by Polly Pentreath
A white boat with a red hull looms out from a wash of deep brown. It is built of curved
wooden slats that turn a buttery yellow in the light and purple in the shadow. The darkest
shadows disappear into the deep brown of the background, while highlights are picked up in
turquoise. Jette is exemplary of James Dodds’ boat paintings, which show wooden vessels in
various stages of completion. The exact draughtsmanship shows James’ mastery of his
subject and they resemble architectural plans in their accuracy and precision. Yet his
paintings are more than recordings of the boat-building process. The vessels are viewed
from strange angles and suspended over great plains of colour. The underlying drawing is
filled in with unexpected combinations of colour and the surface scraped back with a palette
Jette is a Danish boat built in the USA. James has studied boats from all over the British Isles
but his reach extends far beyond our coastline. He approaches these boats like an
anthropologist, noticing the peculiarities and similarities of different regions and revealing
shared histories. He became interested in Danish boats after visiting the country and
observing similarities to boats in Norfolk. These resemblances originate with the historic
North Sea crossings of the Vikings and James goes further to contend that all clinker-built
boats around the British Isles are derived from Viking vessels.
The painting of Jette sits between a portrait of a living vessel or a plan of a boat to be.
Sketch lines are left visible, reminding us of the boat’s beginning on the drawing board.
These lines jar with the physicality the boat, which looms out over the viewer as if already
making way to the water. The light glaring on the side is real – bright sunlight on a clear day.
The distressed surface, scratched and scraped back with a palette knife, speaks to a lifetime
spent at sea. The whole history of this small boat is here; it’s ancestry in Denmark, the
drawn plans on paper, later the workshop, and years from now, it’s future at sea.
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