Thursday, January 22, 2015

Woodbridge, Suffolk

On the water, by the shore…Illustration of the month

Here’s a new idea, new for the English Buildings blog, at least. When not looking at buildings or writing about them, I often have my nose in a book about architecture or about some place or other. Some of these books are illustrated with paintings or drawings. So I offer for your delectation the odd post about a drawing or painting of a building or a scene with some architecture in it somewhere.

As the first of what I hope will be an occasional series, here’s a picture of a Suffolk coastal scene at Woodbridge by an artist who’s not much known these days, Paul Sharp…

Paul Sharp (1921–98) was born in West Yorkshire, and studied at Leeds College of Art before serving in the RAF during World War II. He then went to the Royal College of Art before teaching at Farnham College of Art and building up a reputation as a printmaker and illustrator. He could work quickly, and it is said that he did pen and ink drawings of all of London's bridges in one day for a guidebook to London.

Paul Sharp's ability to capture a place in a few strokes of the pen is put to good use in the drawings he did for a short series of books for the National Benzole oil company. He also did colour illustrations, in watercolour and gouache for these books, and my example is one of these illustrations from the National Benzole Book Sailing Tours: Essex and Suffolk (1963).

I like the way he gets the essence of the coastal buildings with a few strokes of the brush (these weatherboarded structures, one a former tide mill, are white now and more picturesque, less industrial). His skill is also well applied to the boats and the sky. A few strokes for some pebbly tidal mud; a few more for the rough side of a hull; some streaks to give body to the water and perhaps to suggest the bottom, not all that far down; then some finer lines to portray rigging and the cross-braced strictures of cranes.

It's wonderful stuff, given life by all those swans and some people in the shadows in a small boat. How well does he draw boats? Someone who knows more of these things will be able to tell me, I'm sure. But he seems to me to get the feel of the place very well.

And it's very English too. The weather is dull; the patch of light and the orange paint aren't that bright (though maybe that is the fault of the printing). The muddy shore in the foreground and the texture on the lower part of the large boat’s hull have a hint of John Piper about them and although the sky is a far cry from John Piper’s inky blackness over Windsor Castle, one is reminded of the more famous artist and of George VI's remark: "You seem to have very bad luck with your weather, Mr Piper." Sharp, indeed, seems to have drunk a little at Piper's neo-Romantic spring. He's no worse for it.


Robert Slack said...

An interesting theme Philip. I'd not previously heard the term tide mill, my tentative excuse being that we don't seem to have them in Devon, despite the amount of coast the county has. Perhaps our rivers have always sufficed in this hilly county I call home. The large black boat, perhaps oddly, is more familiar to me. I take it to be a Thames barge, which I recognise because a boat of this type, the Vigilant, is being restored down the road from me. It will surely be a fine sight when seaworthy once again.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thanks for your comment, Robert, and for the link to the Vigilant. Some good images of the boat there, and it's interesting to see that it was built in Ipswich.

bazza said...

I like 'busy' pictures like this one. It has an oddly limited palette which may be a reflection of the method by which it was printed. I know Woodbridge - it's a lovely part of the world as is much of the Suffolk coast.
I don't know when the drawing was made but there is a very '50s' feel to it.
(Listening to: Farewell Angelina sung by Joan Baez
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s fabulous Blog ‘To Discover Ice’)

Philip Wilkinson said...

Bazza: Gosh - I should have mention the date in my post. The book was published in 1963, so the 50s feel is not far short of the mark. I'll add a note of the date to my post.

The restricted palette is interesting. I think it's partly the printing, but only partly. The artist did seem to like to work in a limited range of colours in any one image - I think this is the case anyway, but my colour perception isn't perfect and the Resident Wise Woman (whose colour sense is spot-on) isn't here right now to give the images the once-over.