Title: Underwater treasure
Size: 920mm × 650mm (P30)
Media: Oil on canvas
30 km to the south and some 300m below the surface of the waters.
“l’île de Beauté” hides another treasure – an underwater ecosystem, an enchanting multicoloured habitat….
In the 8th century, precious red coral from the Mediterranean was presented to the 45th Emperor, Shomu, and is still preserved today in the treasure house of the Todaiji Temple, the eastern terminus of the Silk Road.
Mediterranean peoples’ connections to red coral stretch back to Paleolithic hunter-gatherers, who collected the fragments that washed up on beaches after storms. In the past, as now, red coral was valued for its beauty, and in many cultures, it is still believed to have protective and curative powers.
Capturing the sense of space and time,
In the late 16th century, the Japanese artist Hasegawa Tohaku created Shorin-zu byobu, a pair of six-panel folding screens depicting pine trees in a mist with some parts visible and some obscured. The mist represented – “ma” – the pause, the emptiness full of promises, the promise yet to be fulfilled, and the trees the fulfillment in the passage of time. In the same vein, I sought to portray the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean as “ma” – the void, the space necessary for life to progress, and the wriggling red coral and the rich colours of the reef, emphasized by my use of “pointillism”, as the future abundance of life.
Painting this beautiful, mystical, red coral reef was for me a special privilege, particularly given my own longstanding emotional attachment to the colour red.
Sadly, red coral is no longer bountiful. It is threatened not only by over-harvesting, but also by habitat destruction and climate change. Saving the species requires an international effort as complex and innovative as the ancient trading networks, one that values red coral for both its aesthetic splendour and its role in supporting entire Mediterranean ecosystems. Overexploitation leads to the ecological extinction of many oceanic species.