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  • Writer's pictureLisa Allshire

What Lies Beneath

A Quick glance through my landscape paintings reveals one thing - I love painting water. No surprise there - many artists - indeed all humanity and many animals (well perhaps not cats) are drawn magnetically to water. Cities grow up around water, it is the source of life, cleanliness, trade, and often civilization itself. I want to be crystal clear - I love painting many other things- there is no end of inspiration on our beautiful planet - both man-made and natural, however it is painting water that draws me back again and again. It’s not a conscious decision - it’s more visceral than that. For me to stand at the edge of a body of water whether a lake a stream or the ocean, I feel drawn into the scene and pulled out of myself. It was Keats who said in his poem On The Sea -

Oh Ye! who have your eyeballs vex’ and tir’d, Feast them upon the wideness of the Sea.

I grew up in the west of Ireland - and my world was bounded by the Atlantic, a lake called Lough Conn, the River Moy, a stream at the bottom of our garden, and bog - lots of that. Bog is interesting - it is the remains of ancient fallen forests, the wood of which has remained in watery rain-soaked expanses giving rise to moss, which in turn over time has grown died, and added year on year and century upon century to watery landscapes - rich feeding ground for countless birds and insects, but also obscuring past lives.

Near where I grew up there is a place called the Céide Fields, which is a place where bog grew up and eventually over the top of ancient Farms and farmland hiding the presence of human habitation for about five thousand years until a local teacher noticed the presence of what looked like walls under the bog. As a child this amazing phenomenon had yet to be explored, but I was always aware that sometimes amazing and ancient artifacts were pulled from the bog , amazingly well preserved in the peaty water- a crock full of ancient butter, or even more intriguing, perfectly preserved prehistoric bodies, a golden chalice or just simply the gnarled root of a five thousand year old tree the literal roots of the bog itself.

Anyway when I was seven I spent a month on the Island of Cyprus, and was amazed to see when snorkelling in the crystal blue waters of that amazingly beautiful island, that beneath the colourful fish swimming around were shards of pottery and pieces of mosaic and pillars just lying there for centuries. I am sure that the places I swam in those long ago days is now out of bounds for tourists, but it impressed upon my imagination and never really left me. It felt like I could reach out and touch the past.

Back Home in Mayo my summers were spent jumping waves that rolled ceaselessly to shore straight from the open Atlantic, observing razor shells half buried in the sand, and even an old metal wreck buried in the rippled foreshore of the beach. I studied what was scuttling on the bottom of rock pools and loved to burst the bladderwrack seaweed and watch for the opening of shy frondy sea anemones.

When I left home at 17 to to to Art School I crossed Ireland from west to east and settled in a flat beside the Irish sea- and I have to confess that I took time to appreciate the Irish Sea after my youth spent observing the wild Atlantic. However in time I grew to love the Dublin Coast with its history and stalwart Martello towers and the enormous shallow beach at Sandymount reflecting the ever present twin towered Pigeon House beloved of Dubliners. I watched the evening Ferry to the UK disappearing over the Horizon as the lights twinkled on around Dublin Bay, and I thought that I would be there forever.

Life took over and I eventually moved from Dublin and after as they say many adventures- too long to recount here, I settled in Canada.

Now living in Ontario home to thousands of lakes, and bordered far away in the north by the enormous Hudson’s Bay I am captivated by the mind- bending expanses of the great Lakes .

To observe Georgian Bay alone is to recalibrate for me the meaning the word Lake . I feel that there should be another word entirely to describe such a majestic entity. I am no word-smith, but I have been trying to capture a vestige of the feelings that these Ontario Lakes conjure in my mind.

So water hides and preserves the past, it sparkles and entices, it charms and refreshes. It is ever-changing and yet eternal, it has hidden secrets it gives up from time to time, but I think when, like Keats we sit near some cavern and brood we are thinking of even more - it is a metaphor for life, the endlessness, the renewal, the changeability. And for me when I paint the sea or a lake I always find myself including bit of the shore - the endless edge that we walk along while turning our heads admiringly, sometimes fearfully, but always with respect, love and awe to that endless expanse to the distant misty Horizon.

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