Friday, 5 October 2012

Oil Painting 45 - The Copper Beech at Tewkesbury Abbey

After our time at Worcester Cathedral we waved it off into the distance as we joined The River Severn and set off down towards Tewkesbury and Gloucester. Suddenly our previously long 60ft vessel didn't seem to be holding it's own, since leaving the canal, alongside the packed yacht clubs and cruisers on this big river. You become aware of a flow and require an anchor, and worry what all these enormous mooring poles are for - surely the river level doesn't change that much? 

The locks have grown in size and our boat now seems vulnerable and a silly shape. The river locks are all about the rope-work apparently which shouldn't be a problem for me having already invented at least 150 different rope knots, whilst being on the boat, just don't ask me to repeat one.

We were soon whizzing downstream (more the rivers doing than impressive navigation skills) and despite an embarrassing incident trying to moor with the flow rather than against it at Upton-on-Severn we survived the Severn and ducked into the smaller more sheltered River Avon at Tewkesbury.

I knew before arrival what I wanted to paint in Tewkesbury after attending my friend's wedding in the Abbey earlier in the year, on the day of the wedding I had spotted the magnificent Copper Beech in the grounds of the Abbey, the biggest Copper Beech I can remember, it has grown unhindered and perfectly balanced for 424 years and its leaves release the most spectacular combination of colours. Apparently it is not as old as its neighbour, a mulberry tree, tiny in comparison, that was planted by Charles I (before losing his head). Nevertheless it is the Copper Beech that is the most visually spectacular competing with the Abbey for the skyline.

In the painting I wanted to communicate the mass of the coloured leaves but also show the external / internal relationship of this tree. The leaves form like a tent skin to the very outer edge but you could glimpse through to the magnificent skeletal internal space the tree has. Almost like a Cathedral or Abbey itself.

Another element I was keen to represent was the dappled light surrounding the base. This interest in the ground around the tree plus wanting the Abbey to be a secondary element in the composition to this tree meant I adopted a slanted composition for Oil Painting 45.

The strong slant is the most striking feature, and something I thought I would embrace, although it perhaps too strong an element and could take away from the subject matter. As I touched upon in the blog entry for Oil Painting 44, I am very aware of the passing general public's reaction and try to quickly get the paintings to a state where the average passer-by can relate to. I have to say, this didnt really happen with this piece, even late on!

'Why is the Abbey on a strange angle and look like it is falling over?' seemed to be a common question.

I could have chose a more orbital perspective and got a result very similar to the previous painting, 'Crowleasow Farm', curving the horizon and keeping all the verticals coming off the horizon at 90 degrees -

However I have experimented with a very photographic distortion on the space, manipulating the Abbey's vertical perspective like a wide angle photograph would.

To help explain I have overlaid one of Karen's wide angle shots over the top of the painting and erased areas so you can see where I was coming from with the angles of the verticals of the Abbey and the windows on the far right.

I was testing my ability to paint this distorted space convincingly, and push my luck further by having so much of the composition dominated by a mass of leaves that do not give much help in describing space unlike for example bricks on a building or obviously vertical pillars. That seems to be a running thread this year, describing space/depth/distance with organic nondescript masses like leaves, a rapeseed field or of course, water.

Probably a failed test though, judging from the amount of explaining I had to do whilst producing and the fact that I feel the need to do a photo mock-up to explain where I am coming from. Still, you have go to try these things!

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