This feature first appeared in Coast magazine in 2015

Out by Penmon Point, the exposed eastern tip of Anglesey Island, the sky is an almost perfect blue – almost. Near the horizon faint wisps of grey are rising from the sea. Ten minutes later a surprise hailstorm materialises. As pea-sized chunks of ice and rain pelt down, Anthony Garratt attempts to shelter his canvas with a sheet of plastic. But the wind howls on, blowing precipitation under the protective cover. Paint begins to run on the piece he’s been working on all day.

Most artists would be distraught. Anthony is ecstatic. Eyes wide, he cries, ‘Perfect – this is perfect timing,’ and explains that he’d become bogged down in his struggle to paint Penmon Point’s lighthouse in a free way. ‘Then the rain loosened things up. It washed the clouds over the top of the lighthouse in my painting, which is what happened in reality. The weather is painting for me.’

For Anthony, art is a ‘form of communication with nature’. For his latest project, ‘Four on Anglesey’, he has captured the very different vistas of four compass points along Anglesey’s 125-mile coastal path. His 8ft compositions will be left in situ until October, so that they can be viewed in the exact spot where they were painted.

Watching Anthony paint, it’s easy to see why he finds Anglesey’s fast-altering seas and skies so inspiring. He himself is a tempest, sweeping his brush with quick, sometimes violent, movements. To create a fluid backdrop, he tips a container full of watered-down, runny oil paint over the canvas. Payne’s Grey spreads out, filling the white space. Sprite-like, he dashes around and stomps over the painting – boots and all – flicking thicker drops of white onto the background layer. A moment later, his palette knife is out. He works it into the paint in broad strokes, to suggest the direction of the wind. From this chaotic storm of activity, a spellbinding image emerges.

Once finished, he begins chatting in a quiet, languid manner that’s at odds with the frenetic pace with which he paints. ‘My art is an expression. It’s not about representing a static scene but reacting to the changing landscape around me,’ he says, taking a studied pause before adding, ‘I get an impulsive energy from painting outside. I like the thrill of feeling exposed.’

Anthony has painted up hills, dales and mountains but he keeps returning to the sea. Last year he worked on a project similar to the one on Anglesey, producing paintings for the four cardinal points on Tresco, one of the Isles of Scilly. In October, he is crewing for a yacht sailing from South Africa to Australia and, when back, he will create a series of southern ocean paintings, to be exhibited on buoys floating in Falmouth Harbour.

Childhood outings to Kent’s harbours with his keen sailing parents and time spent in Cornwall during his degree at Falmouth college of art and Design helped to foster Anthony’s passion for the coast. ‘The interesting thing about the sea is that we can’t tame it,’ he enthuses. ‘We can encroach on the land, intrude on mountains, but the sea we can’t change. It will always have a personality of its own, constantly affected by the light and the wind.’

Surround by the restless waters of the Irish sea and the Menai Strait, Anglesey has long played muse for landscape painters. Turner came here in the 1830s sketching watercolours of ships passing through the strait, while contemporary local artists William Selwyn and Kyffin Williams have captured the island’s contrasting moods over many years. ‘It is a unique place,’ says Anthony. ‘It’s big enough to feel like a small country – the range of scenery here is amazing.’

Each spot Anthony visited as part of ‘Four on Anglesey’ has a very different feel to it. Easterly Penmon Point presents a classic nautical scene, with a red buoy and the black-and-white-striped lighthouse with its warning ‘no passage landward’. To the northeast, at Lligwy, a vast rippled sand beach melts into the Irish Sea, the horizon interrupted only by rocky Dulas Island with its stone shelter for shipwrecked seamen. To the west, at Rhoscolyn, fields studded with white cottages back onto a sweeping bay, while to the south, a view across the Menai strait leads the eye towards Caernarfon Castle and to the snowy peaks of Snowdonia beyond. For this last location, Anthony chose to reinterpret a 19th-century painting by John Brett, which appears in the National Museum of Wales. Struck by how little the view has changed since Brett visited, Anthony remarks, ‘There’s still sheep in the fields and the mountains of Snowdonia, watching over you. We’re obsessed with change, so it’s nice to see the landscape stay the same.’

As well as Anglesey’s alluring scenery, Anthony has enjoyed the island’s hospitality – particularly the friendly beachside café owners plying him with tea. ‘You worry people will think you’re some jumped-up artist but everyone wants to get involved – from the farmers digging the holes for the stands, to the schoolchildren having a go at splattering the canvas. It’s like a big collective,’ says Anthony.

For him, one of the biggest bonuses of this project has been the chance to share how he works with others. ‘Normally art is secretive – you tuck yourself in a studio. But this is like performance art,’ Anthony proclaims. ‘Typically your work would hang in a gallery where the viewer who sees it has chosen to see it. I like the idea that people here will just stumble across it. the paintings will reach a whole new vernacular audience.’

Leaving the artwork in public, in the open air, is not without its challenges, though. To avoid complete annihilation by the elements, the paintings are created on thick marine plywood, instead of normal canvas, and treated with marine sealant and epoxy, like a boat. After painting, the acrylics and oils are washed over a few times with a UV varnish and the canvas itself is welded to a rusted steel stand designed by shipwrights.

Although the paintings are sturdily designed, Anthony expects and even hopes for them to become weathered. ‘They’re like ships, exposed to the elements, each telling their own story,’ says Anthony. If the mud, wind, sea, salt and sand blow on them, for Anthony, that’s all part of their journey. Letting go of his artworks and allowing them to take their own path is important. ‘We humans are obsessed with control. the idea that we’ll never be able to fully control the weather, the sea, that we’ll always be vulnerable to them, is important. It’s a lesson for us.’ In any case, for a painter like Anthony who works so closely with nature, it feels right to leave the work in its own context, instead of transposing it on to a blank, white space. ‘It feels like it belongs there. You painted it there and you’re leaving it where it was born.’

First appeared in Coast in 2015.