The lifeboat crew who will live forever

Aldeburgh lifeboat volunteers have been keeping people safe around the north-east coast for over 115 years. Here’s how one crew member is making sure his generation of RNLI lifesavers will always be remembered.
Crew Member David Gillingwater with his oil paintings

Photo: Archant/Sarah Lucy Brown

Crew Member David Gillingwater began the painting project in October 2017

Artist and Crew Member David Gillingwater combined his passion for creativity and the Aldeburgh lifeboat crew by capturing his crewmates as oil paintings for a very special exhibition, Oilskins: A Portrait of the Aldeburgh Lifeboat Crew. 

And this November, you can get inspired by the time-capsule project by coming to see the exclusive collection of paintings for yourself. 

‘I began painting the lifeboat crew in October 2017,’ David explains. ‘I’ll probably finish the last one the night before the exhibition!’ 

Two Aldeburgh crew members are painted aboard the station’s all-weather Mersey class lifeboat, Freddie Cooper

Photo: David Gillingwater

Two Aldeburgh crew members are painted aboard the station’s all-weather Mersey class lifeboat, Freddie Cooper

David says: ‘There’s something about each painting that I really love – the one I’m working on at the time is the painting I fall in love with most.’ 

Oil painting of Mark Cable by David Gillingwater

Photo: David Gillingwater

There will be portraits of all the RNLI Aldeburgh volunteers, like Shore Crew Member Mark Cable (pictured above)

David adds: ‘The drying process takes more time than painting. It can take weeks, depending on things like how thick the layers of paint have been or the details of the image.

‘While one’s drying you work on another, so you work on around 6 paintings at a time in rotation – you never get bored!’ 

Aldeburgh Crew Member Alison Norman is painted in full all-weather crew kit

Photo: David Gillingwater

Aldeburgh Crew Member Alison Norman is painted in full all-weather crew kit

‘See it for yourself’  

‘There was a teaser for my exhibition earlier this summer and a lot of the crew came to see the paintings. They were blown away – they absolutely love them.

‘They got a real surprise when they saw them in real life. No matter how good the camera or the photographer, you can’t capture how special a painting is until you see it for yourself.’

Oil painting of an Aldeburgh crew member by David Gillingwater

Photo: David Gillingwater

Oilskins: A Portrait of the Aldeburgh Lifeboat Crew will be showcased from 22–28 November 2018

Oilskins: A Portrait of the Aldeburgh Lifeboat Crew

Visit the lifesavers of Aldeburgh, captured in a remarkable collection of oil paintings, from 22–28 November at The Garage Gallery on Aldeburgh seafront.  

‘The gallery makes you feel like you’re in the wheelhouse – you’ve got the natural soundtrack of the sea right in front of you,’ describes David. 

‘With the paintings there, you feel like you’re surrounded by the crew: like they’re protecting you. That’s what they do – and that’s what I’m trying to get across.’ 

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