Making connections

..between still life, landscape and architecture ….

“Despise not trifles, though they small appear.  Sands rise to mountains, moments make the year and trifles life.  Your time to trifles give or you may die before you learn to live.”  Daniel Sutton, an 18th century scientist.

Hanging by a thread  30 x 90cm

‘Hanging by a thread’ – new limited edition of 20 prints for sale – for more information click here.

As mentioned in my previous blogs, my still life painting often depicts rows of everyday objects laid out as if for inspection and I am sure that this analytical approach has been influenced by painting my local fenland landscape.  I also think that having spent time closely following the construction of a cathedral tower, I began to appreciate the smaller things that played an important role in the greater scheme of things but often went unseen and unappreciated.  My mother always supported the underdog – perhaps I do too!

I’ve said this before – I find these everyday objects quietly evocative – they seem both intimate and worldly.  They seem to be trying to convey something more than their everyday purpose.

These lightbulbs came from many different places and most of them are now redundant having lain in my brother-in-law’s cupboards for years!  From a technical point of view, the varying shapes and opacity fascinated me and the more I looked, the more subtle variations I could see.  The surrounding backgrounds, shadows, reflections etc.  are essential in describing the essence of the objects themselves.

New horizons

I have a small solo show, ‘Horizons’,  at the Old Fire Engine House in Ely, Cambridgeshire, from 3rd to 26th November 2017. After many years of still life painting, this exhibition has been an opportunity for me to revisit the landscape.  My still life painting manifested itself in rows of everyday objects laid out in front of you as if for inspection. There is no doubt in my mind that this analytical approach was partly influenced by the flat, open and regimented landscape of East Anglia where the far horizon is always there and everything is laid out in front of you. Towards it and on it things stand out like props on a stage and catch the eye.

Nearer the time I shall be regularly posting some of this new work on Facebook (Lillias August RI)

Floodlands 22 x 43cm

Floodlands   watercolour  21 x 43.5cm

Bed time

Unmade bed 1   33 x 41.5cm

I am currently working on a series of paintings of unmade beds.  The inspiration came from walking round a house that I was renting with my family.  It was very quiet.  They had all gone out for a walk and there were just these ‘remains of where they had been’ and I found it very moving. The subject matter is naturally evocative – I want the paintings to be dark and still, slightly brooding but peaceful.  Technically the method of painting has been rather brooding too with paint being layered on and lifted off in stages to create a muted, soft yet strong, effect.

 

Unmade bed 2   33 x 41.5cm

Uncomfortable subjects

Decommissioned  93 x 35cm

Last year I went to visit the Suffolk Constabulary Headquarters as I wanted to paint a picture of the knives that had been handed in during a knife amnesty. While I was there, there was news of some firearms that were going to be decommissioned and I asked if I could look at them too. My paintings, ‘Amnesty’ and ‘Decommissioned’ are the result of my time there. There was quite a wait before I could see the result of the firearms decommissioning process – a powerful metal machine had sliced through the guns and rendered them useless. I know knives and the guns are disturbing and don’t make comfortable subject matter. I can’t really explain why I wanted to paint them. They are powerful and evocative and will say different things to different people. I suppose that I was drawn to what lies behind them – the stories that they could tell.  The shafts of light through the vertical blinds seem to enhance the mood (see previous post on backgrounds).  Both paintings will be with Beaux Art, Bath at the Affordable Art Fair in Battersea, London 8 – 12 March and then at the gallery itself.

Amnesty  41 x 96cm

 

Background work

Most of my still life paintings are set up in my studio with light from a window on my right. Although the subject matter is what inspires me, the backgrounds and shadows are some of the most important parts of the painting as they enhance and compliment the subject matter itself.  On the technical side, I nearly always start with the background and shadows, move on to the subject and then dance between the two, building up their relationship until I think it works and they are ‘speaking to each other’.

Bits - 36 x 96cmBits  36 x 96cm

Shadows reflect their object – that’s obvious – but it’s not just the shape or the type of light that comes into play. They have hints of reflective light and colour in them that speak to the object to each side of them.  Sometimes small bits of light bounce off other things and interfere with the prominent shadow and it’s hard to work out where it’s come from.  Likewise, bits of light often capture the dark side of the object.  If the background is busy, it too becomes something different within the shadows.  The relationship between the lit side of the object and its background also varies.  So there is a lot to think about and get involved with.

So what happens when light goes through the object?  “We’ll see”, as my father used to say when I was asking something he didn’t want to answer!  I recently finished a painting of light bulbs with many shapes, sizes and degