A Portrait of The Ocean
At the end of the Year On the edge of the World
Winter Solstice is a painting that took 20 years for me to make and 2 1/2 years to actually paint. Ever since we built our studio in Tofino bracing the Pacific Ocean on the west coast of Vancouver Island I have witnessed this spectacle each year around winter solstice and have conceptualized how to create a major painting that captures the scene . At the darkest , coldest and wettest time of year the ocean churns against the volcanic rocks along the coastline providing a spectacular visual experience.
For me specifically this scene is most interestingly and entertainingly viewed from a place called Frank Island . It is an outcropping of volcanic rocks that forms a junction between North and South Chesterman Beach and is intermittently accessible this time of year . It is one of my favourite places on the planet and I paint here almost daily when I am around.
It is a walk that in summer takes 20 “ from the studio and can feel easy , warm and relaxed but in winter the winds kick up with sideways rain and it feels like a very long slow journey carrying materials. As well it gets cut off by tides another thing to be monitored when working . As one would expect working plein air is not always successful and often I have made the challenging journey only to observe . Despite this I have countless studies in watercolour and oil that investigate the subject and have helped me to develop my approach and for years I have made attempts to capture the scene in large format ( though before this one and the Black Rock major I was not I feel entirely successful ) .
Working large and direct is not only the most exciting for me but in many ways , when it involves a subject that so much motion , it is easier. I have room to be physical to move the large brushes and capture the movement of the scene . It’s what I was built for as a painter . This canvas was initiated from life and allowed me to make placements of spatial elements and become connected directly as well as achieve an accurate though somewhat expressive field colour and temperature . There is nothing like working outdoors in front of the subject and this was its own challenge and truly incredible experience . The prevalent green field colour of the piece is so important and though may be more an experience than a completely accurate hue ( if one were to compare to photos or video footage ) it is this green glow one experiences off the rocks . The abstract power of colour in large paintings comes from reacting to the scene in front of you , this mosaic of paint emerges through this direct interaction . I would find this much more difficult to achieve entirely in studio . The magic comes from experiencing this incredible scene this time of year in which there seems to be almost an absence of light with such a heavy atmosphere . In some ways this also made the ocean tonally simpler for me to express.
The studio development of the painting was achieved primarily by making trips to the site and observing . I continued to paint on site developing smaller studies from life when possible but more importantly just spending time there . It is after these observational sessions that I could work directly on the large piece in studio and build the expression with feeling and confidence . I feel it took considerable time to construct the foundation of the painting because of its size but the final execution and expression was very rapid . Several hours of alternating large and small brush with purpose to achieve a simplicity in the final expression . I am often successful with this sort of approach , once I am clear there is a summation of energy to find it and get it done. It is not really a painting of details though I feel all the little abstractions in the movement of the paint tell their own story .
How many times I have painted that heavy and dense wave crashing on the characteristic rock and the chaotic aftermath where the surge fills into the tiny bay and creates the champagne off the rocks. As is always the case in painting the eye beats the hand. It takes years to understand the ocean and to feel one visually understanding the scene . When I look back over these years the technical approach was developing along the way too , but slower , and eventually it all came together . This is rewarding for painters . It is important for me that in the final expression I feel I have achieved a level of intimacy with the subject , or even the moment. This feeling of intimacy with nature , getting close ( but not too close to ) accurately represents my approach , and even my drive as a landscape or nature painter . I see this as a primary direction in my work .
I hope this expression of Winter Solstice off the rocks in Clayoqout Sound is enjoyed by our patrons and for those that have experienced this incredible scene and stimulates an interest to continue to develop deeper connections with the magic and power of nature.
~ Randolph A. Celebrini