Saturday, 12 November 2016

Abstract Landscape Painter.  Rural Dweller.  Lover of Modernist Art and Design.

Working Outdoors

Winter has suddenly arrived.  Temperatures have plummeted and there have been winds from the north.  The current rain storms are stripping the leaves from the trees - leaves that had hung an unusually long time and had turned into a magnificent display of colour during the past three weeks, due to the recent mild Autumn.

The change in the weather prevents me from working outdoors, which I have been doing more often since I took up a residency at The Gallery In The Garden at Great Saling in Essex.  This year-long project gives me the opportunity to paint, draw and walk in the grounds each week.  The grounds of the gallery and the adjoining private garden were designed by Sir Humphrey Repton.  The aim of a residency is to prepare a body of work based on a particular location which culminates in an exhibition.  The plan for mine it that it will be shown at the gallery sometime during August and September next year.  It is a real privilege to be permitted to spend time working in isolation in such a beautiful place.

Painting outdoors on these warm Autumn days has been a delight.  I have found it energising to work in a setting which I find so magical.  Although outdoor art necessitates a bit of planning and can present some practical difficulties, it can often create lively and less self-conscious work.  A small window of opportunity to capture a view means that the work must be done quickly and without fuss. Technical challenges also present opportunities to develop new techniques or ways of working as problems are solved.  I’m determined to keep working outdoors as much as possible throughout the Winter, even if it means creating the briefest of sketches whilst wearing fingerless gloves!

Meanwhile, I have just delivered a new set of paintings to an exhibition at The Leaping Hare, at Wyken in Suffolk, and am working on a commission before beginning next year’s programme.  I’m very lucky to have these differing opportunities and through them I feel that I am always learning.  There is always so much to learn and so much work to make.  There is so much development to be achieved and so much further that I want to go.

All text & images ©2016 Carol Saunderson

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Abstract Landscape Painter.  Rural Dweller.  Lover of Modernist Art and Design.

Time In A Bottle (or maybe a box)

Last week I had to do something that I really didn’t want to do but, like events that I sometimes dread going to, it turned out to be a real pleasure.  In fact, more than that - a gem of a moment.

Millie (our whippet) woke me at 5.40am as she needed the loo.  I dragged myself out of bed, pulled on a jumper, some trousers and a pair of wellies, and prepared to take her outside into the garden.  When I stepped outside into the maritime twilight, I was stunned by the volume and variety of the birdsong.

We were staying in Gloucestershire for a few days and the garden that I stepped out into is one of 55 acres, set on the edge on a tiny Cotswold village.  There are hundreds of trees in the surrounding parkland, many of which must be approaching 50m tall, together with dense areas of hedge and shrubbery.  A slope, from where I was standing, descends gradually down to a river flowing through one side of the garden.

The night had been foggy and at 5.45am the mist was just beginning to lift from the tops of the trees. In the pearlescent light they looked as if they were shedding gauzy, white gowns.  It’s fair to say that I was assailed by the sound as I stepped out of the door.  I have heard the dawn chorus before, but not here and never one so rich with species or lusty in volume.  As well as the robins, wrens, finches, thrushes and blackbirds, I could hear pheasants joining in from the fields and copses beyond the garden.  It was as if every winged creature was singing to its full capacity.

I returned Millie to her bed when her ablutions were complete and stepped outside again to savour a few more moments standing on the lawn in the centre of the singing.  It was made more special by being there alone (as much as I love my dog) in that stillness and mysterious half-light that twilight provides.  I felt like a tiny radio receiver, standing at a point at which all the sound converged - as If I was absorbing it.  As I said, it was a real gem of a moment, one that I would store away, as the old Jim Croce song says, in a bottle, or maybe a box, if I could.  A moment which would be included in “the best bits” compilation of my life.

So thank you Millie, for giving me the impetus to do something that I had wanted to do, even if it did have a rather inauspicious beginning.

Ironically, we were not far from Adlestrop - we passed by it on the way to our destination.  I thought of the poem’s final words and felt as if I had indeed heard “all the birds of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire”.

All text & images ©2016 Carol Saunderson

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Abstract Landscape Painter.  Rural Dweller.  Lover of Modernist Art and Design.

Taking Risks

I am currently working towards an exhibition entitled, “The Colour Of The Land”, which will open in early May.  I’m going to be sharing the space with Amie Haslen, a young print-maker and painter.  I have calculated that, in order to fill to the gallery, I will need approximately forty pictures.  This will be the largest number of paintings that I have shown in a single venue to date.

It took a while to get into the swing of things again after Christmas.  January is a cold, dark time in which to re-start, and even a short break can stifle the flow of ideas and make me feel out of practice.  I think that it took the best part of the month before I felt that I was back into my stride.  

It’s been a strange winter.  The flowers have never really gone away.  Usually I am eagerly looking for the first snowdrops and crocuses, but this year there have been unseasonal blooms on all sorts of plants!  And so weird not to have snow - just a thin covering on a couple of occasions.

My Winter walking routes are different from those of Spring and Summer in order to avoid the mud that sticks so heavily to my boots.  They take me across an old WW2 airfield.  As I follow its paths I can see for miles across a table-top landscape.  It is scattered with small woods and lines of trees, rough brush marks of hedges, the cream dots of distant sheep and dark specks of crows and pigeons flying against the bright sky.  Part of my walk also takes me through a small wood.  I have been looking at the light as it is filtered and divided by the branches and trunks of the tall, thin trees.  It is a particularly silent and still place. The fir trees soar skyward out of a mass of creepers which hang like dry, green ropes from their sharp, vertical forms and roll and turn at their bases to create a dense, cage-like undergrowth.  The wood has inspired some new paintings and has challenged me to work in a different compositional format.  This has been a good thing for me because new problems bring new solutions and thereby new techniques and ways of working.  This in turn extends the visual language that I have at my disposal.

As a break from the studio I took a trip into Cambridge last week in order to visit the “Kettles Yard” exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum.  Although the display itself was disappointingly small, I happily wandered around looking at some beautiful Korean and Chinese celadon bowls in the nearby ceramics collection and also walked upstairs to see the twentieth century gallery.  En route I passed through a small, dark, circular room housing a number of exhibits celebrating the gallery’s bi-centenary.  One in particular caught my eye.  “Study in Provence”, 1926, by Augustus John.  It is difficult to show, in a photograph or on a display screen, how amazing the light in this painting is.  It positively glows.  The line of sky above the trees and corresponding touches of light on the figure and the branches, capture, for me, that sensation of an early summer morning.  The brush work is large and free for such a small painting and the composition suggests that the ground immediately behind the figure drops away into a valley, creating the illusion of distance and depth.  I read that John made many of these small paintings as studies for larger works, but apparently they became very popular in their own right.  I can see why, as they are probably a lot less self-conscious than the larger “finished” paintings.  The best work is always produced by instinct.

I read a really interesting comment about this topic in a recent interview with Ken Howard for the RA Magazine.  In a column entitled, “How I Made It”, he was asked, “At what point did you feel that the painting was going to work?”  His reply was, “When I realised I couldn’t do what I was trying to do!  We paint our best things when we paint completely intuitively - you can’t shed what you have learned but somehow you’ve go to, to let go of all that experience, to lose control” (RA Magazine - Winter 2015).

This resonated with me because I always tell myself, “Don’t over-think it, just begin and trust yourself.  Don’t be afraid to take risks.  Nothing great was ever made by playing it safe.

“Study in Provence”, 1926, by Augustus John

All text & Header image ©2016 Carol Saunderson