Caduceus (triptych) Oil on three canvasses @180x48” 2023.
My new solo show, chaos, uncertainly and me.
Do I write these things for me or for you? Well, it helps me to write down what I’m doing , no doubt because I habitually paint from written notes not observation - and if you get something out of it- then all well and good.
So, I’m in the throes of painting my next solo show which has been bubbling along in my mind for a while now - but its the nature of the things that there’s a great big black hole between what I expected to do and what’s actually getting onto the canvases.
Not even having a title for the show until last week is a pretty good indication of how organic these projects are for me (apologies to my gallerist for my blank look when she asked for what se assumed I’d obviously have in hand!) .
I do live in fear though of painting to rote - its incredibly easy to for us artists to look for certainty in stasis - but I think that’s a cardinal mistake - so my habit is to let it all tumble around my imagination and then open the door to possibility as I set it down.
I’ve been thinking about this show ever since I painted my last one - so hopefully I’ve got it straight in my head. I finished my paintings for my last solo show Regeneration on what became the first room of pictures - the scene setters if you will - in that show. Looking back I can see the logic of it now but at the time I just went with what felt right and created two thematically linked works Congregation and Lethe.
The link was my fascination of how places make people and - if we can dive down to the nitty gritty for a second - how to reconcile the implied and abstracted with the theme of figures in a landscape.
My work is about possibility, opportunity and change, and these two paintings explored how the places we make, come in turn to make us.
We are the sum of everything and everyone who made us; the past determines our start in life, but I believe it can be exorcised and does not have to define whom we choose to become.
I first explicitly explored this theme in Lethe, a work about all of the people we loved, have been loved by and lost; yet even though they can only exist in memory, live on in how we make our life choices. Lethe came from a place of memory, it’s a painting of place and about how those places can define both our past and future. In Lethe I explored how a family tragedy echoed down the generations; a suicide, born in the grinding poverty of the East Lancashire slums marked the lives of the grandparents who raised me.
As the work I chose to open my first major public gallery show Regeneration I guess it was always something I was going to follow up on, particularly as it has now been shortlisted for the prestigious 2023 Chaiya Art Prize.
My new body of work, An Elegy for The Dales explores how we can choose to redefine ourselves and start afresh, if we find a time and a place where we can be with ourselves and meet the person we hope to become.
In 2017 my show Beyond Here explored how I came to see the Yorkshire Dales as a kind of natural cathedral, it’s a vibrant and secular place of course, but one which evidently seems to hold a great deal of spirituality and not just for me.
Living and working in the Dales I have seen first hand its transformative effect upon the thousands who visit. Watching the tourists, the walkers and the day trippers I realised that they were coming for much more than countryside and open space, they were coming to find themselves.
Based around the classical artistic theme of figures in a landscape to capture a portrait not so much of a place but rather about the lives transformed through immersion in its quietude, majesty, wildness and its terrible beauty.
My ambition in Elegy for The Dales then is to create a requiem in paint for all the lives that have been lived here and are marked by its landscape, in particular a distillation of the time and place where our past can be reconciled to a new future
Perhaps I hope for too much from paint, but I hope you can see in my work those liminal moments brought about by finding ourselves alone with creation, that Thomas Grey spoke of when he wrote, ‘Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight, and all the air a solemn stillness holds and leaves the world to darkness and to me.’
An Elegy for The Dales will feature an artist talk and be on display at my usual gallery in Leyburn from 12th April to 3rd May 2023