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Instinct and inspiration

Words by Bethany Allen

A breaking wave, an ocean landscape, a moment in time – frozen and immortalised with the fluid texture of oils, ready to be re-lived through the eyes of the viewer.

Image by Megan Searle

Artist Linda Matthews depicts the power of the ocean landscape in all its moods, capturing inspirational moments in time and preserving them forever.

Originally based in Derbyshire where she taught art for 26 years, Linda responded to the call of the ocean and relocated to Cornwall and the home of her ancestors as soon as the opportunity presented itself. During our conversation Linda explains that her mother’s family was Cornish and that she can trace her family history in Cornwall back to the 16th century, to a certain Jenkyn Pellor in Breage, which somewhat clarifies her deep-rooted connection to the area. In response to this statement Linda smiles and says: “I’ve always been drawn to Cornwall, we used to visit for holidays with my grandparents and when it came to a time in my life when I needed to have a change, there was only one place I wanted to go: Cornwall – it’s in my blood.” Linda now lives in a traditional Cornish cottage on Cornwall’s south coast near Rinsey, just a mile down the road from where her ancestor Jenkyn lived. “I’ve returned to my roots, it’s a dream location for me and my studio – I can see the ocean from my house and I’m just a short walk away from Rinsey Cove, where I often swim.”

Through studying Linda’s artwork it’s clear to see that she is mesmerised by the ocean. In response to this observation Linda says: “I love watching the sea, watching the waves, being in the sea and painting the sea. I do paint other things but my heart lies with the ocean.” The ocean landscape is a part of Linda’s identity, she’s captivated by it, when she’s not in it she’s connecting with it through her paintings; revealing a life-long love affair with the sea that we can all relate to.

Storm Surge

The painting that continues to draw my eye as I survey her collection is ‘Storm Surge’. Its mood is dark and brooding, the sea is an impenetrable steely grey with clouds ascending from its surface like smoke from a fire. The overall effect, however, is of power. The painting depicts the atmosphere and strength of the ocean with shadowy greys, opaque blacks and harsh whites creating an overriding sense of metallic darkness. This feeling of imminent gloom is then cut through and juxtaposed by the reflection of light cast through the centre of the painting – illuminating the scene with an element of hope, and suggesting that the sun’s rays are tentatively pushing through the oppressive darkness of the clouds, thereby instilling a tangible sense of potential within the painting.

Studio images by Megan Searle

The process behind a painting and how it’s formed can often be just as fascinating as the piece itself. “To create my paintings, I head to the coast and make sketches of the ocean – I will often do small paintings in situ and take photographs for reference. I then return to my studio at home and transfer concept into creation.” Linda’s material of choice is oils; the fluidity of oil paint lends itself perfectly to the depiction of water, allowing her to achieve the right depth and colour within her paintings. “I used to use mixed media and acrylics to create surface texture but now I use oils. Oils can be worked into a lot more, allowing me to create a sense of fluidity within my paintings.”

Summer Shore and Storm Cloud over Mount’s Bay

One of the only exceptions to this process was her painting of the reef at Botallack, which stands out from the other paintings in Linda’s collection because of its viewpoint. Whereas most of Linda’s paintings look out to sea, Botallack is observed from above. The distorted viewpoint isn’t the only exception, as Botallack was also completed in situ, on the clifftop itself using heavy-duty paper. “Sitting above the cliffs at Botallack I was so inspired that I sat and painted until the painting was almost complete. This doesn’t happen often because of the size and nature of my paintings but with this piece it was the right subject at the right time and it simply fell into place. I became enthralled in the process of painting it there and then on top of the cliffs and continued to paint until it was finished.” Knowing the process behind this painting gives it even more depth and character. There’s a softness to Botallack that contrasts with the subject matter of jagged reefs and draws the observer in; the turquoise blue waters suggest that this was a bright day with clear blue skies and it’s therefore unsurprising that Linda remained here to capture the swirling movement of water against the rocks below.

When musing on the exceptional circumstances in which Botallack was created, Linda explains: “I can become very involved in a painting and I want to keep working on it and working on it until it’s finished. Some people say ‘how long does it take you?’ and you cannot answer that as an artist because sometimes you can capture what you’re trying to achieve almost instantly, like Botallack, and sometimes you re-work it and re-work it several times before you’re happy with it. My head and my heart have got to know that it’s right – creativity doesn’t come from a set of rules, it’s got to come from instinct and inspiration.”

The landscape and atmosphere of a place is integral to Linda’s artwork. “It means everything. I approach painting from something I’ve seen that has moved me, and to me, the most awe-inspiring aspect of life in Cornwall is its ocean landscape. Constantly altering weather patterns, dramatic skies and crashing waves are the source of my inspiration.” Linda’s relationship to the atmosphere of a place is evident throughout her collection and makes you perceive the moods of the ocean even more acutely once you have had the privilege of studying her work. There is also a hint of solitude that underlies Linda’s artwork, of immersing yourself in the elements and re-connecting with nature alone. “It’s an incredibly powerful experience to witness these things alone, to submerge yourself in the ocean’s captivating beauty and think of nothing but the rise and fall of the waves and the varying voices of the sea.”

Linda has had exhibitions at the Old Lifeboat House gallery in Porthleven for the last nine years, utilising a space that seamlessly complements the nature of her work. She has also sold paintings in Webbs Fine Art in Battersea and had exhibitions at the Poly in Falmouth, as well as the Salt House Gallery and the Crypt Gallery in St Ives. Her work is currently being displayed at two esteemed restaurants in Porthleven – Kota and Rick Stein – and she is taking part in Cornwall’s Open Studios again next year.

Linda’s oil paintings allow you to be transported to the ocean, when you gaze at her paintings you can hear the waves crashing against the shore and feel the salt spray softly dampen your skin. Her artwork captures a moment in time in the space where the land meets the sea and allows us to connect with the ocean no matter how far from it we may be. This landscape is full of moments that will move you; the atmosphere, location and setting combine to create something truly spectacular and it is this that Linda represents through her work. For those of you who are captivated by the ocean’s moods, we hope you enjoy surveying this beautiful collection of seascape oil paintings just as much as we have.


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