Late summer 2012, I am on the night watch sailing round Start Point, Dad and I are going for a jolly from our home port of Dartmouth, heading west for Falmouth.  There is a good breeze and the tide is with us, the sky is clear and our 24ft Folk Boat, 'Lindy' is sailing well with the wind.  We have no auto-helm so I must keep my wits about me and sail to the compass with only my own thoughts to amuse me.  There is little to see except the faint glow of the compass light and the odd fairy-twinkle of a cliff-clustered or beach-topped village, and the comforting but sometimes confusing flashes from navigation buoys.  As I savour the salty-solitude I take pleasure in the thrill of the smallness but motherly hull of the boat as she surges on through wine-dark- waves that slap and tickle the thin shell of all that stands between me and the sea, the great deep cliche-clogged depths of fathom upon fathom of salty sea.  And my thoughts dive down to the bottom and the ships and souls that sleep there.  A local lad has just been lost around abouts, washed overboard from a fishing boat, a reminder that whilst we choose to make this trip for fun, the sea is still a dangerous place and this coast in particular is littered with the remains of men and ships.  I have always been fascinated and terrified by thoughts of shipwreck, and sailing over where they must be is both chilling and thrilling. 

INITIAL PROJECT PROPOSAL AUTUMN 2013 (Keep checking as I am sure the project will change and develop in different directions as I research)

Using my journey from Dartmouth to Falmouth as a starting point I am going to metaphorically explore the shipwrecks of sailing ships between the two.  I plan to portray each ship (with where possible an image and a name) that has been wrecked on that coast.  I do not wish to tread on the grief of the living and so I am choosing ships from the days of sail.  Time creates something of a buffer zone that allows historical events to be used with more freedom for artistic expression, nevertheless, these are graves and I do not intend to forget due reverence.  Using old canvas sails to print on and ash from burnt ship timbers used as an ink, I will print from woodblocks fashioned from offcuts from ship timbers.  The images will be strung up like bunting and we will walk beneath - we become 'Those Below'.  

Don't get me wrong, I love a bit of bunting, it is definitely a cheery sight to brighten up a dull space, it was one of the first things I noticed that was pleasingly different about Falmouth when I returned after about a 13 year break (I studied my Foundation there), but it has become a bit bloody ubiquitous and sometimes carries a sense of enforced and desperate cheeriness.  Bunting would have originally been hung up to welcome boats into port, so I shall make some melancholy bunting, to welcome in the ships that never made it home.

I like to marry image, concept and material so I like the idea of using maritime materials to make the work.  The ash is mixed with a printing medium to make it suitable to be rolled out for relief printing.  I like the fact that in many ways the maritime and art worlds developed side by side, the Venetian painters developed a distinctive style due to using canvas sails to paint from, hence the continued use of oil on canvas.  The Northern European painters favoured off-cuts of oak boards from shipyards.  I plan to use both.


As well as the printing project my research has lead me to develop new ideas.  I have always loved beachcombing and have gathered sea-fabric for years, often dated patterns from the 70s wash up, frayed fragments of sea-worn cloth.  Where do they come from?  There is always the chance that they are from tragic shipwreck or drownings so there is an element of the macabre, scraps of momento-moris.  Ladies on boats would sometimes create patchwork quilts with scraps of exotic fabric picked up on the voyage.  I plan to stitch together the sea-fabric to make a beautiful patchwork comfort blanket under which to dream about the sublime.  The best way to enjoy stories about shipwreck and the sublime is whilst safely tucked up in bed.

patchwork quilt made by the daughter of a ship's captain, made whilst on a long voyage.

Whilst researching what remains under the sea when a ship has been wrecked I find a lot about ceramics.  Blue and white decorative china litters the sea-bed.  Potsherds tell us a lot on land or at sea of the lives of our ancestors, we can accurately date styles to certain specific dates and places.  Wrecks off the coast of The West Country contain pottery that indicates a complicated trade network in the Bronze age.  Ceramics were an important part of this area's trade as the raw material is mined inland.  The decorative aspect appeals to me, it is one of the few ways paint is preserved under the sea.  The designs on blue and white china use the same cobalt as tattoos.  I would like to create a 6ft ceramic figure, decorated with blue tattoo inspired drawings that relate to sailor's superstitions.  The figure is 6ft because that is a fathom, the nautical depth measurement.  The word is derived from the Old English word faedm, meaning to embrace, which is the original way a fathom is measured, a man's outstretched arms. The figure will have arms outstretched. The figure is based on an action man toy but is in some ways my (nearly) male 'other'.  The toy is famously smooth where he should be bumpy, he is supposed to embody 'the uncanny other' as described by Freud, and as it is Freud, the fear is imagined froma  male perspective and as usual, is based around the fear of castration.  The ambiguous sexuality of the figure is also inspired by Shakespeare's use of shipwreck and sea-immersion as a magical event that allows the boundaries and laws of society to be made mutable.  Ships and the sea are famously not spaces for females so women who went to sea often had to hide their sex.  This nearly-male-other will be sunk in the sea, hopefully barnacles will grow on him, he may be smashed, but I will attempt to raise him or bits of him to exhibit.  He will be my own sea-relic, he will be sea-changed.  If he is lost then that is fine, I will show the documentation of his creation and immersion. 


