Why are so many of us lured to the beauty and power of the ocean? As inhabitants of a small island, we are perhaps more connected to the sea than others. The soothing ebb and flow of the waves mimics our breath, and yet that same power can also evoke dread and fear.
You can almost see, hear and smell the ocean when you see Kim Pragnell’s seascapes: “To be able to both understand and appreciate the majesty of the sea, to recreate the energy and excitement, and to play with the light, colour and texture is something every artist should experience,” he says. There is a strong family tradition
of painting in Kim’s family: a non-confirmed rumour relates him to the French painter Pierre Bonnard, who was a founding member of the Post- Impressionist group of avant- garde painters called ‘Les Nabis.’ However, he says his mother “spun some interesting yarns!” He has been a painter for over 40 years; his unique style, close to the Romantic traditions of British maritime art, has ensured a great following of collectors. He communicates through the use of line and tone, those essential elements that make being an artist a delight and privilege and with a firm Ruskin-type belief that drawing is the cornerstone of art, the ability to observe, investigate and draw has been the foundation of all his work.
It started with ten shillings.
Kim’s art experience has been largely influenced by the work of the late 19th, early 20th century painters such as Montague Dawson, Stanhope Forbes and also the St Ives School. The Victorian artists, Ruskin and Holman Hunt, were also influential. In fact, he started painting at the age of five; at the age of ten his first client was the Dame of Sark who paid him ten shillings, which at the time was one tenth of his father’s income! “I’m learning all the time. For example, I had come to collect a large unsold painting at the end of an exhibition and a lady was studying it closely. She told me it lacked focus and needed some seagulls rising above the waves. I borrowed some paints and put in the seagulls and the same lady purchased the painting! I have learnt from that experience.”
A farmer’s son at sea
Incongruously, as a farmer’s son and living miles away from the sea, at the age of 14 Kim was signed up for 12 years in the Royal Navy. Later on, he served on seagoing tugs, cable ships and in traditional boatyards. He later pursued a career as a Theatre Designer: his time as a scene painter influenced his use of colour and light. It also provided an authority and confidence in brushwork – Kim’s mark-making is full of energy and movement and drama.
His overriding interest has always been the sea but now, miles away in Iwerne Minster, Kim has nurtured a charming cottage garden, where, in his delightfully sunny, self-built studio he is changing course and beginning to paint the local landscape. He is experiencing more excitement and emotional satisfaction – it is a return to his roots and is allowing for further experimentation, providing a more interesting palette. The seascape palette tended to be just five colours: white, Payne’s grey, raw sienna, indigo and black. He commented that it could be due to his resentment of the fact that he was sent to sea at such a young age that he has now turned his back on his dark and stormy maritime paintings. ““I’m having much more fun with these. … What drives me forward is trying to use paint to find light and depth in a painting. Painting is a bit like Bluebeard’s castle. Every door you go through brings you nearer to the truth. I’ve gone from the torment of the sea to the pastoral. To the beauty of Dorset.”
It is an interesting new venture for Kim: ‘Wool on the Wire’ is an example of his new direction: “Dorset is a
spiritual place”. The softer blending of the silver-blue-green palette and dreamy effect of the style is reminiscent of the work of the 19th century French landscape painter, Jean-Baptiste- Camille Corot who said: “Though I constantly seek to imitate reality, I don’t for one moment lose sight of the first impulse of emotion. Reality is part of art. Feeling completes it.”
These new paintings will be launched at a Shaftesbury Arts Centre exhibition from 13 -19th October. A further exhibition in 2022 is planned at the Slade Gallery in Gillingham, with a new group of artists named The Dorset Romantics. Their aim is to start a new movement of Romantic painting of the local landscape, recognising that Dorset is such a special place.
by Edwina Baines firstname.lastname@example.org