See artist’s inspirational collection of portraits celebrating selfless work of lifeboat crews

Coxswain Steve Saint, his dog George and David Gillingwater with some of the paintings Picture:

Coxswain Steve Saint, his dog George and David Gillingwater with some of the paintings Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

A Suffolk artist’s celebration of a “band of brothers” and their selfless work saving lives at sea is set for its first public exhibition – after a year of “nonstop painting”.

David Gillingwater, 52, began painting fellow crew members of the Aldebugh RNLI in October 2017 and was soon blown away by the “social media storm” that his work received.

Having completed 30 portraits of the crew, including three narrative pieces, and one starring George the station dog, Mr Gillingwater is finally ready to exhibit his collection.

“It’s quite a relief,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun but also pretty full-on at times.”

The Oilskins collection will go on show at The Garage Gallery in King Street, Aldeburgh from Thursday-Wednesday November 22-28, including a special RNLI day on the Saturday when crew from the lifeboat station will attend in person.

David Gillingwater has been making paintings of his fellow RNLI crew at the Aldeburgh lifeboat stati

David Gillingwater has been making paintings of his fellow RNLI crew at the Aldeburgh lifeboat station Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant


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Mr Gillingwater, who has been an RNLI crew member for more than 20 years, said it had been “quite a year of nonstop painting” but he was “very happy” with the results.

“It’s not only a very enjoyable experience and a great showcase, but I hope a good social document – a celebration of the lifeboat crew and the selfless work they do, not only at Aldeburgh but for all RNLI team members around the entire coastline of the British Isles,” he added.

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The father-of-two said he expected to continue with the theme even after the exhibition. .

“I feel like I’ve got to keep going with it,” he said, “I’ve become known nationally as the painter who does lifeboat crews, so it would seem strange if I suddenly started painting landscapes instead.”

David Gillingwater on Aldeburgh beach Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

David Gillingwater on Aldeburgh beach Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Mr Gillingwater, who runs Herring Bone Design in Aldeburgh, takes inspiration from Sir William Orpen, a renowned artist famed for his work painting soldiers during the First World War.

“Its the closest I’ll get to being a war artist without going into conflict,” he said.

“I have been friends with these guys for a long time. Its not a war out there but you do have to do battle with the sea at times. Being involved on the lifeboat has it’s moments and can get a bit hairy so it’s important to look after each other and keep as safe as possible.

“A “Band of brothers” comes to mind. We all know each other really well and often can tell another’s thoughts by just a look or inflection of voice. It was a gift. I had to paint the crew.”

George, the station dog takes a walk Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

George, the station dog takes a walk Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Mr Gillingwater has also taken inspiration from acclaimed Suffolk portrait artist Jack Stephenson, who he credits from “rekindling” his passion for painting.

The pair became “great friends” and Mr Stephenson has contributed a foreword to the exhibition.

Visitors to the exhibition will be able to take part in a “sealed bid auction” to commission their own portrait by Mr Gillingwater. Funds raised from the auction will go to the Aldeburgh RNLI.

Follow @SuffolkPainter on Facebook and Twitter for more information.

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