Anthony Whishaw RA, Maelstrom I

Maelstrom I, 2004

Anthony Whishaw RA (b. 1930)

RA Collection: Art

Maelstrom is one in a series of works to have evolved out of a rapid ink study that Whishaw made of wind on water. As Richard Davy recounts,

‘Walking into his studio in Bethnal Green one day, Whishaw became transfixed by the shifting patterns animating a puddle near the entrance. He quickly drew them in ink, creating from memory a bold black-and-white drawing of the positive and negative shapes he had seen. He then photocopied this original, enlarging and reducing it, playing with scale and focusing on particular areas, before cutting and tearing up these sheets into smaller fragments. Whishaw has used this original drawing and its photocopied variants again and again to create intricate collages of seascapes, streams and lily ponds. By painting over areas of a collage, or placing scraps of enlarged drawings next to their reduced counterparts, Whishaw was able to create mesmerising portraits of water surfaces, with pools of deep calm and emptiness disturbed by wind-rippled areas of energy.’ (Davy, 84-6)

The title of this work refers to a powerful whirlpool. It was the name of a giant whirlpool supposed to exist off the west coast of Norway, which was said to destroy all ships that came close to it. Whishaw has turned the pattern by 90 degrees to create a series of strong vertical accents across the canvas, creating abstracted trees, structures or debris that are partially submerged in the water that surrounds them. After seeing images of the devastating 2004 tsunami and subsequent floods in Bangladesh, Whishaw created a number of striking black and white works that explore the effects of flood and strong water.


Richard Davey, Anthony Whishaw, (Royal Academy Publications, 2016)

Object details

Maelstrom I
Object type
Copyright owner
Acrylic and paper on canvas

1830 mm x 1220 mm

Royal Academy of Arts
Object number
Given by Anthony Whishaw RA May 2019
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