John Virtue | The Sea

Specialising in monochrome landscapes, John Virtue, the Norfolk-based painter, has captured the ephemeral in his work, The Sea. These work draw on Virtue’s time at Blakeney Point capturing his stretch of coast each week. From this point, Virtue had an uninterrupted view of the salt marshes, the shingle beaches and the sea stretching out to the horizon. Virtue represents this in his work with its sheer scale and his bold, expansive handling of the paint.


King Cnut, John Virtue and the Waves

An apocryphal anecdote, King Cnut is said to have set his throne by the sea shore and commanded the tide to halt. The tide did not and dashed over Cnut’s feet and robes, without respect. The king leapt backwards and spoke to his courtiers, ‘There is only one worthy of the name of King, and it is but He whom heaven, earth and sea obey.’ Virtue’s work, The Sea is an expression of this nature. They are beautifully chaotic images of salt and foam. Each painting is based in a single instant, the waves breaking faster than the hand can sketch and it is this quality that mesmerised the artist; the state of simultaneously being everything and nothing.


The Sea and Zen

Since he was a child John Virtue has been fascinated by Zen calligraphy, the expression of mobility and the completely uncensored subconscious. Each instant of watching the sea impacts the viewer, and it is this construction and deconstruction of the waves that, to John Virtue, combines the traditions of the Western gaze and the Eastern glance. These works are less about verisimilitude than about the expression and attribution of character to both the sea and the artist. The viewer sees the painting as a part of the artist’s psyche and John Virtue aims to freely express what it is he sees, and feels, when he stares at the sea.

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Words | Rob Woodgate