It is my experience of the land and sea which has always provided the impetus for my work. I gain my initial response to the landscape from walking. This may be on the coastal paths of Dorset, Devon or Cornwall, the fells of Cumbria or the islands of Scotland’s west coast. The wilder and more remote parts of the country have always drawn me to them. When I was living in London I would escape from the city to explore these magnificent places, then back in the studio I would transform the memory of that response, allowing the painting process to influence the way in which my experiences would reveal themselves. These days I am exploring the quieter and more hidden parts of the Devon landscape, where I now live, and I’m discovering the pleasure of being able to walk by the sea every day and to absorb more slowly the beauty that surrounds me before taking this new experience into the studio.
My early work used the fluidity and transparency of water colour, and I still use this technique in my oil based work today, both in the use of glazes and in the layering of paint and collage. The subtle and gentle colours I use reflect the aesthetic of the landscape I am responding to, in the same way that the painting process itself helps to convey, for example, the quietness or the energy of the experience I am recalling.
The dominance of the land and sea as the impetus for my work also creates a number of interesting questions which I need to resolve again and again. Firstly there is the tension between figuration and abstraction with which my work is concerned: the presence of a horizon line or its absence. Then there is the contrast between the experience of the peace and stillness of the vast empty spaces, or the importance of the small and closely observed image seen from the corner of the eye but which stays embedded in the memory of a place. By allowing my work to move between these and other memories I try to develop a fluidity and freshness of approach to the landscape.
When I was reading for my Professional Practice Doctorate in Fine Art my doctoral report was entitled ‘Experiencing the land: transformation and revelation’. It was a joy to be able to take the time to research and reflect upon the basis of my work and I was finally able to focus on exploring the philosophical and psychological, as well as the technical, processes of my painting. It was in doing this research that I discovered these words of Carl Gustav Carus in his Nine Letters on Landscape Painting:
‘Stand then upon the summit of the mountain, and gaze over the long rows of hills. Observe the passage of streams and all the magnificence that opens up before your eyes; and what feeling grips you? …You lose yourself in boundless spaces… your I vanishes, you are nothing…’
This psychological response to landscape perfectly describes the underlying basis for my own practice.