Painting arrived quite late in my life. I moved my studio to Suffolk, hoping to find those influences there which have inspired so many creative people. Whether I have or not shows in my paintings and other works, 2011-16. I certainly found myself ‘viewing change’, the title of a joint exhibition at Halesworth Gallery in the summer of 2016. This was something of a surprise in a way since, like many incomers, I came unthinkingly expecting the ‘unchanging Suffolk’ of the county’s traditional image as viewed from outside.
It is the local truism about the changing East Anglian coastline that has most forcibly struck me. Coming with a background in field sciences, I find the nature and pace of coastal change both alarming and fascinating, and that shows in my paintings. Many are about the sea and more specifically about the changing relationship between sea and land. An example is ‘Blakeney quay’ (in The Gallery, and my post about the exhibition in ‘Commentary’): it is as much about the silting up of the prosperous medieval port, reducing it to a leisure facility, as it is about the white clouds at dusk mirrored in the still water of low tide; ‘Old mooring’ (see also Gallery and exhibition post), also at dusk as another day passes, is similarly about what was, rather than what (I imagined) I could just see (the image is entirely imaginary); and ‘Dissolving coast’ (above left) is self-explanatory, not of any particular place but a generality of almost anywhere around the East Anglian coastline. Where indeed is the coastline, now, in the past or future?
With interesting variables, similar stories accrue around and up the estuaries. My studio is on one at Snape, so I am acutely aware of rising sea-level in general and changing tides each day. ‘Snape Bridge and the Maltings’ (above) may be something of a painters’ and photographers’ cliché, but I see the historically-lowest practical bridging point of the River Alde, currently represented by a rather graceful mid-20th century structure, with a massively silted-up shallow broad valley beyond of international conservation interest. The Maltings themselves, the epitome of change as they translated themselves from brewery and inland port to internationally acclaimed music festival and concert hall, are changing again since this painting was completed.
Further down this estuary, the ‘Blue line’, along the top of the sea wall south from Aldeburgh to the Martello tower, is a metaphor for the fragility of ‘hard’ coastal defence, here stretched across the weak point at Slaughden where the Alde debouched into the sea before shingle deposited by the sea itself diverted it along the inside of the elongating Orford Ness (above right and post of 27 September, 2016). Change too lies behind ‘Jetties’ (above left), now marooned high and almost dry as a (an imaginary) creek has become unavailable to even small ships; and the two ‘Sutton Hoo’ paintings (below) – in my view, two of the best I have ever painted incidentally – tell not just of rather uninteresting-looking mounds in a field but of the significance of place perched above an estuary which was once a seat of power where big issues of governance, religion and identity engaged our ancestors (below).
My paintings, abstract and figurative, clearly carry much meaning for me. I hope others also enjoy some of the images and the messages behind them. I absolutely accept that a good painting should need no words; but then I like writing too.
Peter Fowler 1 October, 2016
It was but a dozen years ago that, quite unforeseen, I discovered I could paint and liked doing so. That people then started buying my works was an unexpected encouragement. Taking all this seriously, I have moved my studio to east Suffolk, one hundred miles north east of London, hoping to be receptive to those qualities of the area which have inspired, and continue to inspire, so many creative people.
Behind my images lies a lifetime in public service and academic archaeology, enlivened by travel to much of Britain, some of Europe and many places in the world, often looking professionally at other peoples’ local landscapes and hitherto writing about them. Now my mind is full of images of landscape, places and structures, of shapes and colours and messages. I draw on that memory bank and my academic understanding to try to give graphic expression to narratives and to ideas, seeking ambivalence and ambiguity as well as interesting textures, conjunctions and associations.
My selection here will develop across the range of my output.* It reflects my interest, as archaeologist, writer and painter, in landscape, mainly rural, and now especially the coast and its dynamics. I was rather surprised when making my original selection to discover so many abstracts. Nevertheless, the range here is across the conventional classification from figurative to abstract, but many images hover happily somewhere in between.
Many of the early paintings (2003-11) were made en plein air in Lozère, France, and indoors in various studios in Clerkenwell and Camden, London. Their inspiration may, however, derive from almost anywhere in the world, though I am increasingly tending to start from the local, in particular along the East Anglian coast or on the Wiltshire downs. Still feeling very much a beginner, indeed an interloper into a strange, high-tension world of real artists and art-lovers, I nevertheless appreciate that the product of what I have found to be a curious, very private and solitary activity is but a micro-pixel in a very big world indeed.
Any further thoughts of that nature are meant to be jotted down in the Insight (now ‘Commentary’) section. Empty to start with, it is conceived by my web-designer as encouragement to jot down running commentary as I paint and more general thoughts, if such emerge, on Painting, Life, the Universe and that Sort of Thing: we shall see.
Peter Fowler June 2015
*Gallery Note: my intention is to have 16 images exhibited in The Gallery at any one time, including the three ‘moving’ eye-catchers at the start of the page. I aim to put up a new image on average once a week, which means that a completely new gallery of images will have appeared over every four months or so and some 50 new images every year. Most of these will be ‘from stock’, as it were, since I have an archive of hundreds of photographs of paintings, but I will include some new work as it comes along, if it is good enough.
New paintings are added top left in The Gallery’s display of four lines of four thumbnail images; so images which have been displayed longest drop off the right hand end of the lowest rung of the display. A record of ‘disappeared’ paintings, including their descriptive texts, is put into Commentary at the time of their departure.
The Commentary section, basically text, also includes photographs of other paintings, some during the course of their development, and of places and things relevant to what I can grandly call my ‘artistic life’ (as distinct from the others that I live) e.g. notes on an art exhibition I have visited.
A click on a thumbnail image in The Gallery will bring up a full page image, with an optional text below it if you want a painter’s view of what he thinks he has painted. But please look with your own eyes first for it is your view that matters.
All the paintings illustrated are of course available to purchase, except those otherwise indicated e.g. SOLD, NFS. Please contact me via ‘Send me an email’ below if you have an enquiry. – PJF