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