Annie Halliday’s new work commissioned for Droit House is inspired by the sea and the drum-like form of the building in which it is shown.
Halliday has been fascinated by the properties of water and light throughout her life. She recalls a childhood spent beside the powerful, grey North Sea, watching waves driving onto land, and rainwater dripping and flowing along gutters. Later as a biologist, she gained a greater understanding of the properties and significance of water. Today water and light play an important part in her practice as an artist.
Halliday’s work for this show references a world of transmitted light, in which minute details are inflated to become something very different from the tiny watermarks and particles of salt they represent. The large-scale triptych combines intense detail, organic forms and rhythmic patterns to create images that engulf the viewer. The abstract nature of these images ensures that each viewer can bring an individual interpretation to the works. As Halliday has remarked ‘There is a special kind of power in images with a high degree of ambiguity, a possibility to refer the viewer to their own imagination, giving space to dream into the visual field.’
The title of the exhibition is also purposefully open. The sea! The sea! makes reference to the Greek writer Xenophon, Iris Murdoch’s novel of the same title, and to a child’s thrill on first seeing the sea.
The process of drawing with light and water is almost alchemical. The direct photo-images are produced in Halliday’s studio by projecting light through seawater. They are then processed digitally to achieve the large format, thus combining methods from the very beginnings of photography with the very latest technology. Their magic, for they do have a magical quality, is in the intensity, spatial depth and sense of movement suggested by the refractive patterning of light as it travels through water. These patterns, redolent of musical scores, unwittingly link to Halliday’s other great passion – music.
In order to inform and support the darkroom work, Halliday evolved a sea sketchbook. This was begun as a response to Turner’s ‘Skies’ Sketchbook, circa 1818, which contains 79 studies of the sky including many of sunsets and storms. Halliday’s sea sketchbook contains a series of photographs made at various places along the north Kent coast at high water. These images demonstrate the play between water and light and the perceived variations of sea-surface colours and textures. Meanings shift and change, evoking metaphors for our relationship with this powerful, wonderful and yet terrifying force around our shores.
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