I'm swimming at one of my favourite beaches in the world, an active stormfront is marching in from the sou-west. I swim back to the beach, my camera is sitting in its housing in one of the caves carved into the limestone cliffs. I want to be at sea level when the front hits. Only an hour earlier the water was cerulean silk, not a breath of wind, a scorching summer's day. The wind hits first, the sea surface becomes scrambled quickly, I'm shooting wide, 24mm, undulations are amplified, localised wind scratches across the surface throwing up spray on my lens, waves begin to form, a mess of a sea surface. The sky opens up on the horizon, fingers of light break through the deep purple clouds, my shutter fires, a dulled thunk, thunk, thunk through the housing. The full brunt of the storm doesn't make landfall where I float, it passes up the gulf towards Adelaide. It's colours remain however, so does the heat.
Beastly Sea (2014) Edition of 5 + 1AP
I've been shooting by this time for a few years, but have only recently graduated from photography school. It's my first year stepping out as a freelancer, I've yet to exhibit any of my work and I'm struggling to find a style to call my own. I'm in the middle of shooting my first series, hoping to build a body of seascapes shot at sea level. I'm a year into it at this stage, watching weather events from my studio and making the call to jump in the car to search out lighting events. Sitting down on my computer back in the studio, and Beastly Sea jumps out at me. The elements had aligned, I had a centrepiece for the series. Four months later and the series was complete, ready for exhibition, or as ready as an artist could ever be for their first solo show.
The Sea and Me.
The Sea and Me is Che's debut solo exhibition and takes the viewer to sea level. It aims to invoke the romance, fear, trepidation, beauty, and power of the sea and its relationship to the human psyche. Che draws inspiration from the salty tales of Melville, Cousteau, Winton, or the authors of old, seafarers and mariners of shipwrecks, sea monsters and sea shanties. The fear of the unknown which even today is real for so many, yet an environment in which Che finds comfort and solace, wonderment and respect.
Che uses the camera as a conduit to enter environments in which he may otherwise be uncomfortable to take the viewer on a journey of the ocean's moods, at times aiming to overwhelm at others inviting the viewer into a salty summer embrace. This environment is specific to the photographer, yet familiar to everyone. The ocean physically shapes our environment, emotionally shapes our psyche and defines our borders. The ocean gives life and takes away without discrimination. It is our environment, occasionally terrifying always mesmerising. The series before you are modern photographs taken with modern equipment, yet are timeless in their subject matter, scenes that have existed for millennia and will continue for millennia more with or without you. The Sea and Me is truly the sea and all of us, past, present and future.
Beastly Sea would go on to be a finalist in the 2014 Emma Hack Art Prize, and represent my first print sale, a truly special moment for any artist. The four remaining editions of the piece have since then made their way to walls in living rooms around the country, a humbling experience.
Things have changed markedly in the digital space over the four years since I clicked the shutter and my camera sensor sipped the light at 1/2000 second to create Beastly Sea. Phone's are now more ubiquitous than ever and more and more a integral part of my workflow. I'm contacted by prospective clients through so many apps now that it has become a game to find out where and how a conversation started. My canned response has become 'thanks so much for reaching out, can we now transition this conversation over to email?' It has quickly become overwhelming. Occasionally however, a DM will lead to something a little bigger, something a little more tangible, something seriously exciting.
My brother-out-law had shared an article with me, a South African artist had created a masterpiece on a wall in Kiev, a turbulent moody seascape, swallowing the streetscape. It was inspirational. You can view the original article here. I shared the article on my personal Facebook with the simple caption Adelaide?, closed down the app, and thought nothing more of it.
Weeks later and I was standing on the Glenelg esplanade looking up at a blank canvas, a two storey wall
of the Seawall Apartments, situated less than a wet dog's shake from the ocean itself. Cylists, runners, dog-walkers and couples made their way past as I contemplated the possibilities of what was before me, a towering wall, unobstructed. The team from Seawall Apartments had seen my post and got in touch.....they had been waiting for the right time and the right artist to turn their wall into something unique, an icon of the coastline and they felt my work spoke the language of Glenelg.
We had a few hurdles to overcome in the meantime. The most pressing of which was that I'm not a painter, never have been, I wouldn't know a palette knife from a chef's knife. When it came to the image however, I knew exactly the image that would work, and it was Beastly Sea. Four years later and the photograph would once again leave the digital world, once again you could touch the 1s and 0s that had been sitting dormant on one of my many hard drives. The only question was who was going to turn those 1s and 0s into a painting ten metres high. The answer was sitting in the studio next to mine and his name was Dave Court. He had moved into his studio only a matter of weeks before and serendipitously had begun to work in large scale murals. I had watched his career bloom from afar and this project would offer a wonderful opportunity for collaboration. I showed him the photograph, the wall, waxed lyrical about the dream of the team at Seawall Apartments, and asked, 'mate, can you paint it?' 'Give me a couple of days' was Dave's reply.
A day later and Dave had painted a two metre detail of my photograph in his studio. Any questions about Dave's ability to transform my photograph into something more evaporated, replaced by the smell of paint and a sense of anticipation. The client agreed, we were on.
Dave and I sat down and had a chat about the process from here on out. I would be handing over creative license to Dave. We knew the photograph would inevitably evolve brushstroke by brushstroke, and that at that scale, it would become a new work entirely. Two things however remained core to the collaboration, the colours must be matched, and the emotion of the original Beastly Sea must be retained. The colours would be easy, the emotion would be all Dave's skill.
We sat down at my printer's lab (Atkins Pro Lab), with their colourist Dave Hobbs and chose ten colours from the original photograph. Highlights, midtones, blacks, blues, purples and greens. To distill a photograph down to a gamut of ten colours was a challenge, a tug of war between the three of us, the photographer, the colourist and the painter. We eventually settled on a palette which slowly emerged from their printer, dot by dot. From there it was delivered around the corner to Porter's Paint for Linda to mix a custom set of paints for the wall, seventy five litres of it.
Rachael Osborne, the owner of Seawall Apartments and patron of the project insisted we stay for the duration of the project in one of her apartments, an unexpected perk of the job, we had the seaside at the front door, and the workplace on the southern wall. We checked in on a sunny afternoon and put the first brushstrokes on the wall. From here my role was to document and manage the project. Dave would be assisted by my partner Myf Cadwallader, an experienced scenic painter from a career in theatre. Dave and Myf would spend the next eleven days climbing ladders, throwing paint at the wall. Daily the community watched as Beastly Sea unfolded on the wall. I too was the audience, watching Dave turn my work into something unique. I'll let the photographs tell the rest of the story.
It is such an honour to now be a small part of the Glenelg seascape and the story of Seawall Apartments. Dave, Myf and I would love to thank Rachael, Mardi and the rest of the team, all those who dropped by to wish us well, followed along online or who have since visited the mural. We hope you enjoy the work as much as we enjoyed making it.
I would also like to acknowledge that the work I make is made in the waters of the Kaurna People and the mural sits on Kaurna Land.