For centuries artists have been inspired by the sea. A natural boundary and a vast, dangerous liquid world; fathomless, fruitful and awe-inspiring.


This exhibition draws together the work of contemporary artists and a selection of artists from the archive of the Royal Scottish Academy, who have all been moved to create work inspired by the sea. We look at the unique and varied interpretations of a common subject. We see industry, history, natural history, coastal vistas, the weather and something of the coastal peoples whose livelihoods and life-styles are determined by their proximity to the sea.


Setting out to curate an exhibition of this nature seemed to me to be a mammoth task. Pull together a group of artists, all creating work inspired by the same subject and create a coherent and interesting study of a vast subject. Where does one begin?


The answer to this is with the artists themselves. Camera in hand, we set off to visit the artists and glean stories about their inspiration from the sea. We invaded the inner sanctum of the artist’s studio spaces. We listened to their tales and experiences, the emotional and physical necessity to make the pieces and the people and places they have visited in realising them. It is in these special places, with these creative people, that the show really took shape.

And so the exhibition has really become a celebration. A ‘weel-kent’ nod to a wealth of social histories and experiences, a reinterpretation of something familiar that we all can recognise, marking and reinforcing our belonging to these shores and the sea which protects, feeds and inspires us.


Colin R Greenslade, RSA Director


SEA in the Library
Works from the Collection of the Royal Scottish Academy

This selection of works explores the diverse ways in which the sea has inspired and informed Scottish art of the 19th and 20th centuries illustrated by works drawn from the RSA’s permanent collection and archive. For Joan Eardley it was the awesome power of the sea as a raw force of nature that held a particular sway. Others from William McTaggart to Will Maclean have chosen to articulate the special dependence of Scots on the sea as a primeval source of sustenance and industry and as a creator of cultural identity. This intimate connection is expressed in a very explicit way in the paintings of William McTaggart where people and sea become fused into one harmonious entity and in a more esoteric form through the symbolism of Will Maclean that resonates with the legacy of his own maritime heritage.

The sea has also traditionally been the realm of fantasy and legend and it is this supernatural dimension that inspired John Duncan who drew upon the mythology of the distant Celtic past to create his own unique interpretation of the sea. Conversely, the ostensibly prosaic, built environment associated with the Scottish coast and rooted firmly in reality has had its own particular aesthetic appeal for Scottish artists reflected in the images of Ian Fleming. All these artists and others are represented in the Library as they endeavour to capture the protean nature of the sea in a concrete form and reflect the lives of those associated with it through the tangible forms of painting, print, sculpture and photography.


Nicola Ireland, Collections Assistant


SEA is a new exhibition curated for the RSA by Prof Bill Scott and Colin R Greenslade, with an accompanying selection of works from the collection of the RSA curated by Nicola Ireland, Collections Assistant.


Featuring: Philippe Bazin | Dennis Buchan RSA | John Bellany CBE HRSA | Joyce W Cairns RSA | Annie Cattrell | John Houston OBE RSA | Will Maclean RSA | Iain R McIntosh RSA (Elect) | Barbara Rae CBE RSA | James D Robertson RSA | Frances Walker RSA | Arthur Watson RSA (Elect) | Sylvia Wishart RSA (Elect)


Thanks to B & W Bowers and Wilkins.