Monday, 27 November 2017

Abstract Landscape Painter.  Rural Dweller.  Lover of Modernist Art and Design.

The Turning Of The Trees

There is a vicious wind blowing from the north today.  It is bitingly cold outside and the remaining leaves are being torn from the trees.  In the garden, the small birds are eating and moving as fast as they can.  I am doubly pleased with my homemade log store, as it is also providing shelter and food for them.  The blue tits and the robin keep appearing and disappearing as they hop in and out of it via the air slots.  The sparrows are busy foraging for food amongst the plant debris on the oak floorboard roof.
We had the tops of the trees trimmed last week, but I wanted to l leave enough cover for the birds, especially since two more trees have been cut down in the neighbouring garden and because the kestrel has taken to swooping down into the front garden now and then.  I have no objection to him / her hunting over the meadow, but I’m not so happy about the garden birds being attacked at the feeders.  Again, the log store is providing shelter.

I like the winter, but that’s easy for me to say from the comfort of my fireside.  I don’t have to eek out a living out in the elements as the creatures do.  I provide for them as best I can - feeders, trees and bushes, fallen apples, piles of logs, half of the meadow left uncut, a stone water trough, holly and ivy.  I put high energy food out when the temperatures are at their lowest.  Tonight it is supposed to drop to -4°C.  They do so well just to survive.

I have brought my paints in from the studio, in order to prevent any crystallisation in the low temperatures, and it won’t be long before I break out the thermal underwear!

I have been working on a series of tree paintings.  I’ve grown much more interested since doing the residency at Great Saling.  I have been struck by the atmosphere of the woods.  During my twice-daily dog walks, I always pass through or beside one.  When there is no air movement, the stillness within is one of the most peaceful experiences that I have known.  Even without human company, I never feel alone whilst walking through trees.  I am always aware of the abundance of life thereabouts.  It isn’t just the birds, or the occasional fox or deer, but the trees themselves.  The sense of life force that they give off is enormous.  I can see why writers, such as C.S. Lewis, could create stories in which trees moved and spoke.  They often seem to be on the verge of it.  The space amidst them is a magical space in which anything might happen.  And when the wind blows.......then is power truly unleashed!

Philip Larkin, describing trees in full leaf, moving in the wind, wrote,  “unresting castles thresh the air in full grown thickness every May”.  He uses the word “thresh” and later, “afresh”, both of which are onomatopoeic.  They evoke the sound of those leaves and branches hurled back and forth in the wind.  The term also makes me think of the old method of beating corn with wooden flails and letting the chaff blow away whilst the grain remains within the “threshold”.  The trees, he says, are threshing the air with their branches.  Standing beneath vast trees and hearing the wind rush through their outstretched arms, is one of the greatest experiences of the power of nature.  The roar is both deafening and exhilarating.

Like the trees going into Winter, my Mum is now shutting down from life.  Their leaves change colour and fall.  I know that before February, I will prune the apple trees because they will be dormant.  She is becoming dormant.  Her illness means that she is now almost always asleep.  And like the chlorophyll dying and the leaves loosing their grip on the stems, her abilities and faculties gradually died and fell away.  First she tripped and stumbled, then she was unable to get up, to remember, to walk, to speak, to feed herself and now to stay awake.  The desire for nourishment, and the ability to consume it, is almost gone too.  She can hardly swallow and she no longer opens her mouth for the small morsels of puréed food. Sometimes, she places her frail fingers between the spoon and her lips.  She is tired.  Life has run it’s course.  

Larkin says that the trees die, but they will be reborn in the Spring.  There will come a day when she will not awake again in this life, but I have high hopes for her rebirth in another.  She will be alright.  But the body that she is in now has outlived it’s usefulness.  She must be transformed.  Meanwhile, the trees that are now also losing weight and beginning to show their skeletal and beautiful forms, will awake to new growth in the Spring.

Die Welt wird alt und wird weider jung ‘

‘The World grows old and grows young again’



All text & images ©2017 Carol Saunderson

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Abstract Landscape Painter.  Rural Dweller.  Lover of Modernist Art and Design.

The Ridge

It is two days since Storm Doris passed over us.  The rain was not as bad as expected but the winds were the highest that we have experienced here.

