AOH talks to Patsy McArthur about her underwater paintings

AOH: Hi Patsy I think you’re taking part for the first time in the AOH festival this year, exhibiting your underwater paintings

PM: Yes, I’m opening my studio for the first time this year and exhibiting some of my underwater oils and ink studies as well as some charcoal drawings.


AOH: Would you like to tell us a bit about how you actually make these paintings, the processes – do you go underwater

PM: I usually gather the research material for my underwater work in the summer, although sometimes I’ll arrange trips to Asia, usually in the winter. If I’m further afield, I’ll find models when I get there, or will take models with me if I’m shooting in Europe. I like to work in different locations, from private swimming pools or warm sea shallows, to much further out in the ocean. I go down with mask and snorkel and my underwater camera, and often stay in the water for a couple of hours while doing photo shoots, directing my models. Then I generally make sketches from a number of photos and then progress to the larger drawing or painting from there.

Ink Study, 55cm x 55cm, ink on watercolour paper, 2017 – prepatory ink studies for larger works

AOH: What made you want to paint people from beneath the surface of the water?

PM: There’s an enormous amount of variety in terms of light, conditions vary wildly. In a clean pool, light is able to bounce off walls, revealing vivid colour and detail. In the ocean horizontal light can travel for miles before it meets the painting, leading to blurred figures and dampened colours. I like my work to have an emotional element and I think my imagery has a kind of escapism about it. Looking at an image of a figure underwater, there’s a sense of immersion and serenity as well as freedom – that’s what draws me to it, as well as the obvious challenges.


AOH:  Are you primarily interested in painting people or their environment – I think you previously painted free-runners, acrobats and trampolinists

PM: My interest lies in the figure, the light and movement. Everything’s slower and quieter underwater and that’s something that has to transmit from the painting. I’m also interested in how the figure moves through air, hence my work with trampolinists etc. There are many parallels to the various strands of my work and suspension and weightlessness are present in both.

Studio shot

AOH:  Who else will be exhibiting in your Open House alongside you?

PM: Fellow painter, Kathryn Lang, will be exhibiting her new paintings which continue her previous themes of capturing light effects in paint which are otherwise unavailable to the naked eye. Upholsterer and furniture restorer, Lou Coates will have some beautifully restored antique pieces and soft furnishings. Born Makers will be showcasing their range of Scandinavian-inspired furniture and homewares.

Heavenbound, 80cm x 108cm, Charcoal on Fabriano paper, 2016

AOH: What are hoping will be the best things about taking part in AOH?

PM: Since I generally exhibit my work with galleries, I rarely get a chance to have a direct dialogue with the people who experience my work. So I’m really looking forward to meeting people, seeing their reaction to the work and getting the opportunity to have a chat about it. I have very few local clients, as I usually exhibit further afield, so hopefully AOH will allow me to add some of the wonderful Brighton community to my mailing list!


AOH: Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

PM: Our preview evening will be taking place on the evening of Friday 11th May 6 – 8.30pm with canapés and prosecco – please come along!


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