"When the wind and the weather blow your dreams sky high

Sail away, sail away, sail away"  — Noel Coward

The trigger for this exhibition was a small painting, Sail Away, which I made in late 2001 for a fundraiser exhibition. The image floated, forgive me, into my mind, seemingly connected in some way to September 11. A second version of that picture appears in this exhibition. A number of related images came to me at around the same time. Other projects precluded my painting them until several years later.

I stood at New York’s Ground Zero early in 2002. My spontaneous reaction: ‘this is bad, but no excuse to go ape-shit around the world’. A forlorn thought, because since the 1950s even pretexts have been virtually redundant. Countering fascism with fascism is disastrous, yet sweet, sick dreams of empire blend with childish fantasies of conquest and adventure for many of us, I guess. For evidence, look around you, and not, of course, just at the exhibition.

But these are certainly not edged political pictures. I used to enjoy drawing pirate galleons and smoky sea battles when I was seven or eight. The big wave could be from my bathtub of those years, when I liked to create, relative to the size of toy boats, such maritime monsters. Terror, the Iraq/Afghan wars, the brute realities of nautical commerce and the European Space Agency’s MaxWave project all reaffirm a connection between dreams and reality. A need to venture something of the real thing led me to traverse the Pacific on a container ship in 2006. I am not the first nor surely the last—however cool we have been about nature, a warming planet not withstanding—to see the void as a promise of freedom.

To each and every one: fair winds and a following sea.

            On the pillow John Mateer’s sleepy head

is a goldfish bowl aswirl with Venetian water

            and on that galleon, that luminous toy

he is at the helm, telescope to his eye

            swearing he can’t see Australia


And when his caravel glides into the Tagus

            as poised and cerebral as a black swan

he orders a glass of port and a pastel de nata

            then takes to his bed in a quiet hotel in the Alfama


And dreams the dream

            that one day there will be a poet

named John Mateer, just as there was once,

            off the edge of maps, a monster

called Australia



John Mateer

The ship of state goes sailing by

supremely one fine morning

unaware of dangers in the air.


Zephyrs turn to gales.

America was combing its hair one morning

when the sirens went.


Elegance and confidence rain down

in flames. Men of war, supremely beautiful

yet fragile, tower through clouds.

Waves grow higher and Turner comes

to mind.


How voluptuous and lovely romance is

Beguiling and yet more dangerous

than sirens singing from their rocks.


The sublime beckons the eye ­–

the voluptuous courtesan and yet

sailors know that in every port

there's another chance of syphilis.


Torment and battle rage

around these great tall ships –

they seem like feathers on the sea.


Gigantic waves arise,

sometimes out of a serene morning

when the ship was simply sailing

to where it was meant to go

and the ploughman was ploughing

yet, like Icarus out of the sky

comes the shock.


Beauty and pride are always with us

and from time to time

everything we took for granted

is swept away.


Faith and trust go out into the weather

when these sweet craft link the sublime

between the ocean and the sky,

in a daft and tragic gesture

that holds nobility and the cargo

of our hope.



Kate Llewellyn