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See the invisible with Jethro Jackson

Ways of Looking

How to capture the spirit of a place? Following his recent Watergate Bay residency, contemporary Cornish artist Jethro Jackson shares a refreshingly abstract perspective on this familiar stretch of coastline.

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I became focused on capturing the energy and essence of the spirit of the place

Partway through his late September residency at Watergate Bay, between sunny mornings in his makeshift Living Space studio and afternoons sketching on the beach, a central idea emerged for Jethro Jackson’s new series of paintings.

“So many kites have been flown here, so many footsteps and paw prints left in the sand, so many waves surfed. But everything gets washed away by the tide. Each time it comes in, it’s like a clean slate. But the memories live on.

“It made me think of craters on the moon – the sand being repeatedly hammered by all those people, leaving an impression that we can no longer see. So I wanted to weave that sensation and idea into the work – but in an abstract way.”

Through layers of colour, texture, lines and marks, the resulting paintings evoke the layers of memory and lived experience that Watergate Bay holds.

As part of our series exploring three distinct perspectives on the Bay, we caught up with Jethro to get his painterly take on this unique place – and discover how he set about capturing it on board.

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From seeing past obvious seaside tropes to witnessing the beach through someone else’s eyes, here’s how he found new ways of looking at Watergate Bay…

…out of hours

“Although I come here all the time to surf or play with my kids, staying at Watergate gave the experience a fully immersive feel. I was up really early with my dogs as the sun came up, but I also went walking on the beach at midnight. 

“I saw night fishermen with their torches, and Newquay’s lights glowing in the distance. On two of the mornings, there were people paddling out in the dark for a surf. Feeling the beach so quiet was incredible.”

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…from a new studio 

“I set up a makeshift studio in a little room just off the Living Space. It was a really comfortable space – coffee on tap, huge amounts of natural light and a great view. People came to have a look at what I was working on, which was lovely.”

…through someone else’s eyes

“I got chatting to Carl Coombes, who ran the Extreme Academy for over 20 years, and I drew so much inspiration from our conversation. It was really interesting talking to someone who truly lives and breathes the beach – every little nook and cranny of it that most of us would miss.”

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…beyond creative challenges

“My original concept was to produce a series of semi-abstract seascape paintings of Watergate Bay. But, when I came back to my studio here, it just didn’t feel right. It felt a bit anaemic – not touching on the powerful sensations I’d experienced on the beach. 

“I began to build up and strip back the paintings. It was almost like the ebb and flow of the tide; an image would appear, and then I’d remove it, and another would appear. Once I started to build up these layers – that’s when I felt I was really starting to get somewhere. It’s been quite an emotional rollercoaster! But in the best possible way.”

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…to the weather 

“When we arrived, it was really beautiful – there was a good swell running, and the sun was out through those changeable September skies. The next day, we had a mizzly morning, then it cleared again. The paintings reflect that. There’s one that’s a bit greyer, with more muted tones. The rest have quite a bit of colour in them.”

…past the obvious

“Humans have always looked for a logical solution to what we see – patterns, forms, symmetry, things we understand. So it’s natural, with any painting that isn’t literal, to look for something you recognise.

“To start with, I painted some quite recognisable shapes into the works, but it felt too blatant – like I was leaning on a crux to help people into the painting. I wanted viewers to have to work a bit harder, so I started looking for the less obvious elements. Although there are still silhouettes there that echo the headland or the caves. 

“If people are prepared to stand and look and be with these paintings for a little longer, I hope that those sensations and feelings of being on the beach will start to come about.”

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…to other artists for inspiration

“The series title ‘Four Days in September’ is a nod to the documentary ‘Six Days in September’, about the abstract painter John Hoyland.

“This is the first time I’ve put myself into a public arena and experienced that scrutiny, as John does in the film. I feel a real connection to John’s honesty and his commitment to abstraction at a time when the American expressionists were dominating. He cut his way through the wilderness, which is inspiring.”

…back with hindsight

“I haven’t produced paintings at this speed for a long time. Normally, I have works in my studio for at least six months, so this project has pushed me to work in a different way. 

“This has probably been the most challenging series I’ve ever created! Because I’ve had to work through my own feelings about my work, and find that balance between the seascape and the abstract. But it’s been good, because I’ve taken myself out of my comfort zone. I’m very pleased with the results.”

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Jethro Jackson Artwork Cover

Watch our film and read more about his work.

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Visit Jethro's website

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Follow Jethro on Instagram

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