Secret Water

Over the past two years this small patch of ground has become a roofless studio, a space where time and the seasons have washed over successive sheets of paper taped onto old boards and wooden bench tops. Each time, each day, what emerges in the fluid engagement with earth, water and paper is as much to do with the transient light, the sea breeze and rising tide as with what is rapidly enacted on a white surface with crayon, pen, ink and watercolour.


How the drawing starts, by way of returning to familiar territory in search of a fresh impression, a new image, is perhaps less important than how it proceeds, how it is shaped by the prevailing conditions. Its colour, patina and markings become a kind of record of an elemental process, as the marine light shifts and the ground continually softens and swells beneath the paper.

The visible forms of creeks and channels mutate in the tidal wash, as the warm earth and grassy banks dissolve in the rising salt water. Later on, as the dykes and inlets drain away into thin silver trails, the marshes bubble and glisten with reflected light. Green and yellow tinted ridges are thrown into sharp relief against meandering ribbons of dark mud, while, a little further out, bleached expanses of old pasture, imprinted with the fragile lines of ancient tracks, are broken up by silken maze-like passages. Pathways run like memories along the coastal wall before leading the eye out in sinuous broken trails across aqueous plains towards clustered islets that shimmer and float on a pale blue horizon.

This transient realm is mirrored in the drawing, in the way it succumbs to a brisk sea breeze, an enveloping winter mist, or to a sudden downpour. Pigment dissolves, runs and dries in unforeseen ways (and with unexpected results) as the paper’s surface becomes rain spattered, mud flecked, or simply chilled and dampened by the seasonal air. And each time the resulting image belongs as much to the elements as to the artist who began it.

Luke Elwes: Secret Water, Broadbent Gallery, London, 3 September - 10 October 2009

View the online catalogue here