The sea has always been a major part of my life, and painting the coastline is an important aspect of my artwork. I’ve spent time painting in Cornwall and most of Devon, but the Jurassic Coast is an area that I haven’t explored enough. The geology has always fascinated me but it’s something I have very little knowledge of.
In this three-year project, I’m going to tell the story of this stunning coastline by painting its landscapes. The Jurassic Coast splits into three geological periods, the Triassic, the Jurassic and the Cretaceous. I’ll concentrate on each very different section, working towards a major exhibition for each. I need to gain a better understanding of its geology, history and people, and to do this I’ll be working closely with the Jurassic Coast Trust’s volunteer Ambassadors.
I’ll also be working with Sidmouth College, Ladram Bay Holiday Park, Sidmouth Science Festival, and many more local organisations for this first section of the project in 2017. My work will culminate in an exhibition at Sidmouth’s Kennaway House Arts Centre in October. Part proceeds from the sale of artwork will go to the Jurassic Coast Trust to help them look after our World Heritage Site.
For this exhibition, I’ll be painting East Devon’s part of the Jurassic Coast, representing the Triassic period, from Exmouth to Seaton. Orcombe Point is the start of the World Heritage Site, and it’s where I recently arranged to meet Anthony Cline and John Wokersien, both Ambassadors for the coast. They walked me along the beach, explaining the local geology and pointing out some fascinating rock formations. I’ve known this beach for a very long time and it’s the first time I’ve understood why the rocks are so red. Millions of years ago it used to be a desert environment. Quite simple when you think about it.
Many people ask me why I need to understand the geology as a landscape painter. They often say, “Don’t you just go out and paint a view?” When I studied life drawing, I was encouraged to look at anatomy. This knowledge of bone and organ structure enhanced the way I painted the human figure and without this knowledge, the outcome often seemed lifeless. Producing paintings of the Jurassic Coast without a knowledge of its geology would also be difficult.
Understanding a landscape is as important as a knowledge of anatomy when drawing the human figure. Without this understanding a landscape is just a view and I don’t paint views. I paint landscapes, and landscapes are places full of history, drama, emotion and life.
As well as exploring the coast on foot, I’ll also be swimming, kayaking and running. This way I can reach the inaccessible spots, which will allow me to see the Jurassic Coast from different perspectives. Spending this amount of time on the coast will produce paintings that tell the story of this very dramatic World Heritage Site.
As a result of my walk with John and Anthony, I now have this, the first painting of the entire project, and possibly one of the smallest. There will be many more walks, and many more paintings, to come over the next three years, and I look forward to sharing them with you.
See more of Colin’s artwork at colinbentley.com