Artist’s Statement – Sylvan Cathedrals
My arboreal love affair began over a decade ago in France where I was enthralled and comforted by the architectural majesty of the plane trees vaulting over the Canal du Midi. This waterway reminds me of the cathedrals that I loved as a child in England. Such weight of stone, or wood, rising gracefully, lifting our consciousness to a different perspective. Upon learning that those trees were sick, I felt an urgency to document them so that future generations could remember, moreover experience, the tranquility of this place.
In “Landscape Painting Now” Barry Schwabsky suggests that artists today use landscape as metaphor which “kindles an experience of its own – one that… is somehow like an experience of nature.”¹
That my work is experiential, that it has a physical impact, is very important to me. When I watch someone stand in front of one of my paintings and see them inhale, visibly relax and deeply exhale, then I know I have been successful.
I use painting to reconnect us with the essential sense of peace we have in nature. We live in symbiosis with trees; they are the other half of our breathing apparatus and until comparatively recently we lived in forests, sustained by their fruits. Having evolved with trees, we feel comforted even by depictions of their green colour.²
In the forest I always see echos of cathedrals and vice versa. Both impress me with their monumental scale, the light filtered through translucent colours and the strong, uplifting verticals. I find their inherent archaic references grounding, painting them gives me a sense of timelessness.
This is sheer delight; I paint as an expression of my own vitality. Eager that this joyful experience be passed on to others I look for ways envelop the viewer, transforming them into a participant. I play with the power of colour to effect our emotions, consider light sources, work with scale and vary perspectives.
Works by Richard Serra, Claude Monet, David Hockney and Anselm Kiefer have taught me that increasing scale forces a physical involvement and I enjoy using large canvases when possible. I also employ perspective to create the illusion of an enveloping sense of scale. Hockney’s use of multiple perspectives within an artwork and his historical research into lenses have been helpful here.³ To extend an invitation into the scene, single point perspective is ideal, alternatively I’ll use multiple perspectives so that the viewer must roam around the scene with their eyes. Recreating cathedral-like spaces within my paintings, I use two dimensions to evoke the third, fourth and beyond resulting in paintings that have a magical realist element.
Early in life, the wild colours of the Fauve artists taught me that the emotion of a place is often more palpable when the viewer has to do a double take because the colours on the canvas do not match up with their normal expectation of landscape. Similarly, I use alternative colours to move away from pure depiction and enhance the felt experience of a place. Like stained glass windows, I use translucent oil paints to filter the light bounced from the white of the canvas behind, so the source of light comes from within the painting, a technique used by icon painters and the Old Masters.
My paintings are windows into nature, designed to offer a place where we can pause from the busy rhythms of life. They are invitations to experience peace, joy, vitality and be replenished.
¹Landscape Painting Now, Thames and Hudson, 2021.
²Dr Qing Li explains how the colour green effects our wellbeing in his book “Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness”. Penguin 2018
³Hockney, D: Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the lost techniques of the Old Masters, 2006