The trim lines of well-designed boats are catnip for painters, but the rusting hulks of wrecked ships have their appeal as well. Steven Alexander paints them both, although he points out one benefit of painting wrecks…. 

“The ‘Severn Sands’ and Another Boat, Beached at Fremington Quay, Devon, England,” by Steven Alexander, 2009, watercolor, 8 x 12 in.

“It doesn’t move!” says the British painter. No one will board the ship and sail it off in the middle of the painting session, and wrecks are rarely near working boats that could block the view. Of course, the tide still comes and goes. “The tide waits for no man, so sometimes your window lasts about two hours,” Alexander confirms. 

“Wrecked Boat at Hoo, Kent,” by Steven Alexander, 2011, oil, 6 x 10 in.

In one painting, Alexander chose the time in the tidal cycle carefully to capture an unusual view. “It’s a sunken boat that appears like a surfacing submarine as the Thames (which is tidal up as far as Teddington) goes to low water level,” says Alexander. “As I looked for a subject on that outing, I recall thinking to myself, ‘Why is that tire hanging from those ropes?’ Soon I found out — and a great subject it was, too.”

“When the Tide Recedes at Brentford,” by Steven Alexander, 2013, oil, 7 x 10 in.

It’s no coincidence that Alexander paints boats; he’s a member of the Wapping Group of Artists, a painting society of working artists who focus on the docks and activity along the Thames. Alexander generally paints small boats, but one beached tanker captured his fancy. “I don’t often paint tankers and ships of that scale,” he says. “This tanker, the Severn Sands, was interesting because of its rust and because it was virtually out of the water, which also made it interesting.” The scale of the tanker presented its own problems, but Alexander embraced them. “I often choose a position to paint from where the boat or pier looms above me, as this constitutes a technical challenge and makes it more fulfilling. By contrast, I have friends who prefer their subjects to be at a comfortable distance from them.”


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