Published on 18 February 2021

Sand as a canvas

A photo of a large-scale sand drawing has taken out the People’s Choice Award at the 2020-21 Surf Art Exhibition.

With nothing more than rakes in their hands, artists Rebecca McEwan and Laura Wills etched some 200 Port Jackson sharks into the sand at Port Noarlunga to create a sprawling natural installation.

The site-specific work, Drawn In, was created as part of the Series of Unexpected Events (SUE) Festival in October 2020 and a photo of the works later won them the People’s Choice Award at the City of Onkaparinga’s annual Surf Art Exhibition.

It was the first sand-art installation the two—who met while on a three-month artist residency at Sauerbier House—had done together.

Both Rebecca and Laura’s art practices are grounded in the connection humans have with their natural environment and when embarking on this collaboration they knew they wanted their work to be site-specific and relevant to the location they were creating it in.

They enlisted the expertise of National Parks and Wildlife Service and Experiencing Marine Sanctuaries (EMS) to talk through ideas and themes.

Captivated by the story of the Port Jackson shark aggregation off the coast of the southern beaches to breed every year, the duo settled on making this sea species the focus of their work.

“Every November hundreds of sharks gather just off the Port Noarlunga reef in the Encounter Marine Park,” explains Rebecca.

“We are so lucky to have this natural phenomenon occurring just on our doorstep and we wanted to use art to share this with the public.”

Choosing the sand as their canvas was easy even though sand art is neither of their primary art disciplines.

“As an artist there is often a sense of unease about making more ‘things’ that go out into the world,” explains Rebecca.

“To be able to create something with only the natural materials at hand and to leave nothing behind at the end of the day is very liberating and satisfying.”

In planning the drawing, the artists worked digitally with an aerial image of the space they were going to use, and then worked out a basic grid pattern that they could scale up to create the much larger image in the sand.

In the lead up to working on the sand they both drew many outlines of the shape of the Port Jackson shark to ensure they captured its distinctive silhouette. They then took to the beach to hone their craft on a larger scale before they started their piece.

The design included a large single mother shark to the north of the jetty and then hundreds of pups swimming behind her on the southern side.

The installation took around four hours to complete and spanned approximately 100 metres either side of the jetty.

“We wanted the drawing to flow under the jetty so it could be viewed from above as people walked along the jetty,” Rebecca says.

“We had lots of interaction with the public which is what we had hoped for. This gave us the opportunity to also tell the story of the Port Jackson shark.

“We were also fortunate to have a volunteer from Experiencing Marine Sanctuaries assist us as well as be available to talk with the public.”

Rebecca and Laura were among 47 artists who took part in the Surf Art Exhibition which ran from 11 December 2020 to 1 February 2021 at the Arts Centre in Port Noarlunga.

The popular exhibition—which has run for 27 years—celebrates not only surfing culture, but the City of Onkaparinga’s history, stunning coastal environment and lifestyle.

This year’s works included paintings, photography, drawings, resin works, prints, ceramics, glass works and sculptures.

Local artist Sara Lane took out the overall prized for her resin and wood work, Shallows – Ocean Waves #10.

Judge Ron Lisle said Sara’s piece had “immediate appeal, with a classical combination of earth tones and blues”.

He noted the intense colour and resin-on-board technique, which he sees as interesting and unusual, and enjoyed the feeling of movement of the water on the sand and the deep turquoise and ultramarine blue in the work.

Opportunities to be involved in the 2021-22 Surf Art Exhibition will be available later this year. Keep an eye on the City of Onkaparinga website and Onkaparinga Arts Facebook page.

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People's Choice Award winner Drawn In by Rebecca McEwan and Laura Wills