We had a visit at college from the landscape painter Peter Hicks yesterday, and it was such a delight to meet him. He played us part of a short film that has been made about his work called ‘From Dawn to Dusk’, which portrayed the landscape of North Yorkshire and revealed something of the poetry of the place which has so captivated him. It was great to see his working methods, and the commitment that he has to getting himself out into the landscape to make small paintings in his sketchbooks, from which his large paintings develop.
He said many helpful things to encourage all the students listening to him, and threw out such challenges as ‘you must learn things to forget them’ and ‘get rid of the unimportant to release the idea.’ I find these comments really stick in the mind. And I’m finding that there’s a lot of truth in what he says. I have had to do just that, forget all that I’ve learnt about Star Carr, in order to be freed up to paint. And as I look at my characteristically complex canvas surface, I’m wondering about what I should get rid of in order to ‘release the idea’. It’s a lot harder than it sounds, but I know he’s right. Should I take the risk of cutting out a large chunk and simplifying things further? After all, as he says, you can’t get everything you want to say into one painting.
Listening to him talk, I realised that strictly speaking I’m not a landscape painter. I had been wondering whether I’m an abstract landscape artist. But I think now that the important bit to me is the abstraction, and my debt to Kandinsky immediately springs to mind. As I’m currently using archaeology as an impetus for making work, landscape is inevitably involved, but for me the fascination with the landscape has got nothing to do with its appearance, or with the way the light plays upon it, but on the traces that it bears of early human interaction. Landscape is the ‘where’ of what really interests me, evidence of early human occupation. Which explains why I’ve found ‘Britain BC’ by Francis Pryor and ‘Homo Britannicus’ by Chris Stringer so compelling. All this background information feeds back into my work. Abstraction allows me to think about the issues I’m fascinated by, and challenges me to find new images to put my investigations into a visual form that can be shared with others. Perhaps I do see my paintings and drawings as visual investigations. They’re certainly a record of what I have been thinking, as much as feeling. Perhaps there’s a balance to be struck there, between the intellect and the emotions, not an easy one to get right.