The Picturemakers/Y Llunwyr: Changing Landscapes
Exhibition Dates: Saturday 14th March to Saturday 2nd May 2020
Landscape in art is often the vehicle for lyrical and poetic painting but landscape can also be a much more contested area. In the age of the Anthropocene human impact is a central issue. With debates of climate change, sustainable agriculture, fishing rights, conservation, wilding, immigration, war and refugees, the land and the sea can take on new meanings. The Picturemakers/Y Llunwyr, a collective of visual artists working in Mid Wales, have chosen this title as an exercise to stimulate creative practice and bring together some of the diverse approaches in the group. Key themes for inspiration include land use, weather, geology, farming, working harbours, seaside tourism, war devastation and migration.
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I often work with themes of refugee subjects. These collages are based on happy moments taken on trips to the beach in Aberystwyth with Syrian friends who wear the hijab. I am interested in the headscarf as a modern day icon and a focus of tension in global politics. All too recently Syrian women on beaches resonate with other memories and other meanings.
The corner of the sheep shed is used to store an assortment of buckets, fence posts, bits of zinc and a collection of string, barbed wire and other bits and pieces.
This was how the subject of my ‘Changing Landscapes’, ‘Vermin Control’, was conceived. Watching the farm cat try to outwit the resident mice hidden behind the buckets, gave life to an otherwise ordinary corner.
I have always been fascinated by paintings. They convey essential truths about life and landscape. I wonder at the vision and skill of the artists that made them. Paintings outlive their makers, often by centuries, and are a visual legacy for generations to learn from and enjoy.
I studied Art at school and at evening classes and have been painting for more than 40 years, mostly in oils directly from the subject matter. I joined the Picturemakers in 2012 and have taken part in all their exhibitions. Information about our group and images of our work can be found on our website:- www.thepicturemakers.co.uk.
My approach to the subject matter for this exhibition, ‘Changing Landscapes’, notes changes to it, comparing the destructive bombing of defenceless civilians in their homes, where human rights are violated, to the safety and tranquillity of the Welsh landscape, fashioned through centuries of human endeavour to sustain rural life, where they are protected. The natural world is today imperilled by unchecked human activity. The rules based order is crumbling under the scourge of extreme nationalism and warfare.
For me there is endless interest in painting landscape scenes because they change so much. Time of day, weather, season: these are modifying factors that can alter the mood of a painting beyond all recognition.
These two “Cycle track” paintings of the cycle path out of Rhayader towards the Elan Valley are pictures that are based on the same sketchbook drawing and painted almost simultaneously on the same day. They represent the elusive nature of my gaze as I walk regularly, sometimes noticing a hill, a colour, bright light, a field, the hedgerow.
The “Field” paintings are more about an experience of walking up a field and seeing more of it as I move on upwards. Again these two were painted on the same day, and portray the changing nature of landscape as we move through it.
In my teens, one of my friends commented that going for a walk with me was a bit like walking with Sherlock Holmes; I was always diving off the path to investigate something. And that was before I met my husband! He and I are both Ecologists so we have appreciated, visited and managed (for conservation) beautiful natural or semi-natural habitats for decades, but he is also a Palaeontologist and that has opened up different areas to explore. The work that I present here for The Picturemakers / Y LlunwyrChanging Landscapes exhibition explores two strands of my fascination with our natural world.
Firstly, the changes that have been taking place in Geological time. Rocks laid down 400 million years ago at the bottom of the Cambrian Sea are now exposed, high and dry on a beach today (Ancient sea bed, Wallog). The crumpling of the Earth’s crust which can be seen widely around the Welsh coast (not only in the Alps or the Himalaya) illustrates how such a change of position must have taken place (Folded rocks, Pembrokeshire).
Secondly, during my own adult life I have seen the demise of our great elms and the beginnings of the end for ash trees. Both have been really important components of our landscape for much of human history whilst also being of significant economic importance. Treescape is a meditation on the way trees of all sorts impact our lives and is intended to remind us that much of our landscape is capable of being changed (both degraded and enhanced) by what we do ourselves, now.
My work has always been linked to the environment. Sometimes my paintings record changes wrought by humans over a period of time. Other changes occur by interpreting what has been observed andexploring the images through various materials often progressing from realism to reach semi-abstract or abstract conclusions.
Change to our landscape happens not least through time and climate. However it is the human interaction with our environment that changes the very shape and context of our landscape. Through settlement and urbanisation, through
mining and industry; by our canals, railways and motorways we change our environment to suit our needs and aspirations. Though the changes we make to our environment may bring us advantage and benefit, we often find those very same changes difficult to accept and absorb; both emotionally and culturally.
Recently the development and introduction of wind farms in our landscape has caused controversy and sometimes alarm and resistance. While some will argue for the benefit to our need for clean energy, others will point to the intrusion and blight to our natural landscape.
Trained initially as a designer, I have always been concerned with the dichotomy between technological innovation and aesthetic sensibility. As a painter that sensibility continues and provides in this case, an opportunity to express that concern.
Drawing is always my starting point. Something catches my eye: it can be anything from the evening shadows falling into the harbour to the line of a lead linking dog and walking figure. My environment in West Wales provides endless inspiration, but I draw wherever I go, and I particularly like the strong shadows of the Mediterranean.
Time spent looking and being ‘in the moment’ is key to my drawings. The drawing process is similar to meditation. The white or ‘empty’ spaces in my work are as important as the ink and painted areas, leaving room for the viewer to complete their own story. The drips and runs of paint are left intentionally, to remind of how the work is made, and of the material chosen. Sometimes I stitch into a drawing for a different speed and quality of line.
Paintings sometimes follow from the drawings, often using collage to provide another contrast or starting place. Maps use an alternative set of marks to depict landscape, both for reference and as a surface to paint onto. I’m interested exploring ideas of connectivity between people and their environments, and also in an idea of all things being equal: in some ways, it doesn’t matter what the subject is, anything can be made into a set of marks on paper.
Changing Landscapes refers both to the way drawing necessarily selects to explore a landscape, and to the idea of our ‘mental landscapes’ adapting with changes in our external influences and environment.
Working in series is a process that has always, wittingly or unwittingly, attracted me, usually in the form of recording journeys as I move through the landscape. These two paintings are also part of a series, but in this case, I am static. They depict the houses on the edge of the village where I live and the hill that I see every day from my office window, familiar, yet ever-changing with the weather, the light, the time of day and the season of the year.
The removal and processing of wood from the mid Wales landscape in the last few years has reached industrial levels. Lorries have been transporting day and night to keep up. It feels symbolic of the world’s general rush towards environmental destruction. When will it slow down? When will the tide turn? Where are we rushing to and why?