Tag Archives: gaston bachelard

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

on vacant and empty landscapes

Monday 12 April 2010

Thinking more about yesterday and the upcoming Art Auction, I thought perhaps I should see it as another platform for art – a lost leader of sorts – no monetary gain but good exposure… I will be putting in this work…

crag abstract cliff painting on panel
Crag I, mixed media on panel, 30cm x 90cm, 2007

Here is a close up of some textures…

cliff painting textures

Crag was, in part, inspired by many trips to Covehithe… here’s a photograph of the eroding cliffs, taken on December 31st 2007…

covehithe eroding cliffs
Covehithe cliffs, Suffolk

All of which got me thinking about the many photographs I have of vacant and empty places, landscapes devoid of people or buildings… here are but a few, which again most definitely inspired my larger paintings…

train journey through fens, fields
A train journey through the fens, probably near Peterborough, February 2006

salthouse beach, norfolk
Salthouse beach, Norfolk, June 2009

the sea at dunwich, suffolk
The North Sea, Dunwich, Suffolk, February 2007

suffolk field
Field, Suffolk, June 2004

morning mist over lake, suffolk
Mist over lake, January 2009

I really should read Bachelard again…

into the woods

Tuesday 21 July 2009

woodland tree studies wood tress sketches
tree studies trees sketching
undergrowth woodland sketches drawing of a pine cone - sketchbook
woodland sketch oak tree - sketchbook drawing
tree stump old oak dead tree silhouette of trees at dusk - sketches, drawings

some sketchbook studies in ink pen… first it was water and now it is wood; this could be the start of something quite elemental…

i have been given permission to visit some private woodlands to do some sketching over the next few months, but the last few days have been taken up by four days at the latitude festival (a few of these drawings were done on the henham estate)…

inspired by reading bachelard, i am reminded of rembrandt‘s landscape etchings, anselm kiefer’s dark forests, gustav klimt‘s birch trees, jacob van ruisdael‘s woodland landscapes… it is not so much recording locations or the evidence of nature that i am currently interested in, more the psychology (and history) of contained spaces… a transition from the perceived expanses of a horizon to an absence of it – dark, enclosed, densely textured and layered, resonant and allegorical… it is refreshing to explore these environments without a camera, it seems very nostalgic (romantic, even) to draw in the landscape, but observing, thinking and drawing become one experience, the scene unfolds more slowly, akin to the concept of the moving focus as david hockney alluded to…

the salthouse exhibition continues… salthouse 09 : salt of the earth, 2 july to 2 august 2009