The following is a short piece of writing that accompanies my current exhibition, Preoccupations, at King Street Studios in Lancaster. You can still catch the exhibition until 30th September:
Preoccupations, the title of this exhibition, refers to my ongoing engagement with two very different landscapes – Morecambe Bay, and the limestone hills near Farleton, Burton and Hutton Roof. Each of these places has its own unique qualities and characteristics that continue to draw me back time and time again.
The Bay at low tide is magical – an exposed, expansive space that is completely transformed by natural forces from one day to the next. I spend many of my evenings walking across the salt marsh and mudflats just off the coast at Bolton-le-sands – an area I have known since childhood. Essentially, this is where I go to relax and enjoy the sense of freedom that can be derived from open spaces. There is no pressure to work or obligations to fulfil. As such, it is likely that this is also the time that I am the most open to the world around me, and I have made many photographs whilst walking there. What started as a kind of photographic relaxation has gained momentum and has become an important part of my art practice.
Some of the most memorable experiences I have had whilst walking on the Bay have involved rapidly changing, dramatic atmospheric conditions. I have been captivated by the most extraordinary moments of light transforming the landscape around me, and then dissipating within seconds. It became increasingly important to make a record of these arresting events in time and translate them into paintings. I began by working with photographic images that I had snatched out of the moment to keep as a memento. I wondered if the strength of feeling at the point in time was somehow contained within the image itself – in the shape of a cloud or in the sweep of the horizon? The resulting works are thoughtfully and carefully constructed. I wanted to stay close to the physical characteristics and visual phenomena that make walking on The Bay such a unique and compelling experience. Yet somehow, whilst exploring the connections between the earth and the sky, the paintings have begun to take on a life of their own.
I have so much affection for the limestone hills, and the characterful trees and rock forms that I have met whilst walking there, I can’t stay away for too long. The elements that make up this landscape – rocky pavements scattered with vegetation; quarries and farmland; the elevated position and depth of view; and ever changing weather conditions, form a complicated visual experience that is challenging to draw and paint. I regularly walked in this area since 2003 and have come to know its footpaths and features like the back of my hand. Yet each experience there still offers something fresh and new.
Making work about this landscape has seemed so difficult at times I have doubted that I would produce anything beyond the small works in my notebooks. Looking back through these though, I am surprised by how much progress has gradually taken place over time. Dark, expressive charcoal drawings have evolved into more thoughtful line drawings, and more recently work with colour. All of this has encouraged me to think about the landscape in different ways. Recently, whilst drawing a collection of limestone boulders at the edge of the fell, I noticed that I am often drawn to the relationships between objects in the landscape, and the spaces that hang in between them. I have since begun to focus in on this back at the studio. Perhaps this is a means of identifying elements that unify an often overwhelming and complex visual experience? It is all currently very much a work in progress.