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 ...

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