In 2002 I traveled to Roatan, Honduras, the location of a marine reserve park. There, using scuba diving as a tool, something I had been preparing for during the previous two years, I photographed for the first time the liquid world. The experience of diving was a revelation to me. "To go underwater is simply not a natural activity. We enter a hostel element where the most basic fuel, air, is unattainable. To survive, we must take it with us"1. This experience of immersion in a non-terrestrial, environment with its inherent risks, heightened focus and the dramatic alteration of colour, space and atmosphere; the feeling of weightlessness and the unfamiliar life forms of the aquatic world have had a profound impact on the subject matter and content of my painting.
Since this experience, I have been researching, developing, and producing a series of paintings of coral reefs and the liquid world based on my photographs and experiences of scuba diving. These photographic records have surprised me in their unexpectedly sensuous richness, their visual complexity and their depth of meaning. Photography is my research tool, functioning as sketchbook that provides me with a verifiable image of moments of nature that are fleeting. It is a reminder of other experiences rooted in memory and the body. The photographs taken, while being representations of the dive site, function not only as a visual record but are reminders of all the information, such as temperature, sensation, witnessing and moving physically through space, and the physicality of the subject matter. It is the dive itself that inspires the work. The paintings therefore are not copies of the photograph. Artistic research is done during the event through personal experience and documentation. My painting practice is based as much on the sensory, ephemeral and experiential information derived from the experience itself as it is on the mediated content of the photograph.
I have always been interested in the contemporary and historical language of painting and the dialogue in art that exists between past and present, theory and practice. The liquid world paintings that I have commenced make these connections in multiple ways and are open to many possible readings. What struck me first about the dive experience and the photographs I had taken was the uncanny resemblance to the pictorial conventions of Baroque painting. The chiaroscuro lighting, atmospheric depth and weightless floating of the divers and fish recollect the space of the Baroque in which angel and divers, fish and cherubs could easily be interchanged as the figural elements. The possibility these photographs records represent to link the profoundly technological, contemporary experience of scuba diving with the historical stylistic conventions of Baroque painting create an entanglement of the past and the present. "Art does not exist outside history. It exists as a perception of the past, which in turn becomes anticipation of the future." 2 This contiguity between past and present enables me to break from the endless cycle of searching for new stylistic tropes and provides me with the visual vocabulary to express new meanings with new subject matter grounded in the traditions and history of painting.
The ocean is a threatened eco system. The coral reefs are dying By painting the liquid world I am painting part of the world that very few people get to see and drawing attention to a complex eco system and by extension drawing attention to its precarious state.
These painting are a personal and artistic record of this vanishing world, and I am driven to represent this world in visual terms.
1 Healing Waters, Neutral Buoyancy, Tim Escott, Grover Press, New York, Page 2
2 Lawrence Rozell, On Fellini's Satyricon