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January 2019


n, A place, person, or thing from which something originates; a spring or fountainhead

Aquamarine is a colour I want to dive into with my lens, the vitreous teal of shallow waters, as if the sunlight had dipped its paintbrush into the sea. It’s a tone that flickers between cyan and spring green on the colour wheel, and I have found it on my furthest travels north in the luminous icebergs that scatter the black sands of the Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon , but also drifting in the warm aqua waters in a secret place I call my home.


Iceland No.14 2013, Transparency in light box, 120 x 150 cm, Edition of 6


Luminous Icescape Alaska No. 2 2013, Transparency in light box , 67 x 100 cm

Edition of 6

The name comes from the latin ‘aqua marina’ and literally means seawater. The colour is named after the mineral, which is a type of blue ‘beryl’, from the Greek beryllos which meant ‘precious blue-green color-of-sea-water stone’ – the colour literally defining the gemstone. It is found in rivulets of Precambrian metamorphic (known as granite) rock across nearly every continent – from Brazil through Mexico, and over to Angola, Kenya and Mozambique then up through Afghanistan, Pakistan and into Europe as far as Ireland and Sweden and on into Russia. A network of time-compressed tributaries, called Pegmatite veins, their geomorphology was defined by the earth’s gently moving surface, a smooth wave-like motion, and raised above sea level.


BEING AND NOTHINGNESS                                                                                 Image 8

Prized for its watery luminosity, the ancient Romans believed aquamarine was the province of a mermaid’s treasure chest. For centuries, sailors venturing into uncharted waters, were gifted carved amulets, to ward off dangers and cure seasickness. When the art of faceting blossomed during the Renaissance, gem cutters began to reveal its spectacular clarity. It has adorned the finest hands in history, most recently when Prince Harry gave his Meghan his mother Diana’s aquamarine ring. Incidentally, when the first eyeglasses were constructed in 13th century Italy, the lenses were made of beryl as glass could not be made clear enough. Today this association remains: a gem that has helped countless to see more clearly, just by looking through it. 


A colour synonymous with the warmth of tropical waters and icy tundras of the poles, it inspires journeys. One can trace the gemstone from the summit of Mt Antero in the Swatch Range in central Colorado, to the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming, through the Sawtooth Range of Idaho, and down into South America where in 1910 the largest gemstone ever was mined in Marambaia, Minas Gerais, Brazil. Weighing more than 110kg, its dimensions were equivalent to partially melted icebergs from the Nuuk Kangerlua fjord in Greenland, placed by Olafure Eliasson outside the Tate ice-watch this winter.

It was devastating to see those luminous ice sculptures, as modern as a Barbara Hepworth, reduced to puddles; impossible not to consider the melting of ice elsewhere. When considering this colour it is impossible not to think about the impact of climate change on the earth’s most fragile environments: warming seas bringing so many species to the brink of extinction like the great barrier reef; once permanent glaciers reduced to ghosts of themselves from Chile to Alaska. The keys into our realisation of loss – unlike the largest cut aquamarine, the Dom Pedro, housed in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, once melted they are gone forever. 

The National Gallery has also turned their attention to this issue of disappearing places, and have commissioned Royal Academician Emma Stibbon to follow in the footsteps of JMW Turner. She is documenting the breathtaking sites in the French Alps that he immortalised in watercolours, ones which also inspired John Ruskin to embark on his Alpine tours. What she found was “unrecognisable” and her images shown alongside theirs document the reality of climate change:


What is nature telling us, by enthralling us with this colour? What will future generations remember, and will they still have the chance to see it outside the museum?

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