I am currently working on this relatively large painting in my studio. It is based on the extensive fields of barley, maize and wheat surrounding the small city of Ely here in the heart of the Cambridgeshire Fenlands. I have tried to show the intensity of the warm golden colours we experience at this time of year and also achieve a lustrous paint surface. You will note that this work has little connection with photographic reproduction but is more concerned with the exuberance of growth, the fecundity and entanglement found in nature. The materials I work with are unconventional but offer the potential for inspirational outcomes if unexpected and unpredictable. The role of chance in a painting like this is critical and I am constantly alert to the interplay of line, tone and texture, that in my view, create the warp and weft of a successful image.
The materials include oil paint, plaster, bitumen, metallic enamel, cold wax, pumice stone.
In the Cambridgeshire Fenlands I often stumble across defunct and discarded farm machinery, sometimes surfacing, sometimes sinking, like forgotten clusters of alien bones amidst fields of wheat and barley.
A few days ago, a fire all but destroyed the Corker’s crisp factory near the small village of Pymoor. Corrugated roofing and metal bars twisted and deformed in the intense heat; debris from the wood framed structure exploded and fell to earth in a meteor shower of charred fragments. The air was thick with soot and carbon as a thick black column of smoke spiralled upwards and drifted across the Fens.
Today, as I walked along Adventurers Drove the landscape had forgotten the recent conflagration and fully recovered its poise and composure.
This is a large painting on stretched canvas (100 x 120 cm) using readily sourced materials; these include bitumen, plaster, wax, oil, bleach and enamel paint. The landscape of the fens is a difficult subject to represent with any degree of fidelity. It certainly fails in terms of accepted notions of pastoral beauty. Being primarily flat, agricultural and man made, this landscape exists without obvious grandeur and distinguishing features. Endless dykes and artificial waterways inscribe, demarcate and score the surface. Visiting the same locations throughout the year there is a sense of intermittent yet cyclical activity; the earth is repeatedly gouged, scoured, exploited, exhausted, replaced and renewed. This painting is an attempt to reflect those processes over time.
In the last day or so I have added additional layers to this work and tried to ensure that the selected materials interact in both challenging and unexpected ways. The inclusion of shellac and emulsion paint with powdered pumice stone creates unpredictable textural qualities and patina. Gloss, satin and matt painting media combine to reflect and absorb light. Bitumen, partially diluted with turpentine has been allowed to flow across the surface settling in crevices and darker pools. I am much happier with the overall direction of the work now, although it would be fair to say that the more experimental approach has clearly resulted in a loss of definition and resolution. Whether this is acceptable in the long run…only tomorrow will tell, when I begin all over again.
The Fenlands are highly productive agricultural land and at this time of year, farmers can be seen ploughing and tilling the earth in readiness for the next year. The tilling blades comb the topsoil, mixing and aerating as they are dragged across the fields. I have used plaster, oil and cold wax medium, alternately scoring and layering the materials to recreate the furrowed surface. The late evening light at this time of year has a warm soft glow that I have tried to capture with gold iridescent paint.
This is a large mixed media painting on a 122cm x 92cm on a canvas frame. It was produced from studies created during my residency in the New Forest; the work is partly expressionistic and impressionistic in terms of technique and style. The key medium is cold wax and oil paint applied with a variety of tools including brushes and palette knives. The surface is built up in heavy impasto and scored, etched and systematically redrawn over a period of time. The detail insert (below) should provide some indication of the rich tactile qualities encrusting the surface of the painting. My working method allows for various incarnations of the painting to present themselves before the final image crystallises. This work in particular has undergone numerous transformations. I originally had in mind a view of the forest infused with intense light and colour, but it has progressively mutated towards a more poetic and subdued interpretation of dusk in the forest.
I have been influenced by the contemporary artists Anselm Kiefer and Gerhardt Richter. If you have a moment, take a closer look at the detailed photographs to gain a more tangible sense of the textural qualities in this work.
Coveney is a village north of Cambridge in Cambridgeshire in the UK. It is part of the Cambridgeshire Fenlands, an extensive flat terrain of fertile agricultural land once flooded but systematically reclaimed with the help of Dutch drainage engineers. I frequently cycle along these narrow and uneven roads, avoiding the pools of water and stretches of mud churned up by fleets of farm vehicles that criss cross the fens at this time of year. When I see something of interest, I stop and capture the scene with my camera.
This is a mixed-media landscape painting on a 103cm x 76cm deep edge canvas. It is semi abstract and expressionistic in terms of technique and style. It is based on my day to day experience of living in the dramatic Fenland landscape of East Cambridgeshire in England. The heavy texture of the painting combines gesso, sand, plaster and oil paint. The material and paint is applied with a variety of tools including brushes and palette knives with the surface is built up in layers and glazes over a period of time. I have been influenced by the contemporary artists Anselm Kiefer and Gerhardt Richter.
Each image in this Fenland Landscape collection has been created using a series of texture layers with additional editing in Adobe Lightroom.
‘Even here, we go carefully, for cartography itself is not a neutral activity. The drawing of maps is full of colonial echoes. The civilised eye seeks to view the world from above, as something we can stand over and survey. The Uncivilised writer knows the world is, rather, something we are enmeshed in — a patchwork and a framework of places, experiences, sights, smells, sounds. Maps can lead, but can also mislead. Our maps must be the kind sketched in the dust with a stick, washed away by the next rain. They can be read only by those who ask to see them, and they cannot be bought’.