Sally West

The artist painting straight from the beach

Our summer day-dreaming is being fuelled by the Australian artist Sally West. A painter who often works outdoors, capturing the rugged detail of the Australian landscape, her paintings of beaches are the ideal thing to gaze on while awaiting one’s summer holiday. Setting up her easel above Bondi Beach, she captures the power of the tides, the throngs and clusters of people, and the ever-shifting colours of the shore in heavily textured canvases you just want to reach out and touch. We love the palette of nudes and pastel blues that she uses, ideal for some summer decorating inspiration, and the way that her use of thickly-applied paint makes these soft colours feel as vibrant and muscular as the rolling sea itself. We caught up with to ask about her work, and what she gains from painting out of doors.

Sally West

“Winter Westerly – Beach Blueys Study 2 (16.6.18) – Plein Air”, 40x50cm, oil on canvas.

You have a very distinctive, ‘chunky’, textural style – how did you develop that and what do you think it gives your work?

“I started painting en plein air over 20 years ago. I started out using brushes. At the time I lived in the country, isolated from art supplies shops. Eventually all my brushes died and all I had left was a palette knife. The chunky textural style has developed over time with the knife. I have been able to load more paint onto the canvas. It has never been a conscious decision however to do this.”

Sally West

Detail from Bondi Beach Series.

Your paintings often seem to be done in the open air. What does this bring to the process and the finished pieces?

“Working in the outdoors has forced me to work faster, having to capture a moment in time and always in one day. I find the works becomes more spontaneous and has a freshness and energy that is impossible to recreate working inside.”

Sally West

“Super Glassy with Light NW Winds – Beach Bondi (3.5.18) – Plein Air”, 90x120cm, oil on canvas.

Your paintings of the beach are wonderful – what attracts you to this as a subject?

“I have always loved the beach. It’s where I feel happy and I don’t think I will ever move away from it. When life gets hard I go to the beach…. and everything seems beautiful again. I love the sound of the waves, the ability to see the horizon and visual appeal. It just keeps me going back.”

Sally West

“Beach Bondi Study 3 (19.3.18) – Plein Air”, 45x45cm, oil on canvas.

How do you approach colour in your work? Do you find yourself drawn to certain palettes?

“My palette has developed through ongoing study of my environment and responding to it. I mix all my colours myself and this takes longer than perhaps the application of the paint. Colour is everything.”

Sally West art

“Winter Westerly – Beach (5.7.17) – Plein Air”, 75x75cm, oil on canvas.

The colours on the beach paintings seem very subtle – has your approach to colour changed over time in your work?

“It has most certainly evolved. The works are becoming lighter. Plein air painting is very much focused around light so it makes sense to me that the works are becoming lighter.”

Sally West

Sally painting en plein air

All images courtesy of Sally West. See more of her work, buy prints and get exhibition news at her website.

Ros Anderson


Ros Anderson is an interiors journalist and blogger who has worked for The Guardian, Elle Decoration, Ideal Home and many more. In 2009 she co-founded cult interiors blog My Friend's House with Jill Macnair, as a place to write about design in a more honest, spontaneous and humorous way.

The Chromologist 2019 | Farrow & Ball

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