If you are in the Totnes area this August, stop by the lovely Fat Lemons Cafe on Ticklemore Street. In my humble opinion, they make the best cappuccino in Totnes. They are exhibiting paintings from my current work on a rotating schedule. The Dart River has been on display since August 4th.
This painting is a classic landscape take on the Dart, just down river from Totnes. Like most river towns, Totnes owes a good part of its initial prosperity to the trade that the river enabled. It’s now been roughly 15 years (or is it 11?) since the last trade ship made it up the river waters to Totnes. The river has made a transition to recreational use. Late one night last month, I was listening to the jumping fish from the banks of Vire Island in town. The river was almost boiling with jumping fish. What will this recreational future for the river bring? Will the fish still jump at night in 50 years?
There is a ruined cottage called “Windwhistle,” depicted as a paint smudge on a distant hill.
It is roughly 100 days until the MA show here at the Dartington Campus of the University College Falmouth. It is a very strange experience—the Dartington Campus will move to the main college at the end of the year. There is a definitive sense of a winding down of place happening here that is both unique in the perspective it brings, and a bit of a burden.
I am preparing for another suite of paintings, trying to continue with the theme of painting landscapes where something is missing. In recent work, this has been mainly centered around the post-industrial condition, but that specific land condition is slim Totnes. I am attracted to the idea of an implied narrative through depicting an absence and how painting a local landscape can evoke discussion of simultaneous experiences of place.
In Space and Place: The Perspective of Human Experience, Yi Fu Tuan is discussing intimate experiences of place. Calling places “centers of value” (Tuan, p.18); the sense of place is developed by an accumulation of everyday events. Yet, intimate experiences are elusive to descriptive language.
Pictorial art and rituals supplement language by depicting areas of experience that words fail to frame; their use and effectiveness again vary from people to people. Art makes images of feeling so that feeling is accessible to contemplation and thought. Social chatter and formulaic communication, in contrast, numb sensitivity. Even intimate feelings are more capable of being represented than most people realize. The images of place, here sampled, are evoked by the imagination of perceptive writers. (namely an Isherwood passage) By the light of their art we are privileged to savor experiences that would otherwise have faded beyond recall. Here is a seeming paradox: thought creates distance and destroys the immediacy of direct experience, yet it is by thoughtful reflection that the elusive moments of the past draw near to us in a present reality and gain a measure of permanence.
(Ibid, p. 148)
Some potential sites that I will paint for the MA show include:
A former, now vacant, squat near my flat. Squatters were evicted by court order. Landlord came in and smashed up the plumbing in an effort to make the places uninhabitable.
A former forest that has just been logged by the forestry service. Neighbors are upset.
A former quarry that is not used now, roped off for fear of falling rocks.
A former swimming pool on the Dartington Estate, next to an abandoned school and tennis court.
I am still scouting around for further ideas. The above quote resonates with my approach to my current landscape painting work, specifically the last aspect. I believe I am trying to crystallize spaces that are fading or shine light on spaces that are hiding consequences.
Is it possible to have an intimate experience of the views here in Totnes? I am confounded on how to interpret the land from this perspective. I want to paint the vista’s because, I mean wow. How to frame it? Below is not natural, it is a beautiful landscape with an absence of the signs of labor that shaped it. What will this land look like when it starts to return to forest? Perhaps that is one way to try to paint it.
I am very lucky to have been invited to collaborate on an artwork with my longtime Pittsburgh friend, STUDIO collegue and fellow landscape painter, Connie Merriman. She asked if I would like to work with her for the Associate Artists of Pittsburgh Centenial Exhibition. Pittsburgh is a very special place for me, and it’s magnetic pull grabs me even while I am in the Devon, England.
The title of the show is “Exchange: Emerging and Established Artists Come Together” where 10 established artists invite emerging artists to collaborate, and 10 emerging artists invite established artists to collaborate. The show opening is from 5:30 – 8pm on Feb. 5th at 937 Liberty Ave in Pittsburgh. I also showed “Dwelling” here in Devon as part of The Landscape Thinks Itself in Us. We ultimately decided to work with photography, time and the view out our home windows. Big thanks to Tom Merriman, Jason McMullan and Ben Vernot for their valuable assistance in getting this together.
Our show statement is as follows:
It takes time to know a place. Yet location changes over time. What does it mean to understand a place within a constantly changing landscape?
We make our homes our location by the daily habits of living, by the activities of everyday life. This is grounding for us. We are observers, and we chose to study our landscapes by looking deeply over time through the windows in our homes, our dwellings. We are behind the camera, and sometimes there is evidence of us in our photos as reflections in the windows. Connie has deep roots in her dwelling. Noel is searching for roots in a temporary place.
We have teamed as collaborators before, working on environmental projects in the same studio space. Now Noel studies in England and Connie continues her work in Pittsburgh. We perceive our current distance. There is a subtle timelessness implied in distant places and when friends are separated, they take on the quality of a memory instead of the fresh engagements which occur in one location. This exhibit has provided us the opportunity to work together again, not in the same studio, but in real time.
As landscape painters, we both deal with notions of time and how it flows through space. Now we present to the viewers our ‘moving paintings’ at the size of postcards. These are views from our windows which are captured in synchronized time in two locations on the earth. We exchanged these experiences of place and particular points of view within the world with each other and the viewers in hopes to discover and share meaning in the landscapes we live in.
“Dwelling is about the rich intimate ongoing togetherness of beings and things which make up landscapes and places, and which bind together nature and culture over time. It thus offers conceptual characteristics which blur the nature/culture divide and emphasise the temporal nature of landscape.”
-Cloke and Jones (2001, p.651) quoted in Landscape by John Wylie
A shortened version of the work is below. For the exhibitions, each slide is 5 seconds long, instead of .5 seconds here.