When John Steven Dews failed his “A” level art class in grade school, few imagined that mere centuries later he would be regarded as one of the most important living marine artists of his age. As a boy, his early failures only served to motivate him to achieve even higher levels of perfection in his work. With a determined spirit, he proved them all wrong, and today he composes some of the most captivating and highly coveted works of ships at sea.
Coming from a long lineage of seagoers, Dews developed a fascination with the sea at a young age. He was just 5 when he composed his first marine sketches while visiting his grandfather, an assistant harbor master. His keen fascination with the large boats and ocean vessels that glided by him every day inspired him to constantly sketch the bustling Hull Docks of Beverly, North Humberside. A decade later, he was studying at the Hull Regional College of Art.
Dews stood out amongst his peers with his outstanding ability to depict ocean boats and ships with a remarkable sense of realism. To further hone his crafted (and fuel his obsession), he studied and perfected the different atmospheric qualities of the sea and sky, using model ships, architectural drawings, and countless photographs of ships at sea as his models. Far more than merely mastering his painterly techniques, Dews began his lifelong affair with the sea.
When it came to his most notable works, there is no question that his greatest success lies in his depictions of great racing schooners. In the early 20th century, yachting races were one of the most exciting and anticipated events throughout the England and the northeast United States. Residents from all over iconic coastal towns would congregate to watch these vessels slice through the water in a display of majesty and might. Masterfully depicting these gargantuan, yet graceful vessels, like the mighty Westward, Dews was able to imbue these trademark works with an unparalleled dynamic energy and excitement.
Before Dews, the tradition of maritime painting in art history has a long life of both admiration and acclaim. Naval motifs in art can range from history paintings that reveal much about our past, to picturesque renderings that celebrate the strength and beauty of the water. Artists throughout the ages, such as Francis Augustus Silva, Raoul du Gardier, and Montague Dawson, capture the sea in all her majesty, and often explore the relationship between man and sea with exceptional acuity.
Dews, with his exceptional talents for his craft, contradicts the traditional notion that an artist can only acquire fame after their death. Beginning with his first solo exhibition in 1976, where he sold his entire portfolio, his success his success and commissions have skyrocketed. However, this blockbuster exhibition seems small compared to the sense of achievement that he would enjoy throughout his lifetime due to his permanent connection to the sea.