This was produced at the end of an exercise at the ‘Abstract’ weekend course I went to in May, 2018. It was made by the flash of inspiration I experienced when I saw an advertisement for an upmarket handbag on a bit of newspaper I had been given along with other collage materials. It was the blue of the handles against that rust-coloured background intruding into that lovely light grey which caught my eye. After that it was just a matter of cutting off the handbag to objectivise the handles, composing a whole image with other papers and ink wash, and inserting a meaningless – but slightly mysterious? – printed message to produce a satisfactory image overall.
I hope this comes over as an abstract and, for those who have such a template in their mind, as a carefully observed map of a landscape or a vertical, coloured air photograph of a landscape. That it is truly an abstract is borne out by the fact that no such landscape exists: the image is completely imaginary, though it is made up of many actual features e.g. the line of a Roman road diagonally from top left to lower right perpetuated by a near-continuous line of extant hedgerows.
‘Images in landscape’ – this is the new painting referred to in the Commentary (19 November 2017) as the first in my new style of ‘figurative abstraction.’ I should perhaps qualify that by saying it is ‘the first finished painting on canvas’ in this style. It was preceded by the two ink wash studies on paper immediately before it in The Gallery here, and they were in turn preceded by 15-20 drawings, sketches and ink-wash studies in Michael Horn’s studio at the beginning of September as I tried to work my way out of the big block by trying new styles and methods while not just keeping to landscape but at the same time playing to my archaeological knowledge of landscape and its development through time.
Contained within this ‘landscape’ are ‘images’ ranging from standing stones, a henge monument, burial mounds (‘barrows’) on the skyline, axial Bronze Age field boundaries, an Iron Age round house, a church, a lighthouse and a boat. Overall, the painting is meant to ‘rise’ from bottom to top, from darkness to light. Anyone seeking deeper meaning might note that the Christian church is in darkness and the lily-white, pagan menhirs shine in the light.
This work indicates the stylistic direction I wish to explore, at least for the time being. Its ‘abstract figurative’ style is not easy to do, despite its apparent simplicity, particularly as I am now trying to move from ink colour-wash to oils, a much more difficult medium.
The painting has been submitted to the Open Exhibition at The Cut, Halesworth, Dec. ’17 – Jan. ’18
This pen and ink study was done rapidly on returning to the studio after an afternoon visit to Happisburgh on the north Norfolk coast. We walked on the beach and this is essentially in part the view inland incorporating the cliffs – the black bar across the bottom – and various items of cultural clutter in that landscape of which thew most obvious are the (non-existent) jetty, lower right, the boat, lower left, and the lighthouse.
Far more important to me, however, is the style since this represents an early and very conscious attempt to paint differently. The contrast with my often clunky, solid blocks of colour is obvious. The slight ink marks are suggestive of landscape with ‘normal’ elements in it like a road, river, bridge and field system.
This study immediately preceded the ‘Landscape with strong wind’ and ‘Fragments in landscape’.
Years ago I painted – and sold – a ‘Sutton Hoo’ so this has to be number 2; I confess, however, that I did not paint it as a ‘Sutton Hoo’ at all. Immediately one of its first viewers said that it reminded her of Sutton Hoo, I knew that that was, of course, what had inspired it.
I painted, and sold, a Sutton Hoo painting in my early days, so retrospectively that now has to be ‘Sutton Hoo 1’. This one followed on ‘2’ which will appear in The Gallery shortly; and there is a ‘4’ ready to follow that too. 2-4 are all probably heading towards my exhibition in Halesworth Gallery, 30 July – 17 August.
Sutton Hoo, the Anglo-Saxon cemetery with its famous boat-burial, is only a few miles from where I now paint so I go there not infrequently. As a member of the National Trust, which owns the site, I + a guest get in free, so it is a good place to take visitors: such practical matters and its archaeological interest apart, it is a lovely place to walk, above the R. Deben, the exhibition is excellent and the restaurant can be quite expensively delicious.
Obviously none of that is in this painting; yet much of it is, for in my characteristic grid-like template, all done free-hand, are not only burial mounds, silver flashes reflected off the water and grassy paths between brown trees but also, and more importantly for me in this case, a sense of the place rather than a depiction of it. It is about being in what is now a pleasant place, yet with reminders in the darker hues of grisly things that have happened here before. And ‘before’ here goes back a long time, long before the Anglo-Saxons to c2000 BC – read Martin Carver’s book and/or join one of the guided tours if you want the details; it also comes up to the mid-20th century with Mrs Pretty’s house – she was the former owner who encouraged the new diggings of the mounds in 1939 – now open and on display in a curiously lifeless style, at least for this visitor. Life at Sutton Hoo before the Second World War comes over as empty and stale in comparison with the excitement and exoticism conjured up in the exhibition hall: there’s another painting in that idea, I suspect, perhaps ‘Sutton Hoo 7’?
This is, in my view, one of my best and most sophisticated paintings. So, when its turn came to drop off the end of The Gallery, I have immediately restored it at the top end where it should continue to be exhibited for a couple of months or so.
‘On Overton Down’ is one of the largest canvases I have painted – in fact it is a triptych, consisting of three canvases each 1 m wide and 50 cms high, painted so that they form one image when placed long side against long side; though each canvas separately presents quite an interesting, if unintended, solo image. Indeed two of them are hanging singly at the moment. It is difficult to find a sufficiently spacious domestic wall to hang the whole, and unfortunately I do not possess my own art gallery in a physical sense. This painting, itself an attempt to make a big painting literally more manageable in practice i.e. so that it could go in the back of a car, is one of the main reasons why I thereafter painted smaller works.
The full title of this painting is ‘On being on Overton Down 3’. It is my third attempt to paint not Overton Down itself but to convey visually a sense of what it is like to be there. The first one was sold; the second I destroyed. Overton Down itself lies high on the western edge of the Marlborough Downs on Upper Chalk; it is part of the Fyfield Down National Nature Reserve and is now also within the Avebury part of the Avebury and Stonehenge World Heritage Site, Wiltshire. It is for me a rather special place where, over the last 55 years, I have enjoyed some of my best archaeological moments.
This image tries to convey personal impressions of the place – its often big blue, windy skies full of big white, hastening clouds, its wide open spaces of grass downland occasionally punctuated by neat tree-clumps, and the whole superficially marked by traces of human activity such as low banks and ditches, stone rows and fences, and sinuous, interlacing tracks. Contemporary use is visible in the form of straight lengths of race-horse training gallops, the idea of which I have used to link the three canvases together. Over the millennia, much has gone on here; the landscape is artificial, not a wilderness. Yet it is now a lonely and silent place apart from skylarks and sometimes sheep, and I don’t think I have succeeded in conveying that; but I nevertheless like the colours and shapes. The green and white respectively echo, fairly obviously, the colours of the ubiquitous grass and the chalk beneath; but, less obviously, the blue represents not the sky but the seas which once occupied this area and laid down the materials which eventually became chalk. The thought that I’m walking on a sea-bed is, for me, very much part of being on Overton Down.
Somewhat ironically, months after writing that paean I made my latest visit there (August 2015) to record material for several guided trails over the downs. It absolutely bucketed with rain all day and we were, literally, soaked to the skin despite having all the proper gear (including a Toyata 4WD vehicle). And furthermore, not only did the rain and low cloud preclude the Down from the sort of inspiration underpinning my painting, but a recent change of ownership seems to have led to a questionable level of bovine overstocking in what is, after all, a National Nature Reserve containing an internationally-recognised cultural landscape.