During a sunny interval, at around 11am, I took Millie, our whippet, for a belated morning walk.  She was initially keen to get out but was soon unsettled by the roaring sounds.  I coaxed her down the lane, along the populated and tree-lined section, but once we left the shelter of the foliage and stepped out onto the ridge, she would go no further and I was forced to abandon our outing.  I can’t say that I blame her.  We were assailed by the full force of the wind, which at that time was gusting at about 40mph.  We sped back home with me feeling as if someone had a hand on my back and was pushing me along.

I was sorry not to be able to walk along that section of the lane as it is my favourite.  It follows the line of the ridge and, being the highest point for miles, affords a far-reaching view across the landscape.  It is like a spine on the back of the land.  On the right-hand side the fields curve quickly downwards and then gently up again to a distant wood.  At this time of year I like to stand and watch the white gulls flying beneath my feet as they wheel and turn above the chocolate-brown earth below.  From that point I can see over the wood and beyond to the horizon.  The farmland ripples away and the only buildings visible are a couple of distant farmhouses denoted by the white and pink triangular shapes which have become so familiar to me in recent years.

To the left the descent is initially more gradual until it begins to fall and fold in on itself from both sides.  It creates a sheltered, sloping, scoop-shaped valley.  Walking here every day as I do, I have become familiar with some of its inhabitants.  As one creature of habit I have become familiar with the behaviour patterns and timetables of others.  I know where to see a group of six deer twice daily and the best locations for sightings of hares (yesterday was the first sighting of the year when I spotted six running across the face of a large field).

Meanwhile, back on Doris Day, the winds peaked at 60mph at around 4pm.  I had to stop work and leave the studio because if I hadn’t locked and braced the double doors shut with timber against a parallel step, they would have been ripped open and the bolts broken.  Being of a light build, I found myself knocked off balance and slapped against the outer wall as I faced the rush of air flowing unimpeded across the fields and up and over the garden.  I was glad to get into the house and out of harm’s way.

Waking during the night, it was strangely silent after all those hours of noise.  I spent most of yesterday repairing a broken fence and picking up plant debris from the garden.  We were lucky - no harm done.

This week, hopefully, it will be back to some quieter painting.  I have recently sent eleven pictures off to an exhibition which opens on Friday (3rd March) at the Biscuit Factory in Newcastle Upon Tyne.  Over the next few weeks I’ll be continuing to produce a series of paintings and drawings inspired by the gardens at Saling Grove in Essex as part of my residency there and beginning work on a couple of commissions.  That should keep me out of mischief.  However, I’ll still find time to go on my daily walks with Millie and to enjoy the ever-changing panorama from the ridge.

All text & images ©2017 Carol Saunderson

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Abstract Landscape Painter.  Rural Dweller.  Lover of Modernist Art and Design.

Working Outdoors

Winter has suddenly arrived.  Temperatures have plummeted and there have been winds from the north.  The current rain storms are stripping the leaves from the trees - leaves that had hung an unusually long time and had turned into a magnificent display of colour during the past three weeks, due to the recent mild Autumn.

The change in the weather prevents me from working outdoors, which I have been doing more often since I took up a residency at The Gallery In The Garden at Great Saling in Essex.  This year-long project gives me the opportunity to paint, draw and walk in the grounds each week.  The grounds of the gallery and the adjoining private garden were designed by Sir Humphrey Repton.  The aim of a residency is to prepare a body of work based on a particular location which culminates in an exhibition.  The plan for mine it that it will be shown at the gallery sometime during August and September next year.  It is a real privilege to be permitted to spend time working in isolation in such a beautiful place.

Painting outdoors on these warm Autumn days has been a delight.  I have found it energising to work in a setting which I find so magical.  Although outdoor art necessitates a bit of planning and can present some practical difficulties, it can often create lively and less self-conscious work.  A small window of opportunity to capture a view means that the work must be done quickly and without fuss. Technical challenges also present opportunities to develop new techniques or ways of working as problems are solved.  I’m determined to keep working outdoors as much as possible throughout the Winter, even if it means creating the briefest of sketches whilst wearing fingerless gloves!

Meanwhile, I have just delivered a new set of paintings to an exhibition at The Leaping Hare, at Wyken in Suffolk, and am working on a commission before beginning next year’s programme.  I’m very lucky to have these differing opportunities and through them I feel that I am always learning.  There is always so much to learn and so much work to make.  There is so much development to be achieved and so much further that I want to go.

All text & images ©2016 Carol Saunderson

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Abstract Landscape Painter.  Rural Dweller.  Lover of Modernist Art and Design.

