I’ve been painting and sketching native oysters, Ostrea edulis. I buy them from oyster fishermen at Mylor in Cornwall near Falmouth. It was bitterly cold then and it’s pretty cold now.
It takes a long time to establish a native oyster bed. They were a major source of cheap food. In 1851, for example, a round 500 million oysters were sold through Billingsgate. Our oyster beds were destroyed by a series of cold winters, surely not the first though, in the mid 20th Century, and then pollution, the parasite, Bonnania Ostrea, the beastly slipper limpets and oyster drills which drill holes into them and eat it contents, they are a big threat for commercial oyster farms.
Now they can only be collected under license in Scotland.
Oysters change back and forth from female to male according to the temperature of the water. You get in the bath nice and hot, go to sleep, and wake up in cold water, surprisingly different. Well, surprising the first time, but native oysters can live for 20 years so they may get used to it.
Native Oysters, acrylic on canvas 50 cms x 100 cms
You can see my work in London at the The Flying Colours Gallery and at Oliver Contemporary
All photographs by James Forshall
Billingsgate, 1.00 a.m.
I went with Xanthe Mosley to Billingsgate Market. She is artist in residence for some of the London markets and has asked me to do some work for a show in the City Hall in May 2014. She had given me a very good supper so I felt bouyed up and excited by the prospect of working through the night. When we arrived the place was deserted except for the market constabulary.
We had a cup of tea in one of the market cafes. The walls were lined with old black and white photographs of traders and porters.
Gradually the lights in different parts of the main hall came on as traders came in to set out their stalls. It is a very physical business. Porters in white coats haul in huge pallets of wet or frozen fish from lorries and refrigerated store rooms. The traders shake the boxes, deftly hefting fish. It is almost as if they are juggling them. They arrange them on the stalls scattering ice over them. Everyone works quickly to be ready for the customers . Everything gleams, wet fish, silver scales, the stainless steel stands, and reflections of the halogen lights in on the wet floor. You can place orders, but cannot take fish away from the market until 4.00 a.m. Soon the telephones are ringing, loud old fashioned land line bells.
I moved from stall to stall sketching the fish. I like the barracuda, the long silver ribbon fish, the beautiful mirror carp. For me this is a wonderful place. Most of the fish are familiar, sleek, bright scaled salmon, trout, hake, cod, bream, sea bass, oysters mussels from different parts of the Britain, but there are three stands with exotics from the Indian Ocean.
The traders are friendly. Some even stop for a moment to see what I’m doing. It’s fun. At 2.30 Xanthe took me to the cafe for hot sweet tea.
Billingsgate Market, 5.10 a.m.
photographs © copyright James Forshall