A musician, dancer, actor or writer can display variety of emotion in their work, and those professions are also known as ‘artists’. But what about the artists who produce paintings? And landscape paintings in particular?
The online world enables me to view infinite numbers of paintings from other people and I would have to say that the vast majority of the landscapes I see there are devoid of emotion. Many are excellent representations of a scene, and the artists are showered with praise along the lines “Gosh - it’s just like a photograph……”.
I am not being critical of those artists, their work is often technically much better than mine, but my personal belief is - if you want a photograph, use a camera!
“Just like a photograph” is probably the worst thing somebody could say to me about one of my paintings.
The quest I give myself - which is obviously not the same as the quest of those ‘realists’, is to share something of the feelings I experienced when gazing on the scene.
Back to the comparison with a musician - a professional violinist has to be able to play every style of music, and the orchestra can and does bring the audience to tears or to waves of pleasure through the music they play. So it should be possible for a painter to convey some similar variety?
A painting does not actually begin with the artist picking up a brush in front of a big blank canvas.
Like an author setting out to write a novel, there is much to be done by way of planning, working on the outline, thinking about how best to convey the points you want to make, choosing the styles and voices.
How best to present this scene?
Our world revolves around the sun, and that means the shadows slide constantly across in front of us. Point and click a camera and an image is captured at that moment in time. Stand in front of an easel for a few hours and the scene changes completely. The Brecon Beacons present a striking profile that runs more or less east-west, and the position of the sun creates completely different vistas at different times of day, and different between summer and winter.
(I shouild digress here - the best photographers do not just turn up, point and click, they put in at least as much scouting, planning and patient waiting to capture the view they seek as an artist does.)
What is presented to you as the finished piece is the result of all that planning.
But then, back to the matter of emotion.
This is ‘Tommy’s Stone’ - a memorial to a little boy who wandered off, got lost and died in the hills. How did he feel as he lay down to sleep having failed to find anyone to help him?
This is Port Logan sunset:
My parents moved to this area to retire, to spend their final days.
Here is my reaction to the coverage of the conference on Climate Change:
Not sure if this one qualifies as a ‘Landscape’, but again something to do with the climate:
Of course I know that many people look for reminders of ‘the rural idyll’ in a landscape painting, that the only emotion they seek is a warm glow, maybe to be reminded of something pleasant about this world we live in, and there’s plenty of good reasons for that!
This is one of my ‘Gower’ series - wonderful beaches:
And that’s it - I hope the point is made - that landscape paintings can be and should be more than simple ‘snapshots’ of a view.
There are huge benefits of everybody having mobile phones with cameras, but ……. these are training the human eye to expect every picture to be ‘like a photo’.
So - this is a rant on behalf of creativity!
A painting should offer viewers so much more than a mere click n point snapshot. It is a fruit of imagination, every pixel has been placed after thought about the composition, colours. It tells a story from the artist’s perspective, designed to trigger a reaction in the mind of the viewer.
BUT - back to the viewers’ expectations …… we all see hundreds of camera-images all the time. Our brains therefore expect pictures to look like those.
The opportunity this opens up is to deliberately and carefully create art that is NOT ‘like a photo’, for the difference to present the viewer with their first challenge - to pause and take a second look - ‘What is going on here?’
[footnote - I have nothing but admiration for photographers, and I cheerfully use a camera a lot. I am not trying to stop the inevitable rise of this tide, only saying that because of it, painted art needs to address a new challenge - the eye of the viewer.]
Many more people have viewed my art on their mobiles than have seen the real thing.
Much more art is sold online than from high street galleries.
Another challenge then - my paintings need to have ‘small screen appeal’ - I ask myself - how would this have changed the pattern of art in the past??
For many of us today, it is hard to escape from the often catastrophic impact of mankind : cities teeming with anonymous crowds jostling through brutal architecture. Too many noisy and dirty cars.
Constant reminders of our destruction of the natural world: fires, floods.
Landscape painting can offer a counterpoint that is both a reminder of and an escape from that relentless awfulness, to let the viewer see an alternative and to gain some uplift, a boost to the soul.
The ‘pastoral idyll’ is not meaningless escapism. We are surrounded by and constantly reminded of the ecological destruction caused by mankind’s relentless march of ‘progress’.
The landscape is the living reflection of the human - environmental relationship, shaped throughout history by the successive interactions between people and their environment. As the numbers of people everywhere continue to grow their impact is becoming ever more obvious.
Our awareness of this reality is also growing.
Of course ‘the first merit of a painting is to be a feast for the eye’ (Delacroix, c.1894), and for many, the purpose of a painting needs to be no more than that.
Art is at the core of culture. What I paint flows from my personal experiences of the world, my personality, my concerns. And your reaction to a painting is similarly shaped by your understanding of what is going on around you. This is ‘culture’. We live in, move around, and are imbued by what is going on around us, and the landscape is the dynamic setting for all that.
Often the artist’s quest is to capture the light - the nuances of shadow, fleeting changes of clouds. Turner, Constable and so many others took the observation of clouds as a serious step in their artistic training. Today we know that the atmosphere we breathe, the air in which those clouds are formed is not some infinite heavenly pool but is the sink for the waste from our exhaust pipes, factory chimneys and farm animals. We understand the impact of methane emissions, CfCs, carbon dioxide and all the rest, so when we escape to the hills and enjoy those immense views, the whole sky is actually a huge manifestation of the demand for more food, more goods, more travel from more and more people.
Of course I seek to create paintings that are going to meet the challenge to be a ‘feast for the eye’, and I seriously hope that viewers will enjoy gazing at them. Cezanne sought to present images of the harmony between man and the earth, of people enjoying that ‘rural idyll’. He lived and worked for a large part of his life in the same locality in southern France and painted views over the same areas over and over again across many years. Even then (late 19th century) the relentless spread of the urban sprawl was obvious to him. Many of the paintings of that time could not be recreated today as the pastoral scene has been replaced by buildings.
In 1953 two men won immortality by being the first to stand on the summit of Everest. Today there are queues. The question that is posed by every landscape painting is “Where is that?” But as that painting is a snapshot of the interaction between mankind and nature at that point in time, maybe the question should be : ”When was that?”
As the impact of our destruction of nature makes it increasingly difficult to find any view that does not include the direct results of economic activity - roads, forestry, sheep, drought - every landscape painting offers something more than is immediatly apparent, it is of its time. Just like the artists are of their time, and the viewers are of theirs.
Landscape is at the core of culture, where the natural world is fashioned by the economic activity of people - like the inside of our home, bearing the marks of our existence and capable of being uplifted or despoiled by what we do.
Pontsticil 2 - 24” x 18” oil on canvas, and 30” x 20” ’ Man with dog’ (basically the same view).
The rural idyll? - NO! - all of the components of this scene are manifestations of economic activity - sheep farming clears the natural growth on the hills. Forestry plantations create monocultures. Roads carve their way through. Past industries leave their marks. Beef farming is a massive global problem not least because of the impact of methane emissions on the atmosphere. The Reservoirs are created to supply the connurbations (and the water contains micro particles of plastic) ….
This is an image of the dynamics of the cultural / economic landscape of Wales.