Saturday 25 November 2017


For anyone visiting the Dead Sea for the first time they are in for a very special experience.

The Dead Sea lies at the lowest place on the planet, 430 meters below sea level.

The 30 kilometer descent from Jerusalem down to the Dead Sea creates a drop of over one kilometer. Just this fact kick-starts the imagination to wonder if this is the road down to some sort of hell.

On first sight the vastness of the valley is majestic. The high mountain sides,  glow in opalescent colours in the weak sunlight. The sea, a silver mirror, lies still and silent in its desert bed. The atmosphere is somehow thick and heavy with the extra weight of air above. All around the sea's edge is a white salty crust marking the most recent deposits of the receding sea level. The clear water feels thick and oily to the touch, and not a single living organism lives in it.

Taking a bathe in the salty waters gives another unique experience. The extraordinary buoyancy is hard to believe. In fact it renders swimming rather difficult because your arms and legs are constantly pushed back to the surface. Gentle floating is recommended and no splashing since a drop of that very salty water in the eye stings like hell!

Perched high above the valley on the West Bank that afternoon last March 2017, with my other artist colleagues scattered around working, I sat and contemplated this special valley, the product of the movement of two vast tectonic plates over hundreds of millions of years. I am filled with awe. I feel very small, in time and space, and ever so humbled.  How do I to convey these emotions and show this majesty in my work?
There is nothing to do but start and work to the best of my ability and see what happens.

I have my soft pastels and coloured sheets of paper.
Colours convey emotion and so I decide to capture the special delicate warm harmonies that the sunshine creates on these near and far desert mountains contrasted against the sky's blue reflected in the sea.
There is limited time, and a wind is blowing from behind, so I hunker down shielded by little ridge.
I work out the main proportions of the drawing first, using the figure of a fellow artist to provide a sense of scale. The sun is going down, the changing of the light accelerating by the minute. I work on the foreground first because I figured it would be in cast shadow from the mountains on which I was sitting. Sure enough it turned dark and the vast shadow started to move over the coast road, stretching out to the shore's sink holes and to the sea.
Suddenly I am rewarded by a sublime set of colour harmonies as the peach tinted sun's rays bathe the golden Moam Mountains of Jordan opposite, creating a reflection of such colours that makes me wish I was working with my oil paints.  Why are the most beautiful visions always so transitory? I despair!
The sun goes down. The last touches have to rely on memory.  . . . .  .

View across to Jordan at sunset. Pastel on paper 32 x 44cm

When I returned home and while the impressions were still fresh in my mind I worked on a new view in oils, using my study as reference.

Sunset on Jordan  - oil on panel 40 x 40cm
A similar vista, this time from the Jordan side but at dawn, based on colour notes taken at the time.
Sunrise on the West Bank - oil on panel  40 x 40 cm
This work is part of the exhilarating Artists For Nature Project called BRINGING THE DEAD SEA TO LIFE THROUGH ART AND MUSIC.

Link to a film by Yval Dax showing me working, taken by a drone.

Also here:


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