Time In A Bottle (or maybe a box)

Last week I had to do something that I really didn’t want to do but, like events that I sometimes dread going to, it turned out to be a real pleasure.  In fact, more than that - a gem of a moment.

Millie (our whippet) woke me at 5.40am as she needed the loo.  I dragged myself out of bed, pulled on a jumper, some trousers and a pair of wellies, and prepared to take her outside into the garden.  When I stepped outside into the maritime twilight, I was stunned by the volume and variety of the birdsong.

We were staying in Gloucestershire for a few days and the garden that I stepped out into is one of 55 acres, set on the edge on a tiny Cotswold village.  There are hundreds of trees in the surrounding parkland, many of which must be approaching 50m tall, together with dense areas of hedge and shrubbery.  A slope, from where I was standing, descends gradually down to a river flowing through one side of the garden.

The night had been foggy and at 5.45am the mist was just beginning to lift from the tops of the trees. In the pearlescent light they looked as if they were shedding gauzy, white gowns.  It’s fair to say that I was assailed by the sound as I stepped out of the door.  I have heard the dawn chorus before, but not here and never one so rich with species or lusty in volume.  As well as the robins, wrens, finches, thrushes and blackbirds, I could hear pheasants joining in from the fields and copses beyond the garden.  It was as if every winged creature was singing to its full capacity.

I returned Millie to her bed when her ablutions were complete and stepped outside again to savour a few more moments standing on the lawn in the centre of the singing.  It was made more special by being there alone (as much as I love my dog) in that stillness and mysterious half-light that twilight provides.  I felt like a tiny radio receiver, standing at a point at which all the sound converged - as If I was absorbing it.  As I said, it was a real gem of a moment, one that I would store away, as the old Jim Croce song says, in a bottle, or maybe a box, if I could.  A moment which would be included in “the best bits” compilation of my life.

So thank you Millie, for giving me the impetus to do something that I had wanted to do, even if it did have a rather inauspicious beginning.

Ironically, we were not far from Adlestrop - we passed by it on the way to our destination.  I thought of the poem’s final words and felt as if I had indeed heard “all the birds of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire”.

All text & images ©2016 Carol Saunderson

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Abstract Landscape Painter.  Rural Dweller.  Lover of Modernist Art and Design.

Taking Risks

I am currently working towards an exhibition entitled, “The Colour Of The Land”, which will open in early May.  I’m going to be sharing the space with Amie Haslen, a young print-maker and painter.  I have calculated that, in order to fill to the gallery, I will need approximately forty pictures.  This will be the largest number of paintings that I have shown in a single venue to date.

It took a while to get into the swing of things again after Christmas.  January is a cold, dark time in which to re-start, and even a short break can stifle the flow of ideas and make me feel out of practice.  I think that it took the best part of the month before I felt that I was back into my stride.  

It’s been a strange winter.  The flowers have never really gone away.  Usually I am eagerly looking for the first snowdrops and crocuses, but this year there have been unseasonal blooms on all sorts of plants!  And so weird not to have snow - just a thin covering on a couple of occasions.

My Winter walking routes are different from those of Spring and Summer in order to avoid the mud that sticks so heavily to my boots.  They take me across an old WW2 airfield.  As I follow its paths I can see for miles across a table-top landscape.  It is scattered with small woods and lines of trees, rough brush marks of hedges, the cream dots of distant sheep and dark specks of crows and pigeons flying against the bright sky.  Part of my walk also takes me through a small wood.  I have been looking at the light as it is filtered and divided by the branches and trunks of the tall, thin trees.  It is a particularly silent and still place. The fir trees soar skyward out of a mass of creepers which hang like dry, green ropes from their sharp, vertical forms and roll and turn at their bases to create a dense, cage-like undergrowth.  The wood has inspired some new paintings and has challenged me to work in a different compositional format.  This has been a good thing for me because new problems bring new solutions and thereby new techniques and ways of working.  This in turn extends the visual language that I have at my disposal.

