Having, in February 2013, just finished an ambitious piece about an ex-mining community in Cornwall got me thinking about work, life and connections between the different stages of both.
The painting came from a morning spent in Pendeen, a place that’s just a few miles north-east of where I lived at that time in St Just. After enjoying the bustle of the farmer’s market in the centre there, my wife Gabrielle and I climbed Pendeen Carn, the hill that overlooks the whole coastline there. As we looked back I was struck by the juxtaposition of Geevor mine near the cliff top in the distance, the nearer fields and miner’s cottages and just below us some standing grave stones on the hillside. On each level a repeating series of shapes seemed to form a counterpoint to those on the other levels. Over the following days and weeks, as I worked on the 1 metre x 1 metre canvas that I felt was needed to do justice to this particular landscape prospect, I found myself pondering that here was an image of work/home and life/death in balance, all of it presided over by what I call that ocean light that is so characteristic of Cornwall.
Following its exhibition in New York and full page coverage about its benefit auction in the festival newspaper perhaps it isn’t too much of a surprise that the Viva Lafrowda painting has sold in advance at the buy-now price. It’s certainly gratifying and will be a bit of boost for the festival’s finances. So, what to do in stead of the auction this year? How to enter into the spirit of the festival on Lafrowda Day (July 16th) and to contribute further to future festivals? After giving it some thought I decided to do unmounted but card backed, signed and wrapped prints of most of the Lafrowda paintings from the last 8 years and to donate the proceeds from the sale of these on the day, both online and at the Turn of the Tide Studio. You can see the range of what will be available here.
I’ve been accumulating a collection of new work towards my next exhibition.
What’s been guiding my approach to image making since October 2008 has been a fascination with all those aspects of landscape that suggest human presence. Having a stronger than ever awareness of this aspect as I roam the countryside now has led me to see it as what I’m calling a Lived-in Landscape. This all started with realising that the theme of a cluster of buildings, that was present in some of the collection that made up my previous exhibition at Falmouth Arts centre last October, was something I wanted to explore further. Then, as I began to pursue this theme I found myself drawn to depicting other features reflecting human presence and influence such as field patterns, tracks through the landscape, the maritime landscape of Mounts Bay and an incident in the mining history of the area. So this thematic element is one lived-in aspect of this new collection.
Another aspect which I’m becoming increasingly aware of is more to do with the process of painting or drawing. This relates to the fact that translating these images into varied areas of colour, tone and texture involves literally living in these compositions that derive from the landscape. My hope is that the experience of lingering over the colour mixtures, the paint layering and the brush or finger marks that I use begins to coax a feeling of life into what I’m doing. This is something that I relish and that gradually leads me to a sense that the piece that I’m working on is beginning to have a life of its own. My aim is to bring this quality to a pitch of vividness which is unique to the painted image and not simply a reflection of the life situation that I’m depicting.
The part of Cornwall where I’m based has a rich and varied history. Centuries of farming and a long history of mining have left a clear imprint. What has attracted me to explore this aspect of the landscape has ranged from field patterns to hollow lanes, to people working on the land, to ancient sites, to clusters of buildings, to people celebrating on a summer evening, to maritime activitiy in Mounts Bay and finally to what to me was a haunting image from the tragic history of tin and copper mining in the area.
Two books have resonated for me with the experience of living with these landscapes. One was The Making of the English Landscape by W. G. Hoskins which was recommended by a visitor to my stduio back in the spring of 2009. Its reference to the great antiquity of some of Penwith’s field boundaries in particular struck me and then led to a sense of how pervasive human influence has been in forming many aspects of our landscape. The other was a novel called John Pascoe by J. C. Tregarthen whose imaginative recreation of a young man’s experience of life in 19th century Penwith helped to make more vivid my sense of this as a truly human landscape.
When the collection reached completion and I had booked the gallery at Trereife House near Penzance as the venue for the exhibition from May 28th – June 10th 2010, I felt that this had been a delightfully varied journey that I’d been on. What all these pieces have in common for me is a sense of the life-states of those who have lived here, of their persisting reality being reflected back to me and lived-in again through the process of painting.