On Landscape Action: Diversify!

Climate change has generated a lot of talk (at last), and there are plenty of buzzwords flying about: ‘Rewilding’, ‘Restoring’ and so on.

It seems to me that these words start from the wrong place as they clearly imply looking back when we really must look forward.
What is the point of thinking about some imaginary phase of the world’s development and deciding that this is how we want things to be again?
We really don’t know exactly how things were at any point in time in the past, but we DO know that whatever was going on was very different to how things are now, so ‘rewilding’ or ‘restoring’ are the wrong answers. We need answers which will address the challenges facing us today and tomorrow, when there will be even more people around than there are today, all needing to be fed and all deserving of a reasonable comfortable and healthy life - just like us.
I am one of the fortunate ones in the world today, living in a place that has enjoyed economic success for hundreds of years. I know, as we all now do, that this comfort has been built on our ancestors’ ruthless exploitation of the land around them. Since the time the first human foot touches any place, those people seek out the means of their survival then progress to building for comfort. If that means cutting down trees or digging up minerals, so be it. But this means that in the small and overcrowded island of Britain at least, the idea of ‘rewilding’ cannot happen in any place where populations of people live and work, unless the word is used as a simple label to convey something other than its dictionary meaning.

I firmly believe that we must reset the balance. The effect of the ruthless exploitation of the places where we live in the name of ‘progress’, the destruction of land, sea and atmosphere have all gone too far. But ‘growth’ is the mantra of every government everywhere as it is a human condition to seek to improve our life, so the challenge is to find ways and means of growing human economic activity within ecosystems which will sustain us, other creatures and plants.
This is not a simple challenge and the solutions will not be simple either. I can only hope that among the billions of other people on earth there are enough who are  doing things about it.

Landscape and Life

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. 

Art and Life in a Bleak World

The Arts – not just painted art, but the whole range – music, dance, drama, poetry as well as painting, sculpture, installation, are visible fruits of creativity. Engagement in
collective community groups to stimulate their production or to discuss them
brings about collective involvement, and of course the shared experience
of being an audience to good production is itself uplifting as we are social animals.

If it is the case that the purpose of life should be the pursuit of pleasure and happiness in a world where peace and democracy are supreme, then it is important for this to begin
in a community setting: ‘The creative community’.

And, as we live in the Global Age - that community will be multi-dimensional, to include virtual friends in faraway timezones as well as like-minded people in the village.

I detest the media, and actively avoid what they call ‘The News’ - those stories have been carefully selected by someone whose main aim is to attract a bigger audience and capture more viewers, and understandably, bad news is most effective for that. We can choose what we put our minds to, and while it may be extreme to ignore The News, at least we should all strive to maintain a balance - look at stuff that will be uplifting, get out into the sunshine, enjoy the natural world, talk to happy people…..


                                                    And then - what to buy?
My advice (and others will have other opinions)  - use your own judgement.
Would you listen to music that you didn’t really like just because it is trending? - Maybe once, but then you would seek out something that gave you pleasure.
Same with art, except much more so, because whatever art you buy this year will probably still be with you in ten years time! People change their cars  and sofas much more often than their art - which takes me off along another path - changing fashions ….. None of us want our home to look the same as our granny’s, right? We upgrade the decor, change the carpet, make little alterations to maintain a sense that this is a cared-for place where modern people live …… and yet - those pictures - the same ones that have been there forever!
BUT - if you look carefully at one of the paintings on this site, or on any other arty-site, can you really tell when it was painted?

Is art the only timeless object in your interior decor? You can listen to music and give a pretty good guess about when it was first created, but, maybe with the exception of highly stylised work (Picasso, Matisse, Riley, Warhol and so on) you need to be a bit of an expert to look at a painting and place it within the right decade of it’s origin.

The megabucks are more often spent on works that have been around for a long long time, and any ‘old’ art still has a place among viewers. Indeed one of the attractions of buying an original oil painting is the prospect that one day it could be worth more than you pay for it.

Which means that my friends in the framing business are key - how you present your new artwork on your walls depends on its frame as much or maybe even more than the content of the picture itself! 
Some people argue that the artist’s choice of frame is part of the creation and should be respected - that if you buy a painting, you should keep it in the original frame. And - having bought a painting, who want to then have to spend even more time searching the infinite variety of frames to find one that is most favourable to present that picture in the setting of your choice?

Others cheerfully take on that quest, wanting to curate the look of their home (or office) down to that detail.

My view?
Each to their own.  Both approaches are valid. Making your own statement with your independent choice of frame could easily be best for you if that is how you want to do it, but equally, buying a painting in a frame and keeping the whole creation together often works well.
Some people buy a painting purely and simply because the picture appeals to them, they take it home and find somewhere nice to hang it.
Others are carefully working their interior design and seek a painting of a specific shape, size and theme that will complement its place.
Does your pleasure come from ‘curating’ your look, or from the pleasure of the impulse?

The next, and probably longer lasting pleasure from a painting, comes from chatting about it - when we were children there was a nice landscape painting at home. It now hangs  on my sister’s wall, and only  recently, we were discussing it again at length. How many years later? 

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