I’ve just come back from a brilliant trip to Scotland. I went specifically to paint, to research the Scottish coastal scenery. I didn’t actually manage much painting but did loads of sketching and took masses of photographs. So on my return I rushed to get my paints out. But I felt blocked. It was horrible. I just didn’t know where to start. It was all too much; too beautiful; almost sublime – see above! How could I do justice to all that stuff?
I put my paints away thinking I just had to stop and think instead. I’d captured the physical appearance of the places as well as it’s possible to do with a camera but a camera cannot capture the essence, the presence of the scene; of actually being there. How can a camera translate the feelings of passing through Glen Coe or of the sunrise over the sea at Skye? My skill with a camera certainly can’t. But with paint it’s got to be possible surely?
In desperation I started to look through old canvases. I began to panic as I am sharing an exhibition with a friend in May which is not too far away. I had to get some painting done. I found a canvas started back in 2017 after a visit to Australia. I’d abandoned it when I found I couldn’t capture the equally sublime sweep of hills backing onto my step-daughters endless property where she breeds horses. Now with fresh eyes I saw how I could improve this painting. It had needed the passage of time and the memory to grow in the back of my mind to get it right. Well almost right…it looks better than this in real life. It’s about 130 x 70 cm and I think it’s working.
It reminded me of something I’d read ages ago about Peter Doig….how he paints a place where he’s lived But only years after he’s moved to another place where he then doesn’t paint the new place till years after he’s moved to somewhere else. It seemed a strange idea when I first read this but it suddenly made sense. Maybe I’ve found the key. Excitedly I grabbed a book off the shelf about Doig. On reading more of this I got even more excited… Adrian Searle, writes about Doig’s painting, ‘Young Bean Planter’, that ‘the estranged figure becomes a trope for painting itself….it is a thing a painter learns and learns to use. It is part of painting’s silence, a silence of images.’ Brilliant ideas!
I think I can now see a fresh approach in two ways. Firstly I need to wait Patiently….that will be a problem….I don’t do patience !!! I’ll try. But secondly I can use the trope idea to paint myself back into a space I’ve inhabited years ago. Not just the photographic representation of the place but events or feelings about the place.I realised I’ve already done this before. A painting which I felt was quite successful in a quirky sort of way was The Birthday Present. See below.
The realisation that I was using the colours and vague images of Kate receiving a present from her great grandmother as a trope for how I felt about my mother was a revelation. I want to consciously use this idea of tropes to paint not just places but events in my life. This is, I hope, a new way of expressing more than a purely representational image. I can’t wait to try this out to see if it’s possible now with my recent and past visits to Glen Coe. It’s completely immaterial if the viewer understands my references as they will impose their own memories, experiences on the view I paint. I may have to wait for all that amazing Scottish scenery to percolate to the back of my brain before I attempt it though.
Watch this space