The Hill Of Summer

Between the wood and the hill, there is the shallow valley of a small winding stream, dark with alder, then silvery with sharp-leaved willow. The unchecked growth of many summers, rising and declining, has lessened the penetration of the light in  way one rarely seen in farmland now. The hazed-over raggedness of sky above these lush, neglected fields gives a sense of mystery, of something rare and wild that has run away to hide, of something infinitely regretful fretting at the edge of the light, like a big moth fumbling at a window. This is a place where the last of the persecuted may for a time find refuge and seclusion. In the amber of the sunlight that lies between the high hedges, there is preserved an air of the past, the presence of an older summer. Under the surface of the visible world I can always hear the soft wolf-stride of the rapacious world beyond.
J.A. Baker, The Hill of Summer

It is finished. A new painting, that took exactly one month from first pencils to final brush stroke to complete. I’ve painted kestrels before (‘Kestrel for a Knave’ (2014) and ‘Against the Sky’ (2018)) and try not to obviously repeat myself but, inevitably the same influential images and experiences come through, and this painting is no exception. Last summer (2017) I was back up north visiting family and friends, and that weekend the north of England was in the midst of an unexpected heatwave. One afternoon I went to the fields behind the estate I grew up on, hoping to find some faint breath of wind as relief from the overwhelming heat. Those fields are the site of a former colliery, long since grassed over, that drop away steeply to former farmland that’s been left fallow for the past 30-40 years. Beyond there’s the roaring torrent of the M621 and, past that, farm fields and woods all the way to the horizon. To anyone else it’s a nondescript scrap of land, but for me it has a powerful pull on my emotions and my imagination. The fallow fields are bisected with telegraph poles, preferred perches for hunting kestrels, but on this day one of them was on the wing, hovering on what faint breath of wind there was gasping out of the west. With minor shifts of its wings or tail, it managed to hold its position as if it were pinned to the sky, every atom of its attention focussed on something down there in the long gross. I watched this air dance for I don’t know how long, and something about that experience with the crickets buzzing and the long yellow grass hissing and the heat rising into the cerulean blue sky fixed it in my mind as something of personal import, to be filed away and recalled as required. Reading the above passage from J.A. Baker’s The Hill of Summer always takes me back to that afternoon which in turn takes me back to similar afternoons in my youth. Layer upon layer of memory and meaning, bound with foraged scraps of nostalgia like a bird’s nest. This painting, with the hazy green light, is my attempt to capture the essence of that afternoon. Here’s how the painting progressed, from beginning to end:

@ 22 June 2018

@ 29 June 2018

@ 6 July 2018

@ 14 July 2018

@ 22 July 2018 (completed)

Other influences that went into the painting were James MacDonald Lockhart’s Raptor, Alex Preston & Neil Gower’s As Kingfishers Catch Fire, and there was one song I kept playing over and over again that really seemed to capture what I was trying to express in paint:

Mogwai – Special N


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