When I started on this project I had thought to begin in the land of my forefathers, with a look at recent social history, and create a visual record of the locality. Then after a month I would move on, again seeking common themes and constructing my narrative.
When I began to look into the wealth of social and economic history of this area I realised what a preposterous notion that was. It was the artistic equivalent of backpacking through Asia on a gap year; the work of a visual tourist.
Certainly this approach has appeal for some, and a seductive momentum of its own. Many creative projects have been arbitrarily curated in this time-limited fashion ‘a painting a day’, ‘around the world in 80 paintings’, ‘a month in madrid’. Yet that isn’t my purpose. I want to get to know the character of my home country, its geology and geography, its biology and ecology, the sites and the society.
I firmly believe that as an outsider, generalised statements about communities lacks credibility. An artist offers you their own perspective on the world, and that comes with the bias of a different upbringing, history and heritage. The integrity of the work comes from acknowledging that unique subjective observation of the environment in which you work. So my focus has shifted to be what engages me about this country, not what I expected to find.
Inspired by my trip to the Netherlands with a wealth of visual information in my head, I was determined to get back out into the open air.
I have a bit of anxiety when it comes to winter plein air painting. Notorious amongst my friends for the numerous layers I need to take camping in the summer, I prepared as best I could: two pairs of glove liners, latex outers, wrist warmers, fingerless additions to the top of the three underlayers. For the feet, Two pairs of winter socks and one thin pair of silver socks recommended by the Raynaulds Society. My circulation is terrible!
I struck out for a sheltered spot in a copse of beech and fir. Starting fully gloved I realised I had forgotten my palette knife (clearly I need to brush up on packing my school bag properly), which most definitely hampered my operating speed. I had to take off my gloves to work with a smaller brush, and within 10 minutes they were red raw. It may have been a bright day, but it was 4 degrees out there and the wind had a cunning instinct for seeking out its prey.
Beaten, I wove my way through the red-flagged shooting parties and resolved to try as do some other plein air painters like Tom Coates, finish the work in the studio, or in my case, the barn. I don’t usually adopt this practice because the change of pace alters the character of the work: you are not directly responding to the natural lighting conditions so you lose some dynamism. What is positively different is the dialogue with the material has the upper hand; this certainly shouldn’t be avoided – the balance and counterbalance of subject and process is the essential rhythm of a painters workflow.
So, another hour under cover and this was the result. Perhaps this approach has potential…