Landscape painting in mixed media materials
Landscape painting in mixed media materials

This is a mixed-media landscape painting on canvas. It is semi-abstract and expressionistic in terms of technique and style but there are elements of perspective and simple spatial devices employed in the work. It reflects my day-to-day experience of living in the understated yet dramatic Fenland landscape of East Cambridgeshire. The word ‘till’ is interchangeable with ‘until’ and I have tried to suggest both meanings in this piece. Working with the land is about understanding time and intervals of time, it is about the importance of rhythms of activity and inactivity, of waiting, of anticipating……until. It can also refer to a vault; a place to hold treasure.

The heavy texture of this painting combines gesso, sand, plaster, marble dust, bitumen and oil paint. The materials have a direct relationship to the physical qualities of the land and I feel this gets me closer to the reality of earth. I apply the materials with a variety of tools, scoring, carving and digging back through the surface with multiple layers. I often work outside the studio so that I am not constrained by the need to keep materials and paints in check. I enjoy working in the open air…. like walking through the landscape, it is a liberating experience.

Landscape painting in mixed media materials
Detail
Landscape painting in mixed media materials
Detail

What do I mean by reverse archaeology? That archaeology may have something to offer painting is less complicated than you might imagine. The painting that you see here is really 3 paintings in one, except that you can only see the last layer, or the current layer, to be more accurate.

This work started out as a monochrome image using a bitumen ground with a white chalk paint applied in alternate layers. The chalk layer acted as a kind of sgraffito surface that could reveal the darker tones below. At this stage, with the paint still wet, it was also possible to drag the surface with a wide squeegee, a technique used by the German artist Gerhard Richter to create unexpected marks and gradations of tone.

I guess I could have stopped at this point. The painting had already gained a rugged tactile quality with a richly textured surface. I had also used horizontal bands or sections to echo the characteristics of the Fenland landscape and aerial perspective. I reworked the painting a few days later. To be honest, I know the precise reason I made the next set of changes. I had seen a contemporary textile piece in a local gallery that comprised sections of worn, multi-coloured cloth, stitched together in vertical strips. The effect was mesmerising. The artist explained that the old clothing belonged to her husband, a farmer, and she wanted to embed and embody his work in the textile landscape.

I introduced several opaque layers of cold wax medium to the surface. These were stained with light ochre and I waited a few days for them to dry. I then scored regular horizontal lines through the surface to the bitumen. The painting at this stage was monochrome. It had a definite presence with a minimalist abstract quality. I had successfully avoided the trap of becoming overly decorative and too narrowly focused on detail. However, I didn’t stop at that point, hence the reference to reverse archaeology. Archaeology is a process of extraction and excavation, revealing the events of time. My paintings are a process of accretion and sedimentation, which disguise the origins of the work.

I became dissatisfied with the absence of colour in the work and I wanted to introduce a range of warmer, differentiated tones to the gridlike structure. I switched to acrylic paints and some metallic effects, which I applied selectively. As you know, acrylic and oil don’t mix particularly well, but this can be an advantage if you are striving to achieve an uneven, variegated colour. The last part of the process involved the application of heat with a heat gun. The intense heat allowed the bitumen to burn through the wax, reinstating the fine lines and increasing the textural qualities in the paint which momentarily bubbled and then resettled.

This is where I have arrived, and maybe this is where I should remain. Maybe the painting becomes less convincing each time I make a significant intervention. Maybe the earlier foundations and cumulative changes conjure a depth and a weight that may have lifted the work beyond the pedestrian. At this moment, the jury is out.

Let me know your thoughts, it’s always good to hear other viewpoints and opinions.

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.

A mountain bike is a gift to anyone interested in landscape photography and I really should have considered buying one before. Yes, even here in the flat mountain-less terrain of the Cambridgeshire Fens there are endless opportunities to leave the road and follow byways and trails across the open countryside. Photographers are always in search of different vantage points, new perspectives and fresh ways of representing familiar scenes. If I left the road on my old hybrid bike it was impossible to progress more than a few yards and then a puncture from a thorn or sharp stone was more or less guaranteed. Well, I have just discovered that a mountain bike is an entirely different proposition…who knew?

I stumbled across this wall of abandoned haystacks just off Adventurer’s Drove near the village of Pymoor. The reason I stopped had nothing to do with the haystacks but the discovery of three World War 11 ‘pill boxes’ in various states of decay. Local farmers had clearly been using them over the years as makeshift storage for agricultural supplies etc. There is no doubt that these defensive bunkers are very powerful and evocative structures, immediately conjuring a host of memories and images from the past. As I reflected on the purpose and role of these buildings I looked towards the haystacks; a hallucinatory image of submarine wreckage briefly materialised at the side of the road.

Somersham Fen 40 x 40 x 4 cm

This painting based on Somersham Fen has been created using oil and cold wax medium on a canvas stretcher. The intense yellow of rapeseed dominates the Fenlands at certain times of the year; it saturates the retina. For a painter, the task is to capture the overwhelming power of colour and yet also retain structure and form in the painting. The heavy impasto of cold wax helps to establish the solidity and sculptural qualities of the landscape near the Fenland village of Somersham.

‘We associate yellow with warmth, sunshine, and positivity. Bright yellow is an attention-getter, and its contrast with black is the most visible color combination.

‘Despite its association with cheerfulness and warmth, yellow carries a surprising number of negative connotations. Yellow is a symbol of cowardice, of sickness, and of mental illness. It’s the color of sensationalism and even of excess. Vibrant yellow is typically used with caution by designers, though paler yellows can certainly have a modest uplifting effect. Too much bright yellow can easily overwhelm a project’. source: The Meaning of Colour

Somersham Fen: (detail)
Somersham Fen (detail)