Once a shipwright, Dodds’ paintings illustrate the anatomy of boats, revealing the materials and curves that underwrite the finished vessel. This aspect of his work is explored in Emily Harris’ film for Classic Yacht TV, ‘Shaped by the Sea’, which draws many parallels between the art of the boat builder and the painter of boats.

Yet his paintings go beyond retracing the shipwright’s logic. Rich in colour, tone and texture, they move beyond the literal and evoke sailing’s mythic and historic dimensions. Ethereal in light and tone, paintings of restored boats evoke a lifetime at sea, unearthing the layers of memory that shroud every vessel.

Ancestral lines also resurface in the artist’s new work. Following recent trips to Norfolk and Denmark, Dodds sheds new light on historic North Sea crossings, contending that all clinker-built boats around the British coastline derive from Viking vessels.

As Ian Collins writes: “[Dodds’] life and work are forever immersed in the spirit and spectacle of the sea.” Born in Brightlingsea, Dodds has built his studio a few miles upstream in Wivenhoe, in what was once a great boatyard on the River Colne. Before enrolling in the Royal College of Art he worked as a shipwright, rebuilding Thames barges on Britain’s east coast.

A short film, “Shaped by the Sea”, about James Dodds, by Emily Harris for Classic Yacht TV was released this May 2014:


James Dodds

"Looking at the paintings of James Dodds for the first time one is struck by the literalness of the work, the sheer specificity of plank on frame built outward by the practiced hand of a man whose obsession with the form and structure of boats had taken him out of school at fifteen and into a shipyard apprenticeship. Slowly, however, the force of his artistry begins to gather beyond this initial impression. In a striking and mysterious piece of visual alchemy, what once seemed specific now glides toward the abstract. Parts, once distinct, become a whole. A lyric buoyancy emerges. Our consciousness fuses with our unconscious. The eye and the mind’s eye become one."

- Mayher, Bill. “An Eye for Boats, A Sense of Place: The Art of James Dodds.” Wooden Boat Publication 2008.

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