• Tom Binnie

The Painter and the Sea

Short extract from new book:

The light was fading as Grietje walked towards the harbour and turned along the shore, all the time looking out to the endless sea. The narrow path bordered by tall grasses thrid down through sea-smoothed rocks, hosting pockets of water and tangles of gulfweed, to the flat, white sands beyond. A bustle of silvery sand’lings followed the rushing breath of each wave, puffed-up and pecking at the servings of the wash. Grietje felt a stir from the unseasonal, warm wind and, as she watched the birds, she saw that they behaved as one, except, that is, for the few that, with the ebb, were quicker to scurry out and were more reluctant to return.

Her artist’s eye appreciated the challenge of the sky and the sea, the light and the land, the difficulty in making waves sink and soar. She had seen many works of the old masters and gasped at their controlled expressions of freedom and subtlety in their tones: creams, blues, pinks and purples. The highlights were shadows, opposites, and contrasts – ochre, blue and grey, not the yellow, gold and white of a renaissance tableau. But it was only recently, now, in her new-found maturity, Grietje was beginning to sense an inkling of the inspiration to which van Reit sang his evening song.

She sat on a fisherman’s upturned basket and took up chalk, paper, board. She let her companion, a cat, out of its confinement. The cat stayed close by her and played at hunting; whether real or imaginary prey, Grietje did not know. As Grietje waited, she practised her art on a narrow field: ropes and creels, nets and sailcloth, rocks and sand, all the time pausing to look up and out to hues of the setting sun, changing every minute – every momentary glance left a new impression.

She was not able to paint on canvas here nor could she sketch the breadth of the scene with sufficient acuity to paint-in from an outline once returned to her studio – it was not a portrait. The masters and their apprentices would occupy a building or shed by the shore to paint these scenes from nature, much as van Reit had used his huizen. She needed a warm kettle and her jars, powders, pots, mortar, oils and pastes.

Her cat did not stray, nor would it be caught. The failing light brought out the tiger. As Grietje walked back though, Katje followed whilst pretending not to: each time she looked back its body was stilled. At last she managed to grab its scruff and despite a spread-eagled protest, the feline was squealed back into her bag.

Grietje spent the early evening exchanging a few words with local fisherman who did not baulk at, nor question, her androgyny. She took a supper of bread and cheese before going to bed early with the intention of rising to catch the morning sunrise.

As the first pink glow appeared on the horizon, Grietje and the cat were sitting by a rocky outcrop near the breakwater. The fisherman and their nets were already gone, their small boats long enveloped in sea mist. She put crayon to paper, but this vista demanded a larger canvas and oil paint, a palette of rich and subtle hues. As the sun rose more fully, she turned around to sketch, instead, the string of pink-lit houses threading down the village street, and capture the slop of buckets, the raising of wash lines, a maid at her duties, a wagon waiting, expectant for the trawl catch, and the early morning stretch of the every-day. Then a man’s figure echoed, stooped, with a limp and a slow walk. The children went to him; even at a distance she could hear their chatter. He laughed with them. The man she knew as Tom was walking towards her.

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