The background image was less a completed painting, more of a thought; set down a few years ago as I worked on another project, focusing on a woodland area I know. The sphere was added for no other reason than something which seemed necessary to complete the image – an instinct, I guess.
For me there’s something interesting in a blend of the real and the abstract, which creates a surreal place. If, (I think it was Simon Schama’s explanation which first resonated with me) a landscape is a place we situate ourselves within, then this kind of place, with one foot in the real world and another in the imaginary, is somewhere I like to float – and to which I often return.
There’s a value in keeping a painting one isn’t satisfied with and reworking it much later, out of context. Relating to the way that I work, a couple of years later on, I find the once intense relationship with subject and object is mellowed, time’s taken its effect and there’s room to add another dimension – sometimes literally.
Oil on mdf 24″x 18″.
Made from a photograph taken during an encounter with a statue in the grounds of a chateau in northern France. Half worn away by weather and time, the statue depicted a Pan-like figure with a small Cupid on his shoulder with them seemingly sharing a moment of conspiracy. Maybe some classical storyline; maybe a representation of the beauty of the grounds (Pan pastoral; Cupid love); or maybe some totem for the possibility of love within its boundaries?
Viewed from a 21st century British eye however, there was another way of viewing it – a creepy old goat fella, like the devil, with a baby on his shoulder.
Search online and you’ll see Greek mythology sites speaking of Pan as a Greek god of the pastoral – worshipped in the wild, of wild countryside and woods. Other sites, some I wouldn’t care to delve into any further, claim Pan as a symbol for the devil and all sorts of evil behaviour.
Rather than paint it as a direct image from the photograph, I thought of this duality as I worked, also how meaning is lost in time and reimagined. It’s painted more figuratively underneath but has been veiled, with stone and lichen-like overgrowth pushing it away from clear view.
Oil on wooden board 12x12in.
It’s hard to quote examples of paintings which have spoken to me and inspired me over the years. I didn’t visit art exhibitions as a youngster and stand and stare at great paintings, bowled over and inspired to be an artist for ever more, as other artists sometimes recall – my family weren’t art buffs and fine art of any sort didn’t feature in my life until I pursued it. But I remember one painting which stuck with me. It was in a little private gallery where my parents were looking at something else. We children had been taken inside, grumbling probably, as they talked to the owner. But this one painting took my attention. It was a picture of an old silver-barked tree lit up by the sun against one of those stormy, navy blue skies which appear just before the rain arrives. It was one of those skies which still make me stop what I’m doing and reach for my camera or just stare and enjoy. (It’s particularly effective in the Cotswolds where the yellow stone buildings look spectacular against the dark blue).
While I painted this little image, I was able to take time to remember that painting. I have no idea who the artist was and I’m sure it was no particular ‘great painting’ but it inspired me as much as anything in the great galleries of the world.
Many years later and I know that the painting wasn’t a picture of a tree at all, it was a picture of light. Someone was doing what I was doing here – grabbing a moment and trying to save it and remember it.
This is another oil on 12in squ wooden board. Painted from a photograph taken from my front window on one such day when a camera was nearby during one of those moments when I was lucky enough to look out as the scenery changed dramatically.
This little sketch doesn’t really do justice to the light, apart from giving me some time to pause and think about it. I’ll paint more of these one day.
Just some search results after Googling ‘tree against a stormy sky painting’ (the fourth one along is most like the light I’m talking about)
Works of art are the by-products of the imagining being; In daydreaming, we experience immensity – Gaston Bachelard The Poetics of Space*.
“Immensity is within ourselves. It is attached to a sort of expansion of being that life curbs and caution arrests, but which starts again when we are alone. As soon as we become emotionless, we are elsewhere; we are dreaming in a world that is immense. Indeed, immensity is the movement of motionless man. It is one of the dynamic characteristics of quiet daydreaming.”
*Bachelard, G. and Jolas, M. (1992) The Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon Press. p184)
[Having just had a little operation and spent a time in a hospital/sick bed, largely both emotionless and motionless, this idea of wandering in immensity seems paticularly apt to me just now. cm 24/8/16]
After yesterday pondering competition amongst artists and the cost: Are open competitions good for healthy rivalry? Is it just the lauding of the most fashionable and the crushing of the rest? A vital way of funding galleries, bursaries etc? An essential business cost for an artist or a waste of money?
When I get notified of someone ‘liking’ a post, I often have a little peep to see who it is. I was very glad I peered at this page by Fritz because it introduced me to a poem by US writer and environmentalist Wendell Berry. Well worth sharing again (with many thanks!):
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Timelessly beautiful – unfurling fern fronds in a puddle of sunshine in an old English wood.
That’s what made me reach for my camera when I took the photograph which inspired this oil painting. And that’s what I was thinking of as I painted it. Sunshine dazzling its way though the canopy and lighting up details by turn, as if the wood was proudly showing off its treasures to its inquisitive visitors.
The wood I visited has since become super-famous as a film set venue – Puzzle Wood in the Forest of Dean. It pops up in the new Star Wars film, in Merlin, in Doctor Who and I saw it the other night in the BBC’s The Living and the Dead (starring Merlin!). It’s instantly recognisable, with its mossy banks, and tree and limestone rock formations which have sheltered and delighted its human visitors at least back to Iron Age times.
For my painting (wooden board 12inx12in) I only primed the foreground. The background is a light oil wash, which also leaves the wood grain showing – it seemed appropriate for its subject. It took a long time to tease all the leaf shapes out of the undergrowth and it was surprisingly fiddly to paint the little fronds caught in the sun. But I like this little reminder of the smell of damp leaves; of the pools of warm sunshine in the cool woods and the life which is battling for space all around where our feet tread.