I’m often drawn to the sea as a source of inspiration. At the moment, living in the Welsh hills, I need all the reminders of the sea I can get. True, I’ve only to look out the window to see green and blue hills that roll all the way to the sea, but these are land waves. Nothing sails across them but sheep and tractors. So on impulse I buy two sea themed paintings by Irish artist Bridget Fahy using money earmarked for a fridge. This is more urgent.
The paintings arrive on a weekend. Releasing them from layers of bubble wrap and Cyprus courier packaging, I’m instantly transported to another space. With their panels of bright and dark colour, their bold shapes, they are not easily ignored. Bridget Fahy’s abstract seascapes remind me of the sea at its best: the hot, colourful and changeable Mediterranean. It’s a sea that can seem forever calm in summer, but in a mid-winter storm its waves rise to cold navy points, each topped by a white-cap.
When I lived in Greece one of my greatest joys was looking at the sea – observing how it changed each day. The soft pastels of early morning: pale blues and pinks like dawn light on a whitewashed village. The starbursts of midday, a silvered brightness that was salt in my pale northern eyes, making them water. Hot green and gold afternoons that made me think of Icarus flying too close to the sun and melting his wings. Calm evenings when the darkness was spotted by points of light from fishing boats, ferries, or tavernas.
Although I’ve never visited Cyprus, where Bridget Fahy lives, I imagine that the quieter areas may have some things in common with the islands I visited. What I like about the two paintings I bought from her is that, like the sea, they too seem to alter or change mood as viewing conditions vary. Almost too bright to look at in full light, in twilight they’re more muted. ‘Night in the Cabin’ is etched with ripples of textured paint that become more evident as the shadows lengthen. These ridges and channels of paint repeat over and over, each similar to the last but never exactly the same, making me think of waves lapping against the sides of a boat, rocking it.
The one time I shared a cabin was when I was working on a boat on the Rhine. Crew cabins were tiny. I remember it seemed full up if just the other girl, Üte, was in it, so I went out every night wherever we stopped, returning only to sleep. The ceiling was inches above my bunk; hers was beneath. She asked a lot of questions when we were crammed in there together, maybe this is what I wanted to avoid.
The second painting, ‘Calm before the Storm’, is full of barely restrained energy. Each panel (turquoise, orange, brown or blue) jostles for space with the next. In places where the battle has been lost, colours from one panel expand into a neighbour’s territory. There’s a heightened sense of waiting. Will it, won’t it? Jagged tensions that fade away in a softer light, lulling you into believing that perhaps the storm won’t break today, after all.
When I was little and was made to go to church on Sundays, I would stare for what seemed like hours at the stained glass windows. Like them, Bridget Fahy’s luminous paintings offer an escape. If ultimately this is an escape into your own dreams, musings, or imaginings, it does not matter. It’s still a window into another world.