Monday, 18 February 2013

Darwin Day Celebration Exhibition - Shrewsbury 2013

The Birthplace of Charles Darwin - 'The Mount', Shrewsbury 2013
I was asked to return to Shrewsbury to produce a body of work retracing the steps of Charles Darwin and his connection with the town in time for the Darwin Day celebrations and exhibition at Millard and Lancaster, starting 12th February 2013.

Darwin's Birthplace is in Shrewsbury in a Georgian property called 'The Mount' which you can reach heading out of town over the Welsh bridge.

Now the building houses the District Valuer and Valuation Office for Shrewsbury. This meant, as can be expected for a functioning office, there was plenty of cars in front of building throughout the midweek whilst I was there painting somewhat killing the nostalgia and appeal of the image. Fortunately I was able to return to finish at the weekend and the low winter sun was casting harsh long shadows across the drive and providing some necessary foreground interest.

I guess I couldn't have expected anything other for late January, but the weather was proving challenging, mainly wind and rain, and so an indoor option was required, which led to the discovery of the spectacular interior of St Mary's.  'Spectacular' mainly for its collection of stained glass, it is said that "no other church in the country has a collection to equal it". The main treasure being the Jesse Window, the main subject of my painting.

The Jesse Window, St Mary's, Shrewsbury 2013

A church interior is not an obvious choice to link to Charles Darwin - whose seems to be the figurehead of scientific discovery ahead of religion, but the building does hold some interesting connections. As part of his education at the nearby Shrewsbury School, Charles Darwin would have been taught in the Trinity School section of this church seen just through the arches on the right of my painting. Also when the top of the spire of St Mary's collapsed in 1894 (the third highest spire in England) a local vicar suggested that the collapse was divine retribution for the decision to erect a statue to Charles Darwin in the town!

Mountford's Charles Darwin Sculpture sat in front of the former Shrewsbury School (painting incomplete when photographed)

The statue the vicar was describing was my next and probably the most obvious subject for the trip, the image of Charles Darwin sat in front of the Shrewsbury boarding school where he was taught, now the Library for the town.

Drizzle and wind made this piece difficult but I am pleased with the image, the drama of looking past his head to the clock tower and the two balancing passages to the left and up the stairs to the castle on the right.

My last painting of the week was a quick study of the church where Darwin was christened - St Chad's in Shrewsbury, again strong winds were playing there part and there was a point where it left the easel and I was chasing it around The Quarry.

Despite this I am pleased with the direction of this piece. Extremely loose and iconic with some bold colour use. The composition is quite interesting, a photographic approach with harsh cropping and a dramatic vantage of the balustrade.

All of the paintings are now on display at Millard and Lancaster, they were complete in time for The Darwin Day celebrations and were featured in a wonderful piece by the Shropshire Star that took comparative photographs of each of the locations ...

Before this body of work I have encountered Charles Darwin once before in my painting career when painting a triptych for The Upper House Hotel in Barlaston, the connection to Darwin is explained in my rather lengthy explanation video ...

Friday, 15 February 2013

Edgmond House Commission

A private commission produced this winter as a surprise 50th birthday present for the owner of this wonderful property near Newport, Shropshire. He had previously seen and expressed interest in the Weston Park interior paintings, so his wife knew it would be something of interest.

I wanted a composition that would combine a view out to the garden, in particular capturing the height of the tall tree, with an unusual depiction of the lounge. The enormous windows flood this room with natural light and give an enjoyable comparison to the artificial wall lights and chandelier which is sending out shafts of colour across the white ceiling.

I enjoyed depicting the mass of the material of the large curtains in the foreground, trying to really reflect their weight. This reminded me of one of Lucian Freud's earlier paintings which is primarily a study of gravity with a dense coat hanging alongside a gravity defying plant delicately meandering upwards.

Large Interior, Paddington, Lucian Freud

The painting was presented on the birthday with the room still empty on the understanding I could return to paint in family figures if required.

After some deliberation this was agreed and I painted in three of the family's children. We were all keen to keep the depiction of the family informal and almost incidental. I am pleased with the results.

Altogether this piece was 6 days work spread over a few weeks.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Oil Painting 59 - Still life with oil lamp

A gift from mother this oil lamp has proved surprisingly useful when abandoning the world of mains electricity. It can also be mesmerising to watch, although writing this makes me question our decision to live without a television.

Trying to sum up this years experience in a series of paintings has guided me towards wanting to paint some of the few objects that occupied our limited space and have made the journey with us, and in turn have me tackle a few still life paintings which I haven't explored much at all in the last few years. 

The ceramic piece behind the lamp is a hand thrown faceted bottle vase with a celadon blue glaze by a talented potter and good friend Alex Shimwell.

As this is my first venture into still life for some time I do not feel I can talk with any real authority. I spent a lot of time at college looking at Paul Cezanne's still lifes ...

Still life with bottles and apples - Paul Cezanne

... and the obvious Van Gogh is never far away...

Still Life Glass with Wild Flowers - Vincent Van Gogh

Outside of brushwork and colour use I have not really abstracted the subject a great deal. I have enjoyed the dark band of the edge of the table mat the lamp is sat on bouncing around the frame forming strong diagonals but in honesty this was not premeditated and just something I began to exaggerate as the painting developed. What is interesting for me is that when you 'zoom in' to a relatively small scale inanimate subject and leave the composition quite sparse it exposes / lays bare your treatment of the paint, your handwriting, or 'style' for want of a better word.

I often liken an artists gesture to that of a singer's voice, Van Gogh's mark-making is so very individual and distinctive. I can only hope through work and love of the craft that a similar iconic visual language comes through in my work.

Oil Painting 58 - Winter Scene from the bow

Quite a small canvas I wanted to reflect the warmth of being inside looking out to the cold snow covered landscape. I dipped in and out of this one over about four sessions whilst also working on Oil Painting 59 - Still life with oil lamp. A snowy landscape is such a fleeting sensation and the view and reflecting light had altered dramatically with each visit but I feel there is enough visually for the subject to work, the warmth of the varnished oak inside contrasts nicely. This interior exterior contrast painting reminded me of a previous called 'Kitchen Window at night' painted outside looking in, on a trip to Provence after a night unable to sleep because of excess beer and bread.

Other artists that spring to mind that I am sure have had an influence in this manner of work are Edward Hopper voyeuristic painting looking into domestic scenes from outside,

or Henri Matisse's views through balcony windows.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Oil Painting 57 - Narrowboat Interior

Living inside a narrow floating tube and being interested in dramatic perspectives I had to try and sum up this unusual space that has occupied so much of my time and thought. I say 'thought' because of the year we spent designing and fitting out this interior after buying it as a shell and being so limited on space every decision needs thought and has consequences.

This space of our design has now moved with us around the country, and now coming to the end of the project it will soon be time to put it on the market for the next owner to enjoy, a difficult decision and all the more reason to get it recorded in paint.

As a painting this piece was really enjoyable to produce, the natural light in abundance coming in from all angles and reflecting of all the varnished wood was releasing all sorts of unusual colour combinations, and cast and reflected light patches. Karen is featured working on the laptop. Hopefully the angle I have given the composition isn't too much to be distracting, especially in a floating subject you would wish to be level. I seem to be introducing an angle into a large percentage of my works which seems a natural process and true to how I see or experience the spaces as I am painting.

Somebody on social media likened this piece to Pierre Bonnard's work who is an influence, I shall attach an example -

The Dining Room in the Country, Pierre Bonnard, 1913