on a small painting, out of the woods

Sunday 11 September 2011

this is a small abstract painting on watercolour paper, completed a couple of months back. it’s for the forthcoming ‘mini artworks prize draw’ in the artworks exhibition. the sombre, muted colours and vertical, layered striations in this small painting appear to be slightly influenced by my time sketching trees and bark in local woodlands.

small abstract painting, trees, bark, dark green, woods, woodland
[wildwood iv, 2011. 6″ x  6″, or 15cm x 15cm]

there is also a small copse (perhaps it is now a real, grown-up, maturing ‘wood’) bordering the far end of the garden. although i see this small piece of woodland everyday, i do not go into it to paint or draw as it is privately-owned land – perhaps just to rescue an errant roosting hen who once had a free two-night stay on the wilder side of the fence. on the third (could-be) night of freedom, a short time after dusk she was eventually located by taking a slow, spiralling inward path around the copse, sleepily plumped between the lower fork of branches of a tree. this twilight woodland escapade inevitably disturbed the dozing wildlife of pheasants, wood pigeons and so on – and i was reminded of these words:

‘we do not have to be long in the woods to experience the always rather anxious impression of going deeper and deeper into a limitless world.’

[gaston bachelard, the poetics of space]

this ‘limitless world’ seems to be a psychological or phenomenological one, a self-realised world mostly obscured by the modern day-to-day concerns of stability, security & safety. it is not often that we are allowed go there. it is in our human makeup to have fear & doubt (and respond to it) and the experience of being in the woods (or forests, mountains, seas or oceans) enables both a sense of place and the natural order of things in the world – and it is most deeply felt when one is alone. the naturalist david attenborough has often said that we should always be reminded that we are just one of many species co-habiting the earth.

bachelard made an interesting distinction between the perception of woods (or forests) and fields. in the landscape of fields we are a witness and perhaps an accomplice to the passage of time; we experience, share and create memories in the seasonal or manmade rhythms of it. in the dark depths of the forest bachelard perceives time as ‘before-me, before-us’, that is, it is behind us, in the past. the forest is ancient and the trees are the ancestral markers of time. in the woods, i sometimes sense that time has paused, it has ‘disconnected’ me from the brightly illuminated present, time idles in the shadows.

when i have studied the more philosophical or poetic appeal of woodland i have found it overgrown with many metaphors, myths, rituals, stories and legends, often wildly conflicting with the socio-economic changes of the times (fuel, timber, hunting, livestock and so forth). by the 11th century it has been estimated there was no more than 15 percent of natural woodland covering england and the remaining woods and forests developed into sites of rural industries. it was ‘not an imaginary utopia; it was a vigorous working society’, as the historian simon schama describes it, later saying that the ‘greenwood idyll was disappearing into house beams, dye vats, ship timbers’ – and with more bureaucratic management of woodland, a little corruption and misdemeanour along the way.

it seems, quite naturally so, for there to be an urgent need to re-establish or conserve our woodlands, with something of a reversion to the pre-industrial green wildwoods of folklore, but if the woods are not really a ‘greenwood idyll’ or the way into a more mysterious, esoteric other-world, then what, exactly…

and that deep softness of delicious hues
that overhead blends – softens – and subdues
the eye to extacy and fills the mind
with views and visions of enchanting kind

[wood pictures in summer, john clare]

i have been reading carus again, and he sums up the experience of the woods in a manner that i relate to:

tranquil reflection takes hold of us; we feel our unruly ambitions and aspirations held in check; we enter into the cycle of nature and transcend ourselves.

[carl gustav carus, 1824, from nine letters on landscape painting]

whether there is any direct relation between this german sentiment and previously referred-to eastern aesthetics i cannot be sure – perhaps it is a universal sentiment which is merely muted by the concerns of modernity.

trees (or nature, as it is perceived) will continue to be seen as a symbols of hope over adversity. however, i am conversely reminded of the idiom, we are not ‘out of the woods’ yet. for the artist, ever aware of the past, present and future, hopes that every picture paints its own story – and i have been drawn into the woods in a desire to escape routine – and, like the errant roosting hen, it is one of those times when one momentarily forgets to take the usual path home…

so many words to accompany such a small painting! over a thousand words and i should thank you for reading them.

however, i must conclude dear reader, by saying that someone somewhere will (soon) acquire the small ‘wildwood iv’ painting on paper shown above. tickets for the artworks prize draw are on sale at £2 each (and you can buy more than one, too). all the mini artworks are 6″ x 6″ and they are window-mounted for easy framing. the thirty mini artworks are currently on display in the artworks exhibition (which opened yesterday). i will also purchase a prize draw ticket to be in with a chance of winning one of the thirty original artworks illustrated below, but if i won my own painting then i should have to give it away again.

the ‘janette place’ artworks prize draw is named in recognition of one artworks artist, janette place, who initiated the first artworks prize draw (she died in 2005). the prize draw supports artworks ‘artists in schools’ programme, with a proportion of the money raised given to a local nominated charity. this year artworks have elected to support Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s Bradfield Green Oak project, an education centre built from green oak harvested from SWT’s own nature reserves as part of their conservation management programme.

the artworks prize draw takes place at 4pm on saturday 1st october 2011. you can read more about the mini artworks prize draw on the artworks blog.

i have ten works currently on show in the artworks exhibition at blackthorpe barn, rougham, suffolk, which runs from 10 september to 2 october 2011 (10am – 5pm, open daily). there is also the ‘ artworks shop’ with a changing display of small artworks for sale: paintings, original prints (no reproduction giclees!) and drawings, 3D works and an extensive range of artist cards. i have some of my papier mache bowls in the shop.

Artworks is a professional art group of thirty contemporary East Anglian artists. Each September we have an annual exhibition at Blackthorpe Barn in the heart of rural Suffolk.

some new works also on show at Reunion Gallery’s ‘Refresh’ tenth anniversary exhibition on now and until 22 Oct 2011

4 thoughts on... on a small painting, out of the woods

  1. Charlie

    so are the woods in one way a metaphor for everything that is unknown , in the back of our unconscious? things that we fear, that when we paradoxically begin to know, by exploring the woods, we reach wholeness and integration? Freud would often use woods as metaphors for the unconscious? I like the way that when (withouut saying too much about my own current work) we can have our ‘feet on the ground’, whilst also looking upwards in a wood/forest. So trees seem ‘spiritual’ creatures converting light into food, whilst being deeply rooted systems.

  2. Charlie

    woods interest me MASSIVELY at the moment, as well as tesselation. Its a pleasure to be able to share your thoughts Jazz; and hopefully make my own contribution too!

  3. Jazz

    thank you charlie

    going into the woods after dusk, with the disturbance of wildlife, a deeper awareness of sounds and limited night vision was quite unsettling yet oddly liberating – well, it was not the ‘usual’ walk in the park! luckily, for us brits there are no bears or tigers to be fearful of, but it’s all relative to the known/unknown in our lives.

    woods, forests, jungles, it’s nature at its most concentrated – we are ‘inside’ nature, not just an observer… and with trees, as you suggest, perhaps they are the living link between the heavens (or infinity) and the earth??

  4. Jazz

    thanks charlie, i appreciate the contribution

    there is something about woods, forests, which is distinct from other forms of landscape, one that has a modern parallel in the dark or enclosed space – disorientation, greater awareness of the self, of thoughts, imaginations, heightened senses… perhaps also experienced to similar degree at sea/in a desert etc, but there is always the orientation of sky and horizon, unlike the forest…

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