A Day at the Beach

Day at the beach
A Day at the Beach
Acrylic on canvas
12×15 inches

September 23, 2014

For this project, we were asked to change the color of a universally known subject to effect a change in meaning or perception.

I chose a subject that finds meaning in being blue: the sea. It is familiar to us and envelopes us, comprising two thirds of our physical world (it’s easy to forget how awesome that is!). Azure, aqua and turquoise are colors we associate with the sea.  Also, Filipinos, by default, are sea lovers–it’s our reality, with our 7,107 islands, and we face it on a primary, practical level.

So what happens when we take something so familiar and automatic, and change its “clothes”? To change the color of the sea to red is tantamount to taking away not just its surface identity, but what makes it what it is. I tried to picture this reality without the common references to a red sea: biblical (Moses and the exodus from Egypt), environmental (dolphin/whale hunt), war (bloody battle). How would we relate to the sea if it were red? If we never knew it to be blue, would it still be a place of rest and recreation? Would swimming still be our immediate response to its waters?

I wanted to depict a scenario of the sea as a forgotten, taunting place, akin to a forbidden forest which no one wishes to enter. It may be intense in its anger when its waves come crashing on the shore, but even in its calmest, as in a hidden cove, it is uninviting. It invades you, pushes you back, as is the nature of the color red. And yet it is still alluring because it is unknown and forbidden.

To put this alternative reality of a red sea into context, I wanted to show how a typical day at a red beach would be like. One’s outfit would be a great determiner for this, and I initially considered having a family in full wetsuits and protective gear, wading in its waters. But I realized a red sea wouldn’t even merit a swimming scenario, and just went with the idea of barricading the sea.

The fence is there to quietly say that the sea is off limits. Precisely because of this, however, it taunts and summons. It becomes more alluring. I chose to add in a woman looking out into the sea, curious but hesitant, acknowledging that she is drawn to this quietly agitating force.

I wanted to render the whole work using a palette knife, to complement the edgy feel of a red sea. This resulted in a flat work that highlighted nothing. I later decided to give emphasis to the water by rendering it with a brush, and adding details, such as waves and ripples. I think this was a successful choice, creating a mood for the work that is somber, brooding, and yet inviting in its danger of being unknown.

Composition-wise, I chose to situate the viewer of the work right in the middle of the water—hence the beach in the distance and the platform at the foreground. I wanted to give the feeling of being invaded by the water but only at arm’s length–the viewer is also kept at bay (because the sea is forbidden). I felt this to be very red.

I am happy with the outcome of this project, and feel that I was able to effectively meet the objective of changing perception or meaning through a change in color.

This exercise was also an exercise in philosophy for me, because it made me delve into the effect of color on how we see and react to things. It made me understand how perception is so fleeting–a small adjustment in color, for example, alters the mood of a work, whether intended or not. This is important to really understand because perception is what we are working with as visual artists—we create or recreate realities by putting together visual elements that are received or perceived by our audience. To learn how to play and manipulate images to direct perception is a skill I wish to develop and master.