As a break from the studio I took a trip into Cambridge last week in order to visit the “Kettles Yard” exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum.  Although the display itself was disappointingly small, I happily wandered around looking at some beautiful Korean and Chinese celadon bowls in the nearby ceramics collection and also walked upstairs to see the twentieth century gallery.  En route I passed through a small, dark, circular room housing a number of exhibits celebrating the gallery’s bi-centenary.  One in particular caught my eye.  “Study in Provence”, 1926, by Augustus John.  It is difficult to show, in a photograph or on a display screen, how amazing the light in this painting is.  It positively glows.  The line of sky above the trees and corresponding touches of light on the figure and the branches, capture, for me, that sensation of an early summer morning.  The brush work is large and free for such a small painting and the composition suggests that the ground immediately behind the figure drops away into a valley, creating the illusion of distance and depth.  I read that John made many of these small paintings as studies for larger works, but apparently they became very popular in their own right.  I can see why, as they are probably a lot less self-conscious than the larger “finished” paintings.  The best work is always produced by instinct.

I read a really interesting comment about this topic in a recent interview with Ken Howard for the RA Magazine.  In a column entitled, “How I Made It”, he was asked, “At what point did you feel that the painting was going to work?”  His reply was, “When I realised I couldn’t do what I was trying to do!  We paint our best things when we paint completely intuitively - you can’t shed what you have learned but somehow you’ve go to, to let go of all that experience, to lose control” (RA Magazine - Winter 2015).

This resonated with me because I always tell myself, “Don’t over-think it, just begin and trust yourself.  Don’t be afraid to take risks.  Nothing great was ever made by playing it safe.

“Study in Provence”, 1926, by Augustus John

All text & Header image ©2016 Carol Saunderson

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Abstract Landscape Painter.  Rural Dweller.  Lover of Modernist Art and Design.

Things That The Light Brings

Just past the shortest day again and we are in the middle of those grey days that hardly seem to get light.  Yet these early mornings, just as the world is waking up, can feel really cosy.  The house has just a few pools of soft interior light, either from lamps or from the fire, and outside the quiet darkness wraps around it like a blanket.  At this time of year I am fully dependent on using daylight bulbs in order to paint.  Hence I was pretty grumpy when the main one went pop last week and I was forced to stop work (I’m always a bit grumpy if I have to stop work!).  As my work is so much about colour, I was unable to continue.  Without a sufficient level of daylight illumination it is impossible to see the true colour of the paint.  Happily it has now been replaced with an even stronger bulb and thus normal service has been resumed!

This December also brought another opportunity to see the Geminid meteor shower.  The conditions at peak time were supposed to be perfect - i.e., no moon, which would mean that the shooting stars would show up more clearly.  Unfortunately a thick and persistent cloud base put pay to that. However, during that period, on the Sunday before last, I listened to quite a bit of BBC Radio 3’s broadcast from their Northern Lights series.  It was fascinating.  I was especially interested to hear the programme about St. Lucia’s Day, one of the biggest festivals in Sweden.  December 13th was the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, according to the Julian calendar and a festival of light in Sweden.  It turned into a saints day because a young Christian girl, called Lucia, was killed for her faith in 304AD.  Apparently the most common story told about her is that she would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, who lived in hiding in the catacombs under the city.  She would wear candles on her head so that she had both hands free to carry things.  St. Lucia’s Day is now celebrated by dressing a girl in a white dress with a red sash around her waist and a crown of candles on her head.  The crown is made of Lingonberry branches which are evergreen and symbolise new life in winter.

This week has brought the restoration of our telephone line which was mistakenly cut off two weeks ago by BT.  In the process of transferring us to fibre optic broadband, they mistakenly switched off the voice comms - whoops!  We are benefitting from the government’s initiative to bring better broadband to rural communities - something which appears to be more of a challenge than any of the protagonists had anticipated!  However, what I do find amazing is that the data now travels to us in the form of pulses of light, propagated along the cable by reflection.  The engineer explained to me that the fibre optics are strands of glass, each as thin as a human hair.  They are protected by a thermo-plastic coating and a plastic jacket to keep them secure.  Each is also surrounded by mirrored cladding. These fibres are then bundled together into a single cable which is specially treated in order to make it as flexible as possible.  When light enters the cable it hits the mirrored wall and bounces along in a zigzagging pattern until it reaches its destination. Thus the straight line of light can be transmitted around many curves as it transmits information to and from our home. Amazing.

