Skylark Galleries 2 Until 16th July 2017
My show of etchings and paintings features dreamlike real and imagined landscapes.
The real places that inspire me centre on a few square miles of mid Wales on the Shropshire borders where I have lived and regularly visit. When I first went there, I knew it was the place I had held in my mind’s eye when I left London in 2006 to find somewhere to live. There was something about the landscape that seems ancient and welcoming, like a home-coming. The ink paintings in this show are of the views I return to in my mind and in reality.
The Hot Day is the view over the marsh towards Long Mountain which rises steeply above Welshpool, and was painted sitting under an umbrella in my friends’ back garden. It’s a view I’ve studied and looked out on for over 10 years, and features in my engraving The Curtain Twitcher, my painting The Bard, and in the more surreal Refuge on Long Mountain. It’s the most straight forward painting in the show – and really is all about this beautiful oak tree that has such presence with its dark shadow.
The Hill of Dreams – Bromlow Callow was sketched originally in pencil sitting under a tree from the vantage point of Rorrington in Shropshire. Bromlow Callow has a very special place in my heart and mind. The first time I visited I was overcome with emotion: I can’t explain why I broke into floods of tears, but there is a deep sense of ‘something other’ there. And of course it’s a special place already as it features in Powell and Pressburger’s Gone to Earth from 1949. It’s a place I return to every year and has a strange attraction for me, a sense of yearning, a sense of place, like Paul Nash’s otherworldly attraction to Wittenham Clumps. Seeing the Nash show at Tate Britain earlier this year was itself like being in a dream and seemed very closely to correlate with my own feelings about landscape, my art and the way my mind works.
The Hill of Dreams is also a novel by Arthur Machen, about one of those mysterious lost places of Wales where the wanderer chances upon a dark enchanted world. I’m attracted to the weirdness in these stories, the romantic and strange ways of nature that lie beneath our surface appreciation of the world. I sense this is why I’m not very interested in photographic likenesses of places in my art most of the time, and really prefer to make the worlds up from my imagination.
Which brings me on to The Topiarist. From a very small painting I made a few years back, and which you may know from a greetings card, this larger painting has been a long time coming, but I’ve completed it in one month. While highly decorative and bright, I feel it has a strong spiritual message.
The landscape you see in this painting is created by the Topiarist, and the world you see is created from my imagination. This is a painting about creation itself, an outward expression of careful placing of elements on a picture plane to create a harmonious whole. It’s also about humanity’s control and shaping of our environment, about the places we choose to live and the environment we want to live in. It’s a very enclosed protected world. It’s very safe. There are no wild beasts or strange animals hiding behind the trees and no sense of threat or strangeness. In that respect it’s an expression of my inner mind at peace, and it felt pleasurable to make; a green world lit by mellow inner light. It feels somehow very whole and complete.
Learning to Fly also has a lighter feel, exploring the landscape of mid Wales again, sitting in my friends’ high field where the blackbirds flit in and out of the trees. In the picture I’m communing with nature and seem to be lifting off the ground, being taught the secrets of flight by the blackbird.
However this is nature informing and controlling me and not the reverse. The landscape and the elements are in control.
In The Birdwatchers, my most recent etching, two figures are out in an open expanse of shifting coastline under a windswept sky. Two people are united together in their activity observing nature, but also they are united together in an enormous universe that swirls around them, a couple in time and space, looking out into the cosmos. The ephemeral nature of life is the subject matter here, the consciousness of the couple united in their relationship and their activity focused in that one moment, but part of a bigger picture.
Finally, in Reading Dark Mountain, again a real landscape near Meifod in Powys on Glyndwr’s Way, a figure reads Dark Mountain (http://dark-mountain.net/) under a tree in the bottom right corner. The dark mountain in the distance is Cader Idris. This pastoral scene is an escape from the modern world of 24 hour news and technology. The man is no longer on a laptop, but back to reading a book. Perhaps the internet has gone down permanently, electricity is no longer being produced and we are back to the basics of life. The house in this picture is Ty Newydd, a ruined cottage without any services, not even a road to get to it. Wood is burning in the fire. It is perhaps where we may need to go soon…a dreaming landscape.