History's OceanI find water, in its surging force, a humbling thing to behold. Many canoe trips have taught me that it is a substance that commands respect. But gazing at the Atlantic’s cold horizon, from the shores of Pouch Cove, Newfoundland, brought the psalms to mind. “Though the waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble
with its tumult,” God is still larger.
I have been exploring water imagery in my oil paintings for several years, but my new project is a marked departure. There is tempestuous water, raging. But hovering before the water are tiny images of boats –
frail, vulnerable, and somehow out of place.
The boats span human history, from ancient Egyptian papyrus boats to moderncruise ships. The vessels become emblematic of cultures and ways of thinking. Thus, our human efforts are humbled by the
magnitude of time and space.

The various vessels are carefully chosen to set up provocative scenarios. I place luxury next to destitution, or lump a grand historical vessel in with seadoos. The viewer is left to relish the open ended associations. One painting contrasts the elegance of a Chinese sailing ship with tragic human suffering. At the bottom right, a boat image has been lifted from a newspaper, coupled with its caption.
The ship is one used by “illegal migrants” attempting to reach Canada from China. It is striking that so many passengers (190) could cross the ocean in so small a boat. This conveys the urgency and risk of their
My Christian faith shapes my artistic practice in several ways. Art and faith are both about seeking meaning. This often cannot be expressed in axiomatic ways, but rather in allusive, evocative expressions. Also, in life
as in painting, the meanings are embodied in physical reality. The tactile quality of paint is as important as whatever images or shapesare shown. The Christian term for this isIncarnation: the transcendent God as visible and tactile.
Ultimately, my faith shapes the themes I choose. One of my preoccupations is the courage and beauty of our efforts as a race, and yet their smallness – their futility – in the scope of this vast and rich universe. We
are always seeking control, but so much is beyond our scope. So the vessels are both celebrated and humbled.


– Phil Irish