Patsy McArthur : Otherworld
Patsy McArthur’s work explores the graceful and powerful movement of people. Following periods of painting freerunners, acrobats and trampolinists, she has progressed underwater, to swimming pools, lakes and the open sea, to capture the ways in which people move when submerged and the effects caused by the relationship between light, colour and water.
While the works may transmit a feeling of immersion, serenity and grace, the process of making each painting is labour intensive and scrupulously planned. The new work, from very small ink studies to large oil paintings, is based on images shot in ten locations around Sydney, from algaefilled filthy private swimming pools to the ocean waters of Balmoral Beach on the North Shore.
Once Patsy has selected the models for her work - crucially, all strong swimmers - she will consider the particular conditions of each body of water, including the translucency or opacity of the water, and the various effects caused by such elements as coloured swimming pool tiles, floating algae or ocean coral.
Unsurprisingly, conditions found in man-made pools and deep oceans differ wildly. In a clean pool, light is able to bounce off the walls, revealing vivid colour, intense detail and a clear sense of the size and shape of the figure at the centre of the image. In the ocean, horizontal light can be travelling for miles before it meets the subject of the painting, leading to blurred figures and dampened colours. Weather conditions have a great effect too, with storms churning up sand in the water, hampering visibility but creating interesting effects.
While there is no overt fashion element to the work, most of the models are fully clothed, with dresses and shirts chosen for the weight and colour of the fabric, the ways in which it reacts with light and how it moves with the powerful push and pull of the water.
Once these choices are made, Patsy will descend with her models, as well as pieces of furniture and other props, spending up to two hours at a time taking hundreds of photographs and shooting video. Back in her Brighton studio, she uses these reference shots to make drawings and studies, before moving on to the paintings. The resulting work conveys a palpable sense of strength, freedom and suspension.
Patsy McArthur said “I like my work to have an emotional element and I think my underwater imagery has a kind of escapism about it; the viewer can feel the temperature of the water, the sensory experience that comes with being in water, that otherworldliness. When it comes to painting the figure underwater, I’m dealing with differing transparencies of water and their effects on the figure, which is challenging and keeps it interesting for me. For that reason, it’s not a subject I feel I will tire of any time soon.”