Jeremy Hastings has a developed painting and photography practice, initially driven by the recording of community projects and performance.
His art is of the land he explores and the knowledge of it. It is enhanced by experiences of land work and travel, particularly the engagement of walking and trespassing in places known or undiscovered.
Hastings’ a-n blog, Waiting for the darkness to come apart, explores past work and his current explorations during a residency at the National Trust owned Ilam Park in the Peak District National Park, where he taught rangers how to scythe and manage wildflower meadows.
This month he is the featured blogger on the a-n Instagram.
You use the word ‘peripatetic’ to explain your life and artwork; how does this approach enhance your work and create opportunities?
Travelling has been part of me all my life. I lived in 21 different places before I was 18, always out of a bag or rucksack. Not being fixed allows the change of the horizon; being flexible and able to respond to certain situations as an artist has given me opportunities worldwide.
I have always been prepared to share knowledge and skills, and have worked and made art as far north as the Arctic Circle, and south to southern Africa. My antennae are always on alert for new and interesting opportunities. Being peripatetic in my work and practice, and chosen lifestyle, enables my creativity.
Could you explain your experience as a land worker?
In the late 1970s I worked as a summer/autumn land worker; fruit picking, hay making, grape picking. It was good but hard-earned money; I had a rucksack and tent so was able to hitch between paid jobs. I enjoyed the simplicity of an itinerant lifestyle. I could go to the mountains climbing and walking as well, never needing much – hoping for everything, expecting nothing. I ended up getting a full-time post with a language and arts cooperative funded by the Arts Council until 1984, when the Tories got in and cut the grants. Some of us stayed on and we travelled through Europe, performing and running workshops. Pay was poor but the riches and rewards were greater than money.
How do these experiences fuel your art practice?
I always used hand tools and my artwork is based on the same ethos. I was working with remote villages creating image and story – a lot of work was based on folklore and folk tales, so connections with the land and forest has always been vital. There is a common thread that flows through all of us, whatever our spoken language. This taught me to be open to the risks of the unknown and embrace the creative journey.
Even now my land work is based on a creative lineage: scything, haymaking, creating wildflower meadows, wheel building, brazing machines, charcoal burning, wilderness guiding. My art and land work have become entwined through a series of events beyond my control. I have been lucky.
How did you develop your painting and photography?
Performance art came first through community arts, interpreting story with my body and voice. I had to record the work and it was easy to carry a notebook, pencil, watercolours. Through encouragement I gravitated towards painting large community pieces and murals. I also used colour slide photography to record and document work.
My dear friend, the painter Gill Ord, was and still is supportive in encouraging me to paint. I have always made pigments and oil paint from land and plants; these resonate with the places I have worked. I always carry a musette (a feed bag) with me as well as a note book. My practice remains based in recording moment and memory.
I have fallen back in love with the camera too. Back in the 1980s it was purely a tool. Although time-consuming I discovered the world of dark rooms – community spaces during that time often had the facility. I am slowly understanding digital photography and have been encouraged by artist-photographer friends such as John Riddy and Angus Thomson.
What have you been researching on residency at Ilam Park?
The residency project, ‘Land(E)Scape’, interrogates the picturesque and the idea of Henri Bergson’s Élan vital. A picturesque view was developed at Ilam through the siting of the grand house and gardens by the Port family in the 18th century. I have accessed historical documents to ask questions and further understand land management there, and the problems of modern conservation.
My research includes William Gilpin, who promoted the application of landscape art theory onto the very land. I have discovered lost paths around the estate through mapping and walking, and through drawing and painting I’ve developed community engagement with folks aged two to 76. The residency is now taking me on a new path, rediscovering and documenting the original viewpoints.
Do you see skill learning as an important process in connecting with place and landscape?
It is incredibly important. Any labour, toil or tilling of the land, and even conservation work, will connect you to a much deeper understanding. It’s the same as travelling by car or on foot. In a car you go through the landscape, on foot you are in the landscape – there is no escape, you have to find comfort in your reason for being in wild places and be confident of your skills. It is an anti-capitalist way of being.
John Muir describes this: ‘Take a course in good water and air; and in the eternal youth of nature you may renew your own. Go quietly, alone; no harm will befall you.’ Obviously this way of working and practice is not for everyone, it is hard and lonely and challenging at times. But it’s worked for me.
1. Scything competition. Photo: S Damant
2. Jeremy Hastings, a moment of art during haymaking, Coombe Valley, digital photograph, 2018. Courtesy: the artist
3. Jeremy Hastings, scythe teaching. From @peasantjez Instagram feed, 20 August 2018
4. Jeremy Hastings, Across the Roaches, beeswax, earth, plants, and oil on board. Courtesy: the artist
5. Jeremy Hastings, scything and green hay spreading, Peak Park. From @peasantjez Instagram feed, 4 August 2018
6. Jeremy Hastings, digital photograph, 2018. Courtesy: the artist
7. Jeremy Hastings, digital photograph. Courtesy: the artist