Saturday, 28 April 2012

Painting trip to Vendee Coast, France 2012

This trip came about from the offer of accommodation owned by friends, in the region of Vendee, France. After the hustle and bustle of Manchester, and the logistics of working afloat, on the move, two weeks based in spacious holiday accommodation was sounding ideal. I have been hopping over the channel to work, twice a year for the last three years. The process of removing yourself from Britain but retaining the independence of your own vehicle and equipment facilitates a really productive painting experience. I had never been to the Vendee region before; it is on the Atlantic coast mid-way down the country. We were staying just north of La Rochelle, in a small village called Les Conches near Longville-Sur-Mer. The region is extremely flat and popular with French tourists with good beaches and resorts scattered all up the coast. The landscape allows good family holidays with miles of dedicated cycling but no obvious drama for my enjoyment of multi-level spaces.

Vendee Oil Painting 1 – Yachts at Jard-Sur-Mer 
I am developing more and more interest in leaving behind special representation with the use of wide-angle perspectives, and instead enjoying painting compositions purely or largely dominated by organic masses. The previous painting trip to Provence, last October, facilitated great water study, which has naturally filtered into the Year of the Boat work so far. The water being an ever-changing mass of transparency and moving reflection makes it near impossible to represent. This gives the artist a freedom to explore a purely painterly process of exploring many colour sat side by side.
This painting of the yachts reflection is a dazzling turquoise water (especially coming from the British canals!) is a continuation of that work and an enjoyable artistic experience to get the ball rolling on this trip.

Vendee Oil Painting 2 – Looking into the Forest

There was something about the light combination scattered through these trees that made it stand out as a subject I wished to paint. It was also an exciting unknown, the intensity of all the detail in the forest view with the constantly changing light and shadow moving across dense textures meant that I couldn’t visualise an obvious finished piece. The chaos of the scene was so much so that towards the end of the first session, I doubted myself, and the progress of the piece. Clarity came with later sessions, when I consciously chose a more stylised format for the trees and definite structure for the composition as a whole.

Vendee Oil Painting 3 – Fire Study 1

Vendee Oil Painting 4 – Fire Study 2

These studies are not my first attempts at fire painting. I painted a fire piece whilst staying up in the Cairngorm Mountains in Scotland in the winter of 2010. Similar to the water studies a fire poses an organic moving and ever-changing subject although the transformations in this subject are much more dramatic. With these two studies I have attempted to relate the different stages of the fire. As with outdoor night paintings, colour difficulties arise when trying to capture a subject with your palette in low light, it often takes a review of the results in morning daylight to better judge your night’s work.
I never seem to capture the drama of the contrast at first attempt, this reminds me of another French painting I did, Kitchen Window at Night, I which I revisited over several nights adding more and more contrast to achieve the glow from the window.

Vendee Oil Painting 5 – Harbour

  The weather wasn’t really cooperating on this trip, it is still mid-April and we had frequent rain everyday, interspersed with periods of dazzling sunshine, it was often a case of just get out there and see what happens. This piece was started in bleak conditions stood tucked into a wind break above the Port de Plaisaunce, the harbour at Jard-sur-Mer. Sheltering myself from the strong winds I became especially aware of the purpose of a harbour in protecting the craft from the elements and quickly tried to get down a representation of the shielding arms of the harbour hugging it’s floating tennants. This is the reason behind the drama of the composition even though the subject changed somewhat when I revisited in beautiful morning sunlight a few days later.

Vendee Oil Painting 6 – La Forge

This is a representation of the accommodation we were staying at, I was interested in capturing the spot lit honeysuckle flowing in the wind against the shaded front of the house. This used to be the blacksmith’s for the village. It is useful to have a painting in progress where you are staying, particularly on this trip with the unpredictable weather, which you can dip in and out of. One of my favourite French paintings is called ‘The Breakfast Painting’ from a trip to Provence in 2009 that I would dip in and out of in a morning whilst the others were having breakfast outside the accommodation.

Vendee Oil Painting 7 – Rapeseed field with water tower.

I didn’t know if I could make this one work, just a mass of one primary colour taking over the painting. We first spotted this subject biking the Vendee coastal cycle paths, the vibrant yellow of the rapeseed demanding attention in the landscape. The water towers also stood out as colossal sculptures in this flat region. I wasn’t the only one attracted to the yellow, many people stopped their cars to photograph the field, and insects and butterflies were in abundance, hovering on a layer above the flowers, not knowing where to start, like kids in Toys R Us.

Vendee Oil Painting 8 – The Tree by the Atlantic

Clearly this tree has not had an easy existence. It stands as a visualisation of the intense Atlantic winds flowing over the sand dunes, a character in itself. I wish to do more portraits of trees in the future.

All these oil paintings plus other work from France and Scotland will go on display at my Newcastle -under-Lyme exhibition opening next month. More details to follow ...

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