When it comes to water, Joe Dowden’s your man. If you want that elusive quality of depth and solidity, the way water occupies rather than lying on a surface, he’s got it. One of the exercises in this genuinely comprehensive book is of a wet pavement, a simple subject that’s really tricky because the water and the flagstones are effectively the same thing, but he pulls it off perfectly. Another is a child running through the shallow ripples at the edge of the tide and, again, he manages to get the passing-through-ness without the feet being engulfed or somehow tripping along on top. Both these little moments are virtuoso performances that aren’t even the big set pieces of the book.
Joe doesn’t just paint water, but the things that surround water – trees, landscapes, people (he’s particularly good on people), boats and light. The thing about water is that it’s a reactive subject, informed and shaped by the things that illuminate it, reflect in and off it and shape it with waves, ripples and spray.
There’s a huge amount of material here and I can’t find a stone that isn’t – often literally – left unturned. Books that make big claims sometimes fail to live up to them and need a qualification, but this delivers everything you could want.
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