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Marc Brown And The Sea Chronicle

Marc Brown is an artist living and working on the Suffolk Coast. Like many artists that make their home here, Marc is drawn to the many-faceted coastline as the subject matter of his art. What makes him different is that, more than any other artist we’ve spoken to, Marc knows and understands the mercurial, playful and sometimes dangerous nature of the sea. His latest photographic work, a visceral collection called The Sea Chronicle, documents a year of daily swims in the North Sea. We asked him to tell us a bit more about it, and about the calm, spacious oil paintings of coastal scenes that provide its perfect contrast… Hi, Marc. How would you describe yourself in a few short sentences?

I am more of an introvert than extrovert and spend quite a lot of time thinking about things. This is reflected in the way I work. I often develop an idea for a painting over several weeks, carefully considering composition and scale, which are crucial for balance in my paintings. I also have a passion for motorcycles, which began in 1985.

Could you describe your relationship with the Suffolk Coast?

My relationship with the Suffolk coast began 45 years ago. I was born in our family home in Southwold, not far from the sea. It has been a constant presence in my life ever since: growing up with family days in a beach hut in the summer; fishing on the beach at night with my Dad in the winter; hanging out with mates on our mopeds at weekends down at the pier; falling asleep to the sound of the sea, and smelling that unique perfume of salt, seaweed and ozone first thing in the mornings.

Can you tell us a little bit about what you do?

I have been painting since graduating in 1995, and painting full-time since 1999. My paintings are semi-abstract and depict a wide range of coastal subjects such as maritime objects, birds, landscapes and isolated objects/buildings.

Why do you think the Suffolk Coast became the primary subject matter of your art?

My focus on the coast and my hometown as subject matter really began when I was studying for my art degree and living away from home. I had never had a prolonged period away from home before, and I think this experience, and the absence of all the so familiar sights, smells and sounds of the sea really made me ‘wake up’ to just how big a part of me it really was. I began collecting old secondhand books about the East Anglian coast and seamanship manuals – anything that would pull me back to the remote and ancient coast of Suffolk all those miles away. I was also profoundly influenced by the acclaimed Highland artist, Will Maclean, and was fortunate enough to meet him in Dundee. My Degree Show was a response, in sculptures and drawings, to my time spent away from the coast.

Do you paint and sketch outdoors?

My paintings are produced in the studio, purely because of the nature of the materials and processes. I use many layers of glazes which require a stable environment, and each painting takes several weeks to complete. However, each painting begins in my sketchbook which I carry around with me, and note ideas down when they occur.

Do you have a favourite time of day to paint?

My favourite time to paint is early in the day. I am up around 5:30 – 6:00 in the morning for my morning dip in the sea, and then it’s usually in the studio after porridge and lots of coffee. If I have a deadline I will work into the night, but generally find my eyes will get tired from painting often very meticulous detail.

If you had to pick just one of your paintings to keep forever, which would it be and why?

The one piece of work which I wish I still had would actually be one of my early drawings from the late 90’s. It was titled ‘Fisherman’s Window’ and was a very simple and small drawing of a window in my brother-in-law’s hut down at the harbour where the long-lines were baited up. It had a cord strung across it with a row of spare hooks hanging from it. It reminds me of fishing trips on his boat, often leaving in the dead of night and fishing through to dawn. The assault on the senses whilst at sea on a working boat made a lifelong impression on me.

What inspired ‘The Sea Chronicle’?

The ‘Sea Chronicle’ project was inspired by a couple of things. In recent years I have had a few swims in the winter, and I wanted to record in some way, the very different character of the sea in the darker months. I was also curious to see if I could be disciplined enough in getting up in the dark mornings, and get in the sea – in all weathers. And once I started, it became almost an obsession.

How did you go about taking the photos?

I took all the photos myself, with the exception of January 1st 2012 and January 1st 2013. During the project, I got through three cameras. Although they were waterproof, they were not robust enough to withstand the rigours of daily use in the North Sea! Being a compact camera, the lenses have a very wide angle, and gives a deceptively distant appearance, when in fact they were shot at arms length.

What were your best and worst moments when creating The Sea Chronicle?

My best moment during the project was probably swimming with my sister on Mother’s Day in memory of our Mum. The worst, or certainly most frightening, was on the February 2nd swim. Although the sky was crystal clear, there was a gale blowing in from Siberia resulting in sub-zero temperatures and a very rough sea. It took several attempts to get in, and I was trembling with fear, let alone the cold!

How has your relationship with the sea changed with this piece of work?

The Sea Chronicle project has had a profound effect on my relationship with the sea. Through the course of a whole year, it feels as though I have formed a relationship with a living thing, a creature almost, with very real moods and character. This living thing has been playful and restful as well as wild and very threatening. However, one thing remains constant regardless of what mood the sea may be in – its restorative effect on body and soul every time you step in it.

Where can we go and see your work?

My paintings are on permanent display at Serena Hall Gallery, Southwold.

You can find out more about Marc Brown and see the rest of his work on his website.