Relics from shipwrecks might be glamorous and valuable gold or silver treasure but the everyday objects like china, belt buckles or blankets are just as fascinating and somehow more poignant in their domesticity and ordinariness. Sometimes ancient statues or figureheads are lost at sea, imagining them ‘staring’ out into the depths gives me a pleasurable terror. Inspired by blue and white china found on the sea bed and limbs from ancient statues trawled up in fishermen’s nets I am making large ceramic arms. A 3D scan of real arms are then digitally routed, cast, slab-moulded in local clay and glazed with blue and white designs inspired by sailor’s tattoos. The arms will have a finger-tip to finger-tip span of 6ft, the traditional measurement of a fathom (the word is from the old English word ‘faedm’ meaning to embrace). The apiece will be sunk in the sea and left for as long as I can before being recovered and displayed for my final show. If they get broken I will recover what I can, if they are completely lost I will display the documentation and a description of the project.
By the end of Easter I will have at least one pair of arms made, fired and glazed, I will make several pieces to allow for experimentation with glazes and the inevitable shrinkage and breakages. I plan to try hand-painted glaze and digital decals, a transfer tattoo style method of applying drawings to ceramics. This should give me plenty of time to immerse the arms in the sea. The whole process will be quite ceremonial and slightly absurd. I will document the process with photographs, a written description and possibly video. In late August I will attempt to recover the arms or what is left of them, if they are completely lost I will exhibit the documentation.
4 x Bags of Clay @ £5.20 £20.80
2 x Pieces of blue insulating foam@ £15.62 £31.24
3x Bags of plaster aprox @£8 a bag £24
10 x Decals aprox @£10 an A4 sheet £100
Beer bribes to get help documenting,
sinking and recovering aprox £30

The total cost should be aprox £206.04
If I use hand painted glazes instead it will be £106.04

For years I have gathered fabric from tidelines, not really having any ideas as to what to do with it. It joined the other ‘treasures’ I found; shoved into pockets or backs of drawers or bags. But this year, the storms brought huge amounts of bounty and I have started to sew it together into a growing patchwork. The beach I find most fabric on is Blackpool Sands, the beach closest to my childhood home. The process is laborious but pleasurable (apart from stabbing myself with the needle), it is a good time to think or chat depending on where I am sewing. I have sewn on beaches, on my boat, in bed, in studios, pubs and in the cellars of the Porthmeor Studios in St Ives. As I sew I like to muse about where, when and how the fabric ended up in the sea. The patchwork will grow and grow, becoming enormous, and in theory, never ending. It could be a blanket, a dress, a sail or a shroud. The act of sewing to excess invokes women from myths and fairytales; Penelope’s daily weaving and nightly un-ravelling, the hapless heroine helped by Rumplestiltskin to complete the impossible task of spinning straw into gold and the swan princess sewing stinging nettles into nets. But sewing is also a revolutionary technological invention for it allowed humankind to fashion containers, clothes and boats. There is still one bunch of burly chaps who sew; sailors and fishermen. Sailors have traditionally been competent stitchers for sails, clothes and nets need making and repairing, even their spare time was spent embroidering (more butchly known as crewel work) or using the needles to engrave scrimshaws or tattoo themselves or each other. If a sailor died at sea he would be sewn into an old sail or his hammock, the last stitch going through his nose, just to make sure he was dead, before he was consigned to the watery depths.
I have several sacksful of fabric and although the summer months are less bountiful, I already have enough to keep me busy till the final show. I will continue to sew until the show and plan to include the needle, thread, scissors and thimble as well as photographic and written documentation of the process. In particular the time I have spent and will spend at Porthmeor Studios will be documented and shown (see separate proposal for Porthmeor Studios Open Studios event). I am considering producing a series of paintings inspired by imagining the people who wore or used the found fabric. The patchwork will be designated as a work-in-progress, how I hang it will depend upon the exhibition space.
Less than £10 for white thread and the needles and thimble I have already bought.

Most recently I have been photographing a freshly wrecked boat down Old Mill Creek on the River Dart; this is where I learnt to sail, aged six, in a plywood dinghy built by my Granddad in his sitting room. Old Mill is home to a boat yard but is also the grave of many boats, their carcasses rot slowly into the mud until just a few ribs stick out, sometimes they are burnt, leaving a concretized puddle of rust, charcoal, ash and mud on the shingle. Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire was voted Britain’s favourite painting in a BBC poll, whilst the grand old ship being towed to her end may seem a far remove from the recently wrecked hull of a bright yellow plywood cruiser, there is still a sense of the sadness of a boat’s demise. For boats more than any other form of transport still seem to stir us to think of them as beings and they hold our dreams of adventure, romance, escape, refuge and shelter. This creek is also a sanctuary for those who need it, people come who have only their little shell of a boat as their haven and when that is broken to expose the domestic details within, for me it holds as much pathos as the end of the historic, mighty, fighting sailing-ship. Although I always have a camera to hand, I have been nervous about designating my photographs as Art’ it has been a very positive and useful experience printing and exhibiting them for the first time.
I am still evaluating how I will develop or exhibit these photographs; I plan to experiment with trying to print the images on the salvaged sails from the wrecked boat. This will need to be done over the summer break when the BA students are on holiday. At the moment I think I will exhibit ‘Self Reflective Shipwreck’ but I will be considering this during the next term. I will continue to photograph other boats.
This will depend on how much printing on sail canvas costs, the existing photographs cost £17.50 each and the frames aprox £15 each totalling £32.50.

                                              07973520515   all images copyright Kate Marshall 2013