Great works: Thames Painting: The Estuary (Mouth of the Thames) (1994-5) by Michael Andrews

Pallant House Gallery, Chichester

Avaledictory to painting? Yes, perhaps. To a degree. Michael Andrews was undergoing treatment for cancer when he was working on this near-hallucinatory vision of a landscape at the sea's edge, and it does indeed feel like a glimpsing of something at the rather chilling outer limits of human experience, some kind of a mysterious embodiment of a slipping away from life into the unknowable dissolution of whatever follows after.

Its aerial viewpoint is magnificently dizzying. It seems to wheel and to lurch beneath our gaze. We look and look far down into it. We almost feel ourselves to be in the equivalent of the cockpit of a helicopter which suddenly jerks its tail end, precipitating us forward. It seems to induce that degree of vertiginousness. It is a great vortex of a fraction of landscape at the edge of water, the one perpetually squaring up to the other, that seems to suck in our seeing.

This finished canvas is only a fraction of Andrews' labour on this final piece. Andrews fussed and fussed over his work. He was a man who believed in the virtues of meticulous research, and if one day you decide to go over to Chichester to see this painting in the flesh at Pallant House Gallery (having first checked before you leave that it is not out on loan), you might induce them to show you one of the preparatory drawings for this piece called "Study for Thames Painting: The Estuary (Mouth of the Thames)", probably made in 1993. This particular page from his sketch book contains ink drawings of the crocodile movement of shifting sands, together with various tiny, scribbled notes to himself about what to put where, and why, such as these: "Lugworm digger?" (beside figure of a bending man) or "Bring the water in?", the second as a challenge to himself.

Is the final work abstract or figurative? Figurative, surely. In fact, by a whisker. Why so? Because we would perhaps feel less inclined to categorise it as figurative painting at all were it not for those tiny figures on the shore, with their rods pointing out to sea. Otherwise, with its grainy, slicky, mixed-media surface, it could be an expression of mood or rhythm tout court. Those figures tell us otherwise. They almost shock us by their presence because we are quite slow to spot them, and when we do so they are so arrestingly, so Brobdingnagianly tiny, and by being so they seem to embolden and widen and aggrandise the rest of this slithery off-cut of estuarial terrain, which seems to slither and shift into ever more indefinite and undefinably variable shapes even as we stare down at it in wonderment.

Their smallness, their insignificance, caught as they are between the push of this shifting land at their back and the welter of engulfing sea that they face, alarms us. For all that, they are the witnesses, the doughty, undeterred go-betweens.

It is in part a homage to Dickens, this painting, the painter's favourite writer, whose characters also haunted this patch of ground. It has the slightly sinister mood music of a scene from Dickens. Human beings can seem to teem small in Dickens too. There are always so many of them, like a million chattering termites. The figures do something else that is very important too: they impose scale on the painting. Thanks to their presence we can judge, immediately, the actual – as opposed to imaginative – size of what exactly it is that we are looking at.

The painting also nods in the direction of Turner, and the way that he dealt with the strange, indeterminate meetings of sea and sea's edge, the shocking changes of colour, how the fumy turbulence of the weather can change the shape and the reality of everything visible within the blink of an eye. The fact that we know it to be an actual piece of terrain at the mouth of the Thames heightens our sense of drama.

If we were to find ourselves comfortably settled in the knowledge that this were an experiment in abstraction, we would regard it more coolly, more dispassionately and analytically altogether. The presence of these homunculi persuades us to feel more.

About the artist: Michael Andrews (1928-95)

Michael Andrews, born in Norwich, was a publicity-shy British painter in the figurative tradition, who studied under William Coldstream at the Slade School of Art. He famously captured the world of Muriel Belcher's Colony Room in the hedonistic Sixties. Generally speaking, he worked slowly and meticulously, and had relatively few exhibitions during his lifetime. His talents also encompassed acting: he played the part of a deaf-mute in Lorenza Mazzetti's film Together (1955).

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?