“Last winter, I was invited by the Beaverbrook Art Gallery to spend a month working in Bruno Bobak’s new studio alongside their collections,” says Michael. “Meanwhile I was drawn to a maritime painting by George Chambers entitled The Crew of HMS ‘Terror’ Saving Boats and Provisions on the Night of March 15th (1837), 1838. I also had access at the Beaverbrook Archives where I found two related watercolors by William Smythe Chambers’ painting would probably have been influenced by these works.
“Although the HMS Terror depicted in Chambers’ painting is reminiscent of one of his earliest Arctic expeditions,” he adds, “it was the fate of the ship during Franklin’s voyage that fired my imagination. As I worked on many studies and improvisations, I felt that the museum was a laboratory for the imagination rather than a repository of historical works.The story of the Franklin Expedition became more and more more intriguing to me, adding to my research on shipwrecks, storms and other maritime misadventures.
This isn’t the first time Michael has painted seascapes; it has been a theme of a lifetime. “I lived by the sea as an art student in Cornwall. I remember watching a trawler shatter into a thousand shards of wood and steel as it was gently lifted and lowered onto rocks by a gradual swell.
“Years later I saw a photograph in a small museum in North Sydney, Nova Scotia, of a rogue wave almost capsizing a ship full of soldiers on their way to fight in World War II. The Majesty and the simultaneous terror of the elements have left me with a lifelong fascination with the ocean.”
Michael Smith was born in Derby, England in 1951. He immigrated to Montreal, Canada in his late twenties where he completed his MFA at Concordia University and has lived there ever since. You can see eye of the storm at the Nicholas Metivier Gallery in Toronto from February 7 to March 2.