Sarah Knox and Esther Donaldson’s Tidal Wave at Doubtfire Gallery Edinburgh

On the Spring Tide: Sarah Knox and Esther Donaldson

Wed - Sun 12:00 - 16:00 or by appointment

From: 6 Mar 2024

To: 7 Apr 2024

Doubtfire Gallery
28 North West Circus Place
Edinburgh & the Lothians

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As the clocks spring forward on Easter Day to lead us into summertime, On the Spring Tide is a delightfully inspiring and poetic exhibition to take us on a leisurely stroll along the seashore. ‘A light exists in Spring, not present on the year at any other period, when March is scarcely here.’ – Emily Dickinson.

As the clocks spring forward on Easter Day to lead us into summertime, this is a delightfully inspiring and poetic exhibition to take us on a leisurely stroll along the seashore. The changing sunlight from dawn to dusk and where land meets sea, is dramatically evoked by Sarah Knox and Esther Donaldson in their distinctive, impressionistic landscapes. 

Brought up observing the ebb and flow of the tide in north Norfolk, the coastline around the British Isles continues to inspire Sarah Knox, painting en plein-air to capture an atmospheric vision of the seashore, weather patterns and vast endless skies.

Slipping down to the sea, white wrath of waves’ has such a poignant title, akin to John Masefield’s poem Sea Fever. Look carefully to spot the tiny smudge of a figure standing at the edge of the shore, almost engulfed by the waves, gazing out to sea and beyond. Reminiscent of the melancholic mood of ‘Wanderer in a Sea of Fog’ by Caspar David Friedrich, this is a majestic, moody composition, which you would never tire of studying if on your wall – frothy white horses, streaks of indigo, azure and slither of mauve-tinted clouds above the misty mountains. 

Sarah Knox, ‘Slipping down to the sea, white wrath of waves’, oil on canvas

A meditation on a place of beauty which achieves the feeling of a lost world and a story that resonates and glows.’ – Sarah Knox 

From a vantage point, perched on a cliff edge in the Howick Estate, Northumberland, this is the scenic view for Cove of my heart, and it certainly looks like a blustery day with threatening rain storm. In the distance, a square building is a Victorian bathhouse beside a sandy cove – you can almost feel the chilly drizzle on your skin, it’s all so realistically portrayed. Back in her Edinburgh studio, Sarah hones those visual sketches and field notes, using textured layers of pigment on the canvas with fluid pools of oil paint which give the impression of a watercolour.  

Sarah Knox, ‘Cove of my heart’, oil on canvas

The gradual, glistening, shimmering light of a Hebridean landscape at day break in Dawn creeps silently demonstrates even more this magical artistry, blending a watery wash in a subtle palette of blue-greens and glow of golden yellow. Calm, cool, languid, meditative. 

Sarah Knox, ‘Dawn creeps silently’, oil on canvas

‘These paintings observe changing atmosphere, light and colour and occupy a liminal and abstract realm.’ – Sarah Knox

On a Hebridean Princess cruise, Sarah was able to stand on the Bridge for a Captain’s viewpoint as they sailed near Jura through the Gulf of Corryvreckan. When George Orwell lived on the island in late 1940s (when writing his novel, 1984), he and his young son almost drowned here near the whirlpool when their boat capsized, but were rescued by lobster fishermen. This is indeed a thrilling but dangerous crossing for all seafarers and the painting illustrates only too clearly the sensation of this swirling torrent of Cerulean blue waves.  

Sarah Knox, ‘Corryvreckan, untouchable sphere’, oil on canvas

A sense of the colossal force of nature, making those on the sea feel in touch with their mortality and has the sweep of Hokusai’s Wave’. – Sarah Knox   

The composer Felix Mendelssohn was so emotionally moved by visiting the ancient stone cathedral of Fingal’s Cave, Staffa, his Symphony No. 3 (Scottish), simulates the echoing sound of waves on rock. Likewise, Sarah has composed her own Hebridean Symphony through a rhythmic, fluid tide of aqua green sea bathed in a pale peach sunset. With imaginative technique, patches of white canvas are left bare to signify an emerging glimmer of pure light: flowing like a melodic tune, this is a beautifully orchestrated, serene composition.   

Sarah Knox, ‘Hebridean symphony’, oil on canvas

Esther Donaldson lives in Port Seton, East Lothian and her paintings in this exhibition focus on the natural forms of the coastline and their relationship to man-made structures.   

The paintings abstract the familiar coastal paths and walking these routes over many years I know them well and often go out on wild days, with howling gales, salty sea spray as it bites the face.’ – Esther Donaldson

With a bold, geometric contour, Coastal Path depicts the point where the sea hits land, tracing the curving line of walking routes along the waterfront. The blocks of colour in turquoise, green, orange and blue may represent a woodland or field and contrasts the sense of waves beside solid rock with a map of man-made paths. 

Esther Donaldson, ‘Coastal Path’, oil on cradled panel

With its curving horseshoe contour, The Bay is more of a realistic representation in which you can visualise the sandy beach, grassland, white surf and even a tiny yacht sailing over the water. As Esther explains, ‘I utilise such structures as the harbour and buildings, which create divisions of colour and geometric forms against the natural flow of the land as it meanders along the coast.’ 

Esther Donaldson, ‘The Bay’, oil on cradled panel

The weather is not always calm and tranquil along the seashore. A gale is blowing along the coastline in Swell, with a furious flurry of crashing, thrashing waves under dark rain clouds. The long red loop could be a tangle of ropes holding tight to a moored boat, buffeted in the wind. Just a small spot of a dying crimson sun is most effective. This painting gives the impression that it’s large-scale, but is in fact a miniature composition of 10 x 6 inches.  

Esther Donaldson, ‘Swell’, oil on cradled panel

The BBC shipping forecast is essential for ships and boats at sea, but at home gives a soothing maritime bedtime story at midnight. ‘Dogger, Forth, Cromarty… Wind, East or Southeast becoming cyclonic 5 to 7, increasing gale 8 for a time.’

Like an aerial map of an ocean dotted with rugged islands and precarious rocks, Southwest 5 – 7 paints a picture to show the constantly changing weather pattern, storm clouds and whirling gale force wind. Like jigsaw pieces, the shapes of navy blue and turquoise sea, green patches of land and black rock are cleverly defined with thick textured oil paint.  

Esther Donaldson, ‘Southwest 5 to 7’, oil on cradled panel

The sea is a beast and I love witnessing its power and ferocity, it makes me feel small yet strangely comforted to realise that there are forces stronger than me’. – Esther Donaldson

With thanks to Vivien Devlin for this review.

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