Tourists are understandably captivated by the quality of the Cayman sea. Even if you are fortunate enough to see this ocean every day of your life, it can have a profound effect on you. It’s an effect that artist Davin Ebanks describes as visceral.
The deep turquoise colour, the effect of the sunlight shining through a breaking wave – it’s something one cannot help wanting to capture and freeze in time.
And Davin has managed to do just that – but not in paintings or photographs. He has created what might best be described as blocks or columns of sea, made from glass.
Born and raised in Cayman, Davin was a fly fishing guide before becoming a full time artist and the ocean has always been a great source of inspiration to him. “When you walk the flats and look at the water all day long, it’s hard not to be inspired by it,” he says.
Although now based in the US – it would be impossible for him to create his pieces in Cayman due to the equipment and facilities required – Davin had his first (extremely successful) solo exhibition at the Cayman Islands National Gallery last year, something he describes a homecoming.
If the fact that all but three of his pieces sold at the exhibition is any indication, his fascination with the ocean and Cayman’s history and culture were clearly appreciated and shared by many. Furthermore, two of his pieces were added to the National Collection and will form part of the permanent exhibition at the new National Gallery facility which opens in February.
Davin has created a whole series of these slices of the sea, of which Blue Meridian (now part of the National Collection) is one example.
It all began with a simple question:
What would it look like if I removed a piece of the sea? These glassworks are the answer to that question.
At first sight, they may look simple, but these columns of ocean have taken endless trial and error to get right and each piece can take several months to create.
It starts with a mould, in which he gives shape not only to the ripples on the surface, but also to the undulating sand patterns on the bottom. Recreating the surface of the sea alone involves watching films, taking pictures and sculpting it, as he says, the sea does not stand still.
A complex process of mixing, melting and cooling glass follows to create blocks in the desired colour. These blocks are then carefully positioned in the mould and melted again, the spaces between them giving rise to the tiny streams of bubbles that rise up like current lines, and are then polished to a high shine allowing the light to pass through the glass as it does through the sea.
The Death of Ajax
Also now a part of the National Collection, the Death of Ajax, uses quite different media to tell a uniquely Caymanian story. Using the blueprints for a catboat, glass models of turtle skulls and an excerpt from a book on catboats, Davin is telling one version of the seafaring, turtling history of the Cayman Islands, and the story of a way of life now lost.
“That moment in history is gone, we can no longer retrieve it,” says Davin. “There is a sense of loss that you feel looking at this piece; you can’t quite grasp it.”
Davin is interested in patterns, parallels and ironies, which often shows through in his work. The death of Ajax he says, represents “the loss of Caymanian tradition as well as the relationship between the turtles that created our heritage and the catboats that we made to hunt the turtles – almost to extinction, which in turn led to the extinction of the catboat.”
Despite the success of his water pieces, Davin has already moved on from that and continues to push the boundaries of what can be done with glass. His latest series involves sculpting glass while hot. “There’s about 30 seconds when you can work the glass before it cools down, then you have to reheat and start again,” he says.
Only a handful of people worldwide are working with glass in the way Davin is, and not always very well. Davin strives to be up there with the very best of them.