With the approach of Lafrowda Day 2016 on July 16th I had been recalling the extraordinary impact for me of the afternoon procession on the Lafrowda Day of the previous year. In particular it was the Yellow Submarine advancing down Fore Street in St Just that had appealed to me. What was it about it that had resonated so strongly for me?
Some of you, like me, will remember seeing the original animated film when it was released in 1968 (Director George Dunning, Artistic Director Heinz Edelmann). I was a second year student in Fine Art at Newcastle University at the time. I hitch-hiked down the A1 and M1 one weekend, spent some time in the National Gallery and then went to see the Yellow Submarine film in Leicester Square that evening. Watching the trailer online recently brought it all back! It’s been re-mastered and was re-released in 1999 apparently. The Guardian ran a fascinating article about it just before the re-release ( http://www.theguardian.com/film/2012/nov/19/beatles-yellow-submarine-simpsons-shrek ) which discusses the origins and making of the film. All kinds of interpretations have been brought to it. For me, however, in addition to enabling the Fab Four to save Pepperland through music from the devastating effects of the Blue Meanies, the Yellow submarine is simply a wonderful image of community inclusion.
The inspiration for Morning light down Fore Street, St Columb ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/morning-light-fore-street-st-columb/ ) came from a walk down through the Cornish town of St Columb. This was on one of many studio visits as I was about to move back towards the end of four months living at the other end of this community. Here the complexities of quirky architecture along the way seemed like an equivalent for another promising spin-off from the time I’d spent living away. I refer to an art and heritage-related project that, together with my wife Gabrielle, I’m initiating for the town that we have come to love. Here’s how it came about:
Our days had been for weeks split between the studio at one end of town and our rented house at the other end so this made us more than ever aware of this community that we are part of. By-passed in the late 1970s, already passed over when the choice of Truro as Cornwall’s cathedral city was made in the 19th century and having lost far too many shops to the supermarket trade in larger towns all around it, St Columb cries out for regeneration. Together with a handful of art loving friends here, we are planning towards a project that we hope will make a difference. Encouraged by the experience of art related regeneration that occurred over at least the last twenty years of the thirty we spent in St Just-in-Penwith we aim to help release the creative potential within this community as well.
New houses at dawn from Carloggas Way ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/new-houses-dawn-carloggas-way/ ) was, for me, about the sense of promise that accompanies a new day, especially one in which long planned for events are about to occur. In this case it was the return to my ‘proper‘ home after four months at a rented house to enable refurbishing to happen following an insurance claim, The glow of early morning sunshine that picked out the hilltop houses here from those still bathed in cool shade on the lower slopes was for me a vehicle to contain the hope I felt. For me they were perhaps symbols of the positive potential inherent in this situation as I prepared to move back.
Towards the clay country ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/towards-clay-country-mid-cornwall/ ) came from noticing an ‘echo’ between the gable-end of an isolated Cornish farmhouse and a clay country ‘pyramid’ among the distant hills. Whatever immediate concerns one has there is often some correspondence to be found with events at a distance. At the time of painting this mine had become very domestic with a temporary relocation brought about as part of an insurance claim. However, upheaval and change are part of so many people’s lives I realised. This all resolved for me in this painting as a series of bands of colour. Coaxing them into ‘singing’ together by the way I painted them seemed to give poignancy to this process of resolution, a coming-to-terms with the change I was living through.
I’ve coined the phrase ‘dove-tailing’ for the process of interlocking shapes within a picture. It’s a compositional device that once again occurred to me as I worked on a painting inspired by hillside trees and houses in a nearby Cornish town ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/hillside-trees-houses-bodmin/ ). What struck me as I put the finishing touches to this new piece was how reminiscent it was in this way and in terms of colour to a canvas called Town shapes St Just ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/town-shapes-st-just/ ) that I painted in that far westerly town eight years ago. I had long since understood that the warm colour emphasis I brought out in that picture, as well as a similar dove-tailing of shapes, arose from the human warmth that I felt surrounded by in that far west community.
In Working landscape, mid Cornwall ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/working-landscape-mid-cornwall/ ) I aimed to be quite systematic in my exploration of colour, pattern and shape. Here the working out of these pictorial elements became my equivalent for working processes on the land. The baling of hay, the ploughing up of stubble, operating within boundaries of fields and woods; these are the activities of people whose barns and houses provide angular forms that complement the flowing rhythms all around them.
Autumn lane ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/autumn-lane/ ) is the first of two new pictures that come from my enjoyment of various aspects of this season of constant change. Here it was the autumnal colour variations of trees, lane, half hidden cottage and distant woods that provided themes to interpret in paint. In handling them my reference to a specific location became a pretext for that manipulation of my materials that is for me the true life of such a painting.
Upcountry from Redruth (
https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/upcountry-from-redruth/ ). Layers of landscape intrigue me. It’s something about the counterpoint of shapes they provide. Clustered houses here climb the foreground hill; wind-turbines lie beyond, something a little unexpected in a landscape painting, signs of change. There are distant blue hills. Upward progression becomes movement into space, an invitation to enjoy that magic of painting whereby surface interaction and exploration into depth occur together.
The fairly intense period of work on my 2015 Lafrowda Festival painting, ‘We all live in a yellow submarine’, had finally led to its completion in mid September.
Work on the canvas itself, following a period of playing around with the images on my PC after the mid July festival in St Just, had begun in earnest around the time of our Open Studio Week here at the Lanherne Studio early in August that year. First came the need to carefully plot out the composition with charcoal outlines. That was an ideal job to do in-between studio visitors because its complexity demanded interruption now and again to take a wider view. After fixing the drawing and applying a transparent matt acrylic layer I decided on a deep yellow see-through ground over which I began blocking in the main shapes. This in turn became so complex that, in order to see it clearly in terms of colour and shape and not be distracted by ‘getting it right’ I decided to work with the picture and reference material upside-down for at least a week’s worth of painting sessions. Surprisingly, this method can really help with more rapid and accurate shape and colour-hue recognition. I understand that it’s something to do with the different hemisphere’s of the brain working together in a less self-conscious way. “I see you’re in Australia again” was my wife’s comment when she joined me in the studio one day.
Once things were right-way-up again it seemed I was on the home straight to resolving it all. Something wouldn’t quite gel however. It was only when I tried the picture on another wall back in the house, glancing across at it as I did the washing-up, that it became clear that the right hand side of the street in the picture needed a scumble of translucent and very light violet. Glazes of various yellows were also needed to pull together the form of the submarine itself. This clinched it!
Such was the curious process of painting this complex piece. Another fascinating aspect was the way that the theme of the Yellow submarine, which of course refers to the famous Beatles number and the 1968 animated film, had attracted such a lot of speculation as to its symbolism. That, and my memories of the time when I saw the film as a student are the subject of another blog posting at https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/yellow-submarine-memories/.
Patchwork hillside and mackeral sky ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/patchwork-hillside-mackerel-sky/ ) is a canvas that uses the near and far principle as in Near and far, Mawgan Porth and Village evening among others. In this case you could say that above and below, the cloud forms and the dark field boundaries, replace the correspondence of near and far.