I do an awful lot of thinking and dreaming about things in the past and the future – the timelessness of the rocks and the hills – all the people who have existed there. I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape – the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.
Painting by Peter Sculthorpe
Given the state of the weather in Britain right now, I thought it was worth revisiting my 2013 painting: ‘Ghost Story’. That winter I was back up in Leeds visiting family, and heavy snow has fallen across much of the country. Typically, I went for a walk around my old haunts, and eventually found myself in what we used to call ‘The Big Woods’ between Morley and Gildersome. With snow steadily falling and the ground already covered in a foot or so of it, I felt like I was walking through Narnia. The roar of the M621 was muffled, no birds sang, and the whole scene was eerie and, to someone like me of an overly romantic disposition, poignant in some vague and elusive sense. I could feel the muse stirring from her slumber. “There’s a painting here somewhere”, I thought. Down by the stream I found an abandoned tent, suggesting that, until the recent turn in the weather, someone had been living in the woods. Following the stream would bring me down to the mouth of the old railway tunnel that ran under the woods, a dark and foreboding place we called ‘The Hell Hole’. Before I got to it though, I found the scene painted above. Right atop the tunnel mouth, water had pooled, creating a small lake that was utterly still. The black mirror of the water’s surface was such an unusual sight that I was drawn closer and closer to the edge. Snow sifted down through the branches, clawing like skeletal fingers at the white shroud of the sky, and I really did feel like I was in one of the better tales from the Pan Book of Horror Stories editions I’d grown up reading. There was a sense of something there, some immanence or genius loci that I knew no photograph could ever quite capture the essence of. This, I realised, was a job for art. This was what I had to paint.
Japan – Ghosts
A new painting is underway. I took the photo I’m using for reference very early one morning in late November, when I was visiting my parents back in Leeds. The scene being depicted is one of the paths in Churwell Park, a place is one I must have passed through thousands of times in my life, and it is haunted by so many memories of formative experiences that I felt I had no choice but to try and express all that in a painting. This is the canvas with initial black undercoats. Further progress updates to follow as I add the colours and detail.
These are examples of Colin See-Paynton‘s incredible wood engravings. His preferred subject matter is wildlife and the natural world, so a man after my own heart. I’m also impressed by the fact that he’s entirely self-taught and has been making his distinctive prints for over 35 years.
October Country . . . that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and mid-nights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain. . . .
Ray Bradbury, The October Country
A new painting, the first one to be completed in 2017. Below is it’s progress from initial pencils, to undercoat.
Later this month I’ll be getting my first prints done, which will be available to buy online. Watch this space for more details.