I’ve been working towards a major exhibition at the Pinkfoot Gallery in Cley, Norfolk. Wildling opens at 12pm on the 23nd October 2016. The definition of Wildling is: “A wild plant or animal, especially a wild plant transplanted to a cultivated spot.” The exhibition and book is a collection of my work exploring the animal form and its belonging or place within its environment.
Red Hare Publishing have been working with me to make a beautiful, limited edition book to accompany the exhibition. As well as the final oil paintings, we’ve included field sketches and working drawings. The book will be launched at the exhibition on 23nd October 2016.
Sitting with my back against a great oak, surrounded by bleached broken branches that look like bones, I sketch Fallow deer ahead of me in a heat haze that is rising from the grassland. It’s midday and they are gently strolling, gnawing off the new grass tops, whilst some are resting, tucked in like sculpted blocks. Jets fly above, scraping through broken cloud and a hidden Green woodpecker keeps on calling. Jackdaws annoy everything and don’t shut up, they scour and peck through the land and the deer.
I can smell animal pee against the tree I’m leaning on, or is it the ground I’m sitting on? Wafts of odour rise up and are whipped away by a sudden breeze. The deer move closer to me as children’s screams come from the forest behind them. Is it cat pee maybe? Then the smell of deer musk mingles in. I sketch a young deers head as it rests, its eyes half closed, the heat haze rippling around it as I close in with my telescopic lens. Sunlight reaches me and I feel its warmth. I capture more deer with a few lines as they turn and meander. The deer haven’t acknowledged me yet, they move in closer still, treading quietly and delicately between the great oak trunks and more jets pass over, shaking the air with noise.
The wind finally blows from behind me, pushing my scent right towards the deer and they change their course a little. A young deer looks up directly at me and further away they all slip to hide in the shadows and cover of great sessile oaks.
It’s Sunday morning, early, with a sharp wind blowing off the marsh. My eyes are streaming with the cold but I’m here at Walsey Hills in Cley to see a large group of herons that have collected at the pool. They come and go, annoying honking Greylag geese and unsettling Little egrets that are picking their way through the mashed up water. Some are clattering clumsily as they rest for a while upon the nearby tree tops, while another heron searches for sticks and grasses. Others just stand, looking at nothing in particular, as if lost in thought. Stark white egrets weave in and out of the scene between the herons sculpture like poses until suddenly, movement is seen within the water. Action is quick as the heron stretches out its snake like neck, counter balanced on stilted legs. An elegant shape with beak poised like a blade. an unknowing creature is stabbed in an instant. and on and on it goes, like a modern dance.
The sky is clearer but storms are waiting in the wings, brewing on the horizon. They’re staying around the edges today, leaving the rest of the sky a deep rich blue. Pheasants are chasing each other around the studio field, male chasing male, female chasing male.
Farm machinery is ratcheting and grinding away in the background. The fields are being turned and mud is being spread down the roadways. It feels energetic in the landscape, the sky is unpredictable and brooding and I’m looking forward to what it might throw at me as I walk home. I need this fresh air on my skin, I’ve been sucked into winter hibernation.
The clear sky has misled me as I walk back. As I look ahead of me to the golden colours of the marsh, storm clouds have crept up behind, swallowing the light and dumping a load. From sun to shower in no time at all, it’s pushed its way in, forced me to stand in forest near Walsey hills under the dripping trees. The wind has picked up and pressed the rain in, through to my knees and washed down my face. I feel fresh and cleansed, and the mud on the coast road is being washed away and chased in rivulets into the gutter.
At this time of year, grey days and long dark evenings begin to suck the life out of me and the colour out of my work. I find it a battle between the dark and the light. It begins gradually and works it’s way through my colour palette, until finally I paint a picture that makes me feel that I can’t take it any more. I need the light and on those precious days when the winter sun does come, I’m out, scouring the landscape.
Winter reeds on the marsh glow gold in the sun when it finally shines and the waterways and pools reflect an amazingly intense blue from the clear skies. The contrast can be great from one day to the next and my moods swing with the intensity of these changes.
Forests at this time of year have the biggest affect of all upon me. Here the contrast between light and dark is at its greatest. When the low sunlight breaks through, it ricochets from one tree to another, finally reaching the forest floor and the autumn leaves that lay upon it. Dark shadows create a contrast with this sunlight that makes the autumn leaves glow and burn like hot coals. The colours remain with me when I’m in my studio and break into my paintings on the dull days keeping my spirits alive.