The venue for my September 2018 exhibition was an old courthouse in the centre of Bodmin, mid Cornwall. I’ve shown there several times before. This time, however, it struck me as entirely appropriate that this space was once the public gallery, in a different meaning of the word, of what was once a courthouse.
Whilst I’m not familiar with the official records it must be the case that death sentences were once passed there. Perhaps some hapless plaintiff was once granted a stay of execution and – not to further mince my words – this I feel is what has happened to me over the last two years with the ongoing success of treatments for my prostate and secondary bone cancer. It is the wonder of that experience that I wanted to convey through this exhibition as well as positive aspects of the reminder of mortality that goes along with it.
See all the paintings and installation shots here.
I have been able to make a handsome donation to the charity Reprieve from sales in connection with this exhibition.
Cumulus and rooftops ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/rooftops-and-cumulus/ )
I had recently been invited to give my third painting demonstration to members of Newquay Art Society, the last one having been some four years ago. I knew that I had to use a theme that would sit well within the collection I’m putting together for a forthcoming exhibition and that, having ’blocked-in’ the composition in front of these aspiring artists, I would want to develop it further back at my studio. Trawling through the archive of my own digital reference materials I came across shots I took a few years ago that seemed to provide a promising starting point. It was during a summer afternoon visit to the cliffs at Bedruthan Steps. I had been recording the forms of the spectacular coast and sea when I recall that a clap of thunder made me turn around towards the National Trust café there. I remember thinking at the time that the mass of cloud above and the rooftop forms of the buildings below provided an image of the kind of identity and difference that fascinates me. Re-discovering this recently, it seemed to me to ’fit the bill’ well. I knew I could explain about my interest in how the illuminated cloud mass was for me in some ways similar to, in others very different from, the roof structures below. I knew that ’lively greys’ suggested by billowing cloud forms could take centre-stage between these two areas of the painting so that is what I used to enliven what could otherwise have been a characterless part of the composition.
Silvery cloud above winter trees ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/silvery-cloud-above-winter-trees/ ) arose from my response to colour interactions on a bright wintry afternoon near my studio here in Mid Cornwall as I walked with my dear elderly collie ‘Rags‘. The joyful clarity of most of the sky above this hillside meadow, adorned with leafless trees and illuminated by the glow of the gradually sinking sun, seemed at first marred by the cloud forms moving across it. Then I realised what was going on and that it could be brought out through the process of painting. I always strive for what a college tutor of mine used to call ’lively greys’, finding ways to achieve them optically and sometimes by mixtures other than those of white and black. The cloud bank here provided an opportunity to place such greys in relation to the cool brightness of the open sky, the sombre warmth of winter trees and the earthy golden greens of a foreground field. There it could hang suspended, warmer than the azure blue, cooler than the earthy hues beneath, enigmatic and intriguing.
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.