“Let me introduce you to my friend Libby, she an Artist”
I feel my toes curl slightly inside my shoes and hope my mouth is showing a natural smile rather than a grimace.
“Oooo! My nephew is an artist! What kind of paintings do you make?”
“She paints landscapes”
“Oh, lovely. My nephew paints…”
The conversation moved on but I was lost in my thoughts. Landscapes? Do I? I checked back through the mental files of what I had painted in the last year. Canal, Forest, Salt Marshes. Then the previous year. Canal, canal, canal.
I have to admit it; I can see how someone might come to the conclusion that I am a landscape painter. But this realisation came as a total surprise.
Why? You might ask. How on earth are you not a landscape painter? Practically everything you paint is a landscape.
Let me explain: I was gliding down the canal a few years ago asking myself what it was that drew me to these monumental trees vaulting over me like caryatides holding aloft their leafy ceiling. This architectural train of thought led me back to a theme which has been present in my work ever since I trained as a sculptor; a fascination with columns.
An installation made in 1998 from withy and tissue paper.
A little bubble of joy rose inside of me as I comprehended that I had finally found a motif in which I could combine this love of rhythm and structure with the colours that I have delighted to play with ever since I was a child. I would hang my rainbows on these beautiful branches.
Did you ever keep a secret journal? Did you practice mirror writing or change the vowels around? Did you spell the names of your boyfriends backwards so none would know? Did you try that thing with the lemon juice as invisible ink? Did it have a lock?
Our inmost thoughts seemed so precious then, vulnerable and not to be exposed to the elements. Perhaps I have remained a child. Shunning the trend to declare my most intimate or mundane moments on various social media sites, I have instead kept up the art of coded writing. These days my chosen code is colour. The lemon juice thing never was very successful!
I show you my paintings and you see trees, water and light. You see autumn or spring, evening or day. I see blue path weaving through red banks and it is a reminder to let faith forge it’s way through passion. This sage green next to that orange red encourages our hearts that both wisdom and sorrow, success and failure make up the paths that we must walk along.
Is this timidity? Am I shy, hiding behind the canvas as a child might hide behind her parents legs? Perhaps, a little bit, if I am honest, yes.
Yet, moreover, I respect the fact that you would rather take a walk down a beautiful canal than into the vagaries of my emotions. I’d rather take you by the hand and stroll by the calm water under the shade of the trees, talking as we walk, or just enjoying the silence.
I wrap up my thoughts in colour and present them to you, a message in a bottle. Perhaps the hidden meanings will resonate with your own secrets, unspoken.
When someone appreciates an autumn evening that I never intended to paint, or recognises a specific spot on the canal that they are fond of, I am delighted.
My code is safe, uncrackable.
So, I will wear the label of Landscape Painter, but now you’ll understand my secret smile.