Later this afternoon, a young teacher will come by the studio and take away the last print (in my possession) of Big Big Sea. It has been without doubt one of my best selling prints, much to my astonishment. I based the composition loosely on a photograph I took during a dead calm at Peggy’s Cove in the summer of 1993. My sister Marie and my daughter Meg, probably about 8 years old, stood looking out onto to a sea that seemed to merge with the sky. The photo stood on my desk for years. I liked it for its own merit, seeing the small figures again the enormity of the sea, calm though it might be. It put all my petty problems in perspective.
Time passed, as it does, and by 2008 Meg was a desperate young mother courageously struggling with a near lethal case of depression. Holly and I dealt as best we could pondering the horror of losing our daughter in the face of indifferent health care and fragmented support structures. When I came to plan that year’s series, I pulled the photo off my desk, cut a proportional block of lino and just drew five or six rough lines to mark the rocky shore line and the figures. No tracing paper, no careful details, no precise acetone transfers.
The rocks and the figures were simple lines. But I no longer saw calm in the undulations of the treacherous and tragic waters off of Peggy’s Cove; rather I attacked the block with a variety of cutters, with no real thought to the composition but rather pouring out my own fear and frustration through my hand to the tools to the block. I worked fast on this one. People often ask how long it takes me to do the work, and this one might have consumed half an hour, if that. I proofed the result and was not impressed. Who would buy such a choppy shriek of a print – two figures poised on a fatal abyss? At first, I wasn’t going to edition it all, but fortunately Holly, whose instincts are honed better then mine, convinced me to do so, and I compromised by printing just 35 (normally I do 50 or 100) along with the Artist’s Proof above.
In the three years since I pulled the edition, Meg’s life has turned around. She still struggles, but like we all do with life’s challenges and opportunities. Depression remains a specter, but one that has receded. As for the print, I still look at it with some emotional ambiguity, but I now acknowledge its beauty and honesty – that latter quality I feel must be key to its success. Several artists have bought this one. When we’re at shows, other exhibitors sometimes come into the booth, appreciating the work generally, but tapping the glass on Big, Big Sea, nodding, as thought to say, “Yes, you nailed it here.”
The very last numbered copy of Big Big Sea is available only from Studio 22 Gallery in Kingston, Ontario.