocean less of tranquility than of peril and otherworldly eeriness.
Ask a person to name the first word that comes to mind when they think of the sea, and you’ll find that no two people offer the same response. This exhibition has served up the artists’ equivalent of these answers – in the form of paintings, etchings, sculptures and so much more.
Andrew Friend’s Device for Disappearing at Sea, shown above vaguely resembling a collection of immense, upturned banana peels, bemused me until I saw the photograph of it far out at sea and recognised it as a portal to another realm – or perhaps to some Malaysian isle where tropical fruits flourish.
Jethro Brice’s painstakingly precise model, Succession, gives the delicious impression of the viewer being a giant visiting a Lilliputian land under threat from encroaching tides, bringing the concept of rising seas into sharp focus. In one of the smaller side galleries, Annie Cattrell’s wave machine seems to exhale the breaths of a vast creature sleeping, and Janette Kerr’s passages plucked from logbooks detailing 19th-century Atlantic crossings form both a disquieting prose poem and an ode to the sea’s shifting shades and moods.
And, yes, of course JMW Turner is present, along with John Constable, Joan Eardley, Paul Nash and others, each presenting a different view of our relationship with the oceans that both provide sustenance and threaten our survival, offer sun-lit pleasure and stormy exhilaration, yet ultimately erode the islands we call home.
This is an exhibition to take your time over, to let the stillness of some pieces to creep into you, before others shudder through you with enough strength to set your teeth clattering.
Until 6 July 2014 at the RWA, Bristol. All images provided courtesy of the RWA.