Configuration: painting as a method of experiencing landscape
The paintings and drawings unite field trips with photographic imagery. They mine real and imagined physical and sourced knowledge from which a new topography is born, where the natural and the man made collide in expansive views and isolated detail.
Existing as notes from excursions across the land, the terrain has been felt through the soles of the feet, the eyes and skin embodying the physical geography informing the studio process. Grinding pigment; grains of earth-derived colour slowly become dusty under the muller. Separating egg yolk from white, rolling it softly across tissue paper, then carefully holding the glutinous yolk sac between forefinger and thumb to let the rich fatty yellow liquid drip into the white ceramic palette. A drop of spirit before whisking to an emulsion ready to combine with moistened pigment to create egg tempera paint. The relationship with the ground, the senses and the material is consummated as the hand applies paint to surface.
The works reveal potential in and and for the land, as something new and as yet, not fully discovered. Each painting or drawing is in a state of becoming, identified by Carter (Barratt and Bolt, 2010) when discussing creative practice as research, as “in general, a double movement occurs of decontextualisation in which the found elements are rendered strange, and of recontextualisation, in which new families of association and structures of meaning are established.”
The depicted location is the East Anglian county of Suffolk, where coasts are rapidly eroding through longshore drift, bringing human relationship with the land into sharp focus. Local householder’s attempts to protect their property by importing sea defences in the form of granite boulders are unsuccessful, but in the face of government policies of ‘managed retreat’, have a sense of logic. Villages and towns where in the past, trade thrived due to the proximity of the sea, now find themselves under siege from the waves. The ever changing coastline continually reframes the county and the sphere of reference that its population lives by.
Paul Farley and Michael Simmonds Roberts talk of the ignored and unnamed landscapes in Edgelands (2012), positing these places as full of potential and possibility. Between country and city, the landscape is currently being transfigured via less restrictive planning laws allowing development on greenfield sites; swathes of agricultural land that border towns and cities turned into collections of separate castles for every man. If human built intervention on the land is expanding, then it is the mesh of political and social demands that has transformed edgelands into places of definition.
The landscape is is fixed at the moment of its painterly creation, a history, a record, a document, visually halts progress; a method of understanding the topography of the land, and how it is constructed. The act of painting dictates spending time over a delineated area, considering it, analysing it, noting the edges, drawing attention to things. Through intentional demarkation with the brush, power is bestowed on the overlooked, each slow footstep and brushstroke a palimpsest spatialising the near and far. Walking the land reveals the undulations and traces lying deep in the earth, imperfect memories of these excursions exaggerate notions of importance, unbalancing the subtle relationships between areas. Walking in the City, as explored in The Practice of Everyday Life (de Certeau, 1984) explains walking as a chorus of idle footsteps. De Certeau posits “Their story begins on ground level, with footsteps. …Their intertwined paths give their shape to space. They weave places together.” He continues to propose that pedestrianism can be compared to a speech act, where walking the urban street system equates to speech as the manifestation of language, and where walking can be seen as a space of enunciation.
In the studio, thinking takes place through and during the application of paint. The purity of the physical experience distills and is re-formed in viscous strokes of colour. Material application begins to forge painterly edgelands as areas of colour and texture abut each other, the loaded brush in the hand dictating the strokes of paint, simultaneously configuring and fixing the landscape, reflecting de Certeau’s words “The walker actualises space just like the painter; for both, their paths cement the here and there” (de Certeau, 1984).
In the 19th Century, Victor Hugo described the meeting of rural and urban lands as “that kind of bastard countryside, somewhat ugly but bizarre, made up of two different natures.” His statement could equally be applied to the process of painting a landscape, the nature of paint and of place attempting to conjoin and cohabit; two different natures residing uneasily.
Barratt E, Bolt B 2010, Practice as Research: Approaches to Creative Arts Enquiry, I B Taurus, London
De Certeau M 1984, The Practice of Everyday Life, University of California Press
Farley R, Simmonds Roberts M, 2012, Edgelands, Vintage, London
Perec G 1997, Species of Spaces and Other Pieces, Penguin London
Solnit R 2006, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Canongate Edinburgh
Wainwright A 1996, A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells, The Westmorland Gazette
Williams R 1985, The Country and the City, Random House