I think we are all fascinated by graveyards and the stone memorials, particularly those attached to churches dating back hundreds of years. According to local records, the cemetery at the Holy Trinity church in Haddenham, Cambridgeshire has existed since the early 13th Century. Just to reassure you, this isn’t a morbid preoccupation of mine, I just like the sculptural qualities of the headstones and the often delicate engravings and relief carvings that accompany them. In the older graveyards the stone surfaces are extremely weathered and often exhibit a rich and elaborate patina of lichen and moss. This transformative process enlivens the colours and texture of the stone.
When I took these photographs around midday, the sun was very bright and i decided to focus on a monochrome interpretation and the extremes of light and shade.
The black and white photograph of my granddaughter was taken at Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire. The painting below, which many of you will be very familiar with, set in the coastal landscape of Maine was created by the American artist Andrew Wyeth. Wyeth’s painting is a penetrating psychological portrait and a vivid representation of the inner world of Christina Olson who, because of a muscle degenerative disease, was unable to walk. It is undoubtedly a powerful and memorable image. When I took the ‘shot’ of Sienna, she had just befriended a tiny snail on a leaf and was gingerly carrying it up the embankment; she had already given it a suitable name and was completely lost in her own imaginary world. When I looked at the photograph later, I immediately recognised the composition I had unwittingly borrowed. The house, the gradual incline, the perspective and the viewpoint. Of course the psychological drama was necessarily absent but it does reveal the extent to which we make aesthetic judgements based on our previous experience.
River City is a mixed media acrylic painting on a canvas frame. It belongs to a series of paintings loosely based on the city of Cambridge. We can never really know a particular place or location, not in a purely visual sense, not even through the so called objectivity objectivity of the camera lens. There are so many different ways of seeing, understanding and interpreting; our view of the world is a subjective, personal experience. It changes as we change. The Cubists new a thing or two about perception.
I developed this painting through an exchange of ideas, thoughts and materials, you could call it a dialogue. What you see here is the result of many ‘conversations’, a constant give and take between what I think I have to say as a painter and what the painting says to me. A painting will invariably contradict me and tell me I am mistaken, on the wrong track. Sometimes, I delude myself into thinking I am in charge but I know my place; ‘painting’ is a collaboration, a combined effort, an ongoing debate. What you see here is a partnership between planning and accident, conceit and humility, confidence and deflation, wisdom and foolishness, seeing and not seeing.
If you are visiting Ely in Cambridgeshire do come along to the Old Fire Engine House to see an exhibition of recent paintings by myself, Paul Janssens and Caroline Foward. The exhibition is called EXPLORE and the preview night is on the 3rd October, 6 – 8pm. We would love to see you there.