Art at the edge: Dungeness

Photo of old fishing boat, Dungeness. © Mari French 2018

Old boat, Dungeness. © Mari French 2018

What draws so many artists to challenging landscapes; those that would be considered by many as bleak, abandoned, unwelcoming, even ugly? For myself, as a painter of abstract landscapes, this kind of subject matter can puncture the complacency that can occur with more familiar types of scenery, making us notice things with a fresh eye. And, of course, they often present unusual motifs, colours and shapes. On a week’s stay in Rye at the end of October I spent a day at Dungeness, the U.K’s only ‘desert’, a remote headland of wind-blown undulating shingle, poking out into the Channel on the southeast coast of England.

Small experimental mixedmedia artwork on paper, inspired by Dungeness. © Mari French 2018

Small experimental mixedmedia on paper. © Mari French 2018

Black fishermen’s huts, some abandoned and pulled apart by the weather, punctuate the scene. Decaying wooden fishing boats with their distinctive shelving sterns to cope with the haul over shingle banks, not one but two impressive lighthouses, and of course, the hulk of the nuclear power station squatting at the edge of the sea, all under a lowering and suitably ominous sky.

Remnants & power station under a stormy sky, Dungeness. Photograph © Mari French 2018

Fishing industry remnants & power station, Dungeness. © Mari French 2018

I’d become aware of Dungeness some time ago mainly through ‘Modern Nature‘, the book by artist, filmmaker and writer Derek Jarman, who made this his home with his partner in ‘Prospect Cottage’, a traditional black wooden house with bright yellow window frames. The driftwood garden he coaxed from shingle became famous and is still visited year round.


The weather had turned earlier that week and the bitter strong easterly, intermittent rain and massive ink-dark weather fronts sweeping the sky made for a challenging sketching spot. I crunched over the shingle, dodging the wind behind the bulks of abandoned fishing boats and settled in the lee of a working fisherman’s hut to attempt some impressions of this place.


Back in my studio I considered what intrigued me about this ‘edgeland’ and how to respond to it:
thinking about the technology, old and new; the telegraph poles and pylons threading the space; the lighthouses – fingers stabbing into the sky; the nuclear power plant with its slab-sided buildings and slatted towers; the light, the shingle, the scribble of dying vegetation, the black wooden huts standing and fallen, the rusting discarded machinery – old tracks, winches and chains – for hauling boats and catch in the past.

The beauty, the desolation, the blank canvas waiting.

Dungeness, tracks & fishing huts. © Mari French 2018

Dungeness, tracks & fishing huts. © Mari French 2018

6 thoughts on “Art at the edge: Dungeness

  1. Hi Mari interesting to see your views of Dungeness, I spent childhood holidays there and have been back several times myself and made painting to. You might be interested in Fred Cumings work who lives near by.cheers John

    • Thanks John, nice to hear you have experience of the place too. I’ve come across Fred Cumings work before and like it, but didnt know he lived near Dungeness.

  2. Lovely work and lovely words. This is somewhere I would really like to go. I come from the mud flats of the Thames estuary but am now in Shropshire….. I miss the sea.

    • Hi Gill, thanks for your feedback and also for following me! It’s a very interesting otherwordly place, definitely worth a visit. I’d go soon if I were you as I have a feeling it may start to change (already has I suppose). Hope you make it.

  3. Having been there myself earlier this year, I really appreciated your post – it’s a wonderful place and I hope it does not continue to change too much! Lovely interpretations from this inspirational place

    • Thanks for your lovely response to my post. It’s always good to hear from those who share my experience of a place. I was told by one of the fishermen that since EDF (the power plant owners) bought the estate they’ve cleared away some of the old huts etc on health and safety grounds – typical! I hope too nothing else changes too much. I’d like to go back sometime and explore/sketch some more.

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