Another December event in the village is the annual lighting of the Christmas tree.  This involves gathering on the green, singing some Carols, flicking the switch and then retiring to a nearby house for copious amounts of mulled wine and mince pies!  There is also another aspect of the event that is a regular feature.  Someone will read out a list of names, compiled by people living in the village, of those that have died and whom they wish to be remembered.  And so it is that I now remember a woman that I never knew, someone whose name is always on the list.  I hear her name mentioned often and since moving here in 2013 numerous local people have told me positive stories about her friendship to them and of many small acts of kindness.  Even I, who never met her, would recognise her face, as it smiles out from a photograph in the village hall.  Just one snapshot among many, taken at a public event some years ago.  She looks like a very unassuming middle-aged woman.  Her cheerful husband sits beside her with obvious pride.  But she made a difference here.  She may not have changed the world in a global sense, but what is evident to me is that her presence and the kindness which she showed to others have left a legacy - both within individual people and with the culture of the community.  In fact, I can say that I have benefited directly as a result of her existence here.

One of the things that she did was to instigate a fortnightly coffee morning in the village hall. This she ran for 15 years.  It is always very well attended as many of us that live here are either self-employed or retired.  There are also some parents with small children and other people that work on the land nearby.  And so it was that we found ourselves at one of these village events, the last before Christmas 2013, just days after our arrival.  It was heaving.  We squeezed our way in and, over coffee and mince pies, chatted away to complete strangers who introduced us from one to another and finally to two people who have been particularly warm and welcoming to us and who have become very good friends.  You could say that we may never have met them or settled so happily here if it had not been for that woman’s initiative and willingness to take action on behalf of her neighbours.

Last Sunday afternoon, on leaving the Carol Service in our little medieval church, I noticed a small plaque near to the porch on which had been placed a string of tiny white lights.  It is her memorial stone.  I thought that the lights were a fitting symbol for someone whose kindness is still having on effect on her friends and neighbours and even those that she never met. Thank you for Christine.

All text & images ©2015 Carol Saunderson

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Abstract Landscape Painter.  Rural Dweller.  Lover of Modernist Art and Design.

The Shapes And Flight Patterns Of Birds

When I look out of my studio window the view is across a gentle valley.  Perched, as we are, on the edge of a plateau in the terrain, I see the farmland falling down and away before rising up again to meet the wood and the hedge about a mile away.  If I stand at the garden’s perimeter and look to the left and to the right, the only buildings that I see are the top of the medieval church and one minute pink triangle - the eaves of a farmhouse - embedded in the tree line on the distant horizon.  I walk in this landscape every day and observe its constant and rhythmic changes.  The familiar patterns weave their way continually into my paintings, as do its inhabitants.  We are fortunate to have a very rich and varied wildlife here, which I learn more about as the months and years pass.

I have been especially fascinated to watch the birds this year, particularly to observe their flight patterns.  The gulls and crows in Spring and Autumn hang like kites as they face into the strong wind that whips across the hillside.  Periodically they allow themselves to be swept and carried away before flying back into it and holding fast.  They look as if they are riding the wind, almost surfing the waves of air.  They repeat this hold / surrender / hold / surrender pattern over and over again.  It looks like pure freedom.

Perhaps the supreme rider of the air currents is the buzzard.  One morning, in early Summer, I came across one standing on the ground just outside the wood.  He, or she, let me get quite close before taking off with slow but powerful movements. I was amazed to see how large a bird the buzzard actually is and how big its wingspan (1.1 - 1.4m).  Up and up it went, in a lazy corkscrew motion, until it was a small, floating speck.  I could hear its mewing call - a strangely high voice for such a large bird!

Now, in late Autumn, I look out into our garden and to our meadow beyond, where the small birds are constantly foraging and where the pheasant and green woodpecker have become regular visitors.  Flocks of partridges can also be seen taking off and gliding in formation at low level to further feeding grounds.  I have featured these take-offs in several recent paintings, whether it is crows travelling to roost on Autumn evenings or pigeons and gulls suddenly rising up en masse.  I have also portrayed the barn owl hunting at night.  I occasionally see these as I drive to Lavenham and back on the high lanes.  They appear and disappear, phantom-like, in the beams of the car headlights.

In all of this work I am not claiming to produce anatomically correct illustrations, but to capture the moment when I see the shape of a bird out of the corner of my eye as I pass a tree or hedge or see their movements as they fly and interact with the more static shapes of their surroundings.  These paintings, part of my work for various gallery Christmas shows, was begun in August.  I have produced around 25 paintings which are divided between four exhibitions.  In fact, it is very rare for me to produce a painting without at least one bird in it somewhere!

I am currently working on a couple of last-minute orders and after that will begin work for a larger scale exhibition in the Spring.

All text & images ©2015 Carol Saunderson