here, there and everywhere [drawing]

I had some free time this week to get out sketching for an hour or so, here and there…

These are small sketches, about 14cm square (travelling light again, with a new sketchbook that just about fits in my bag), finding odd moments of calm and contemplation, experiencing some cool blustery breezes and light rain showers, a sprinkling of frost and a little sunshine too…

[looking north east, rain clouds ahead]

[view over brow of a hill in field]

[open fields, hedgerows and big sky, early afternoon]

I made a trip to the fine city of Norwich (that’s their promising tagline, Norwich, a fine city) to see a few exhibitions this week (and to pick up my artwork from the Forum)…

One of the exhibitions I went to see was Watercolour in Britain at Norwich Castle (part of the Great British Art Debate, on until 18 April 2010). However, before I went in to see the main exhibition, I perused the rotunda of the Cotman Art Gallery. Here, you can see (in a somewhat subdued and yellow light) the watercolours and drawings of John Sell Cotman and his contemporaries. There is permission to take photographs (without a flash), and so with a lens pressed against the glass I tried to analyse this particular drawing. I felt a little touristy in this regard, but wanted something I could look at again and again.

John Sell Cotman, Irmingland (trees and vale)
black and white chalk drawing on grey paper, 1841 (with an unintentional self-portrait)

[left hand side of drawing]

[right side of drawing]

This one was apparently drawn over two days, 10th-11th October 1841, and Cotman had briefly returned to his native Norfolk in the autumn (from London, where he was working as a drawing tutor) due to ill health (he died the following year, aged 60). He said in a letter ‘judge for yourself my happiness on finding your flints capable of once more creating a blaze in my heart‘. One can assume that these drawings were preparatory studies for paintings that he did not live to complete.

Firstly, it’s interesting that he added an extra piece of paper to the right-hand side to make the scene more panoramic (on the second day?). I like how the foreground although roughly sketched out in hatched shading, creates angles of interest before one’s eyes find the cluster of trees in the middle. It is difficult to know what this foreground vegetation might have been, but as an autumnal landscape, I could conjecture that its texture and colour would have been pivotal to the overall composition. I’ve often felt that Cotman’s Norfolk landscapes are too sentimental, at times over-embellished and exaggerated, but this drawing has a truthful, wind-swept bleakness about it. Irmingland no longer exists as a true village, having been effectively consumed into a larger parish by the Enclosure Acts of the 1800’s (an act of parliament in which previously common or grazing land was passed over into private hands) – and perhaps by the sprawling estates acquired by the many country manors – forcing the locals to live and work elsewhere – often migrating to the cities. According to Oulton Parish Council, in 1845 Irmingland had only 13 residents, by 1881 it had dropped to only 5.

The landscape of East Anglia, broadly-speaking, with its patchwork pattern of arable fields and reclaimed fenland, especially when seen from above, has all the obvious markings of a rural landscape shaped by man – a factory without a roof – it can be just as polluted as the city, and its green-edged agricultural roads are often noisier than the average suburban avenue. I have no romance with it, but I want to explore my relationship with it, none the less – and drawing has been a means of doing this in a more immersive and emotionally direct way.

I have been preparing some box frames for four of my farmscapes this week..

These are looking like they will have the colours of spring, I think… (but no daffodils)…

and this one, with a cooler palette of metallic greys, bronzes and blues, of autumn perhaps… agriculture depends upon the seasons, and nature through its cyclical changes imparts its identity on an otherwise structured landscape.

Too many words already; I will have to continue with my thoughts on the the intriguing side exhibit Drawing on Cotman, and the main exhibition at Norwich Castle Watercolour in Britain tomorrow… and what I saw and made of the other two current exhibitions, The Artist’s Studio at the SCVA and The Jerwood Contemporary Painters show at NUCA

One Comment

  1. Posted February 20, 2010 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    Great, as usual, to see the energy in your sketches, Jazz – the really do communicate that sense of a direct engagement with the land & elements. Interesting too to see them in the context of the Cotman, whose panoramic approach then leads well into the presentation of your ‘farmscapes’ – I like the landscape format & the horizontal narrative that unfolds as one reads across the surface (& back)…

    Would love to read your thoughts on the Jerwood show – I caught it on a day trip to Cheltenham before Xmas, subsequently blogging the experience as a photo-essay because I couldn’t think of much to say about it!