The Reason for Painting Landscapes
When I came back to painting a few years ago I decided for reasons of convenience to use landscapes as a way to get my skills back and to find out what interested me. I discovered many things. One is that the affinity I have with the landscape of Southern England is even deeper than I’d realised. To put it another way, I’ve been told I see this landscape in a magical way.
The Importance of Specificity
The first thing that emerged and remains fundamental to my work is that everything has to be specific (not “that kind of tree” but “that tree”) and that that everything includes the mechanics of the painting as well as the things it depicts. I have no interest in painting a cloud; I want to paint this cloud from this angle in this weather at this moment in an equally specific context. Not only that; I want to paint it with these colours and paint that changes transparency just so and a surface of this nature and edges that sharpen and fade in this particular way and with marks of this scale and that much liveliness. Moreover, I want it to relate to the rest of the painting like this and… ad infinitum. I end up scrubbing paint away to start again quite a lot.
The Glimpse and the Fragment
Underpinning my work is an understanding that as humans we perceive and understand the world by assembling discrete glimpses and fragments. We see a scene by letting our eyes move rapidly over it, we learn and gain insight by bringing together disparate sources of information be they personal or external. This lets us challenge opinions, make connections and cope with cognitive dissonance. So when I try to paint something complex I often make several straightforwards paintings instead of one complex one. Each provides context for the others, allowing the viewer to find meaning and accept contradictions in much the same way as they would in the real world.
A Fascination with Colour, Space and Light
As a student I was fascinated by the notion of perceived space coexisting with an awareness of the surface of a picture. Being able to draw attention to both a three dimensional space that doesn’t exist and to the paint that makes that space seem to exist at the same time still blows my mind and I could build a career exploring it. It simply isn’t possible to pull this off without diving deep into colour and light and both come naturally to me. The use of colour and light in the paintings of mine which leave the viewer staring into the sun is as close as my art comes to hedonism.
Dabbling with Time
A few years ago I started to engage with time as well as space. I realised that time had crept into my work with me noticing – being so specific about moments and bringing together multiple images made it an unspoken influence in my work. So I made work that embraced it, with an x-ray vision sort of time travel by using carefully edited views of the present, taking almost a reverse archaeology approach to painting. Just like archaeology, the process is all about preserving context. Having the beginnings of a methodology for exploring time enabled my Magna Carta work and the things I have gone on to since.
I’m pretty good at absorbing random things… Aside from the obvious artists that any English landscape painter will and breathe – Constable, Turner, Cezanne, Nash, Sutherland and Piper et al I tend to take on board an ever changing kaleidoscope of sources. Over the last couple of years Japanese ink work has held me entranced and has begun to filter into a watercolour style handling of oil paints in my underpaintings. Right now, I’m blown away by the aesthetics of the Black Panther news-sheet (blame the Tate’s Black Power exhibition for that) and the music of Thomas Tallis and Miles Davis. A couple of months ago I was assimilating and being frustrated by Anselm Kiefer after his show at White Cube. Tomorrow who knows?
I have been taking all this understanding and personal tradition and on and off for 15 months I have been applying it to a more ambitious project using IS propaganda images to explore the conflict in Iraq and Syria and to think about war more widely. More will be released about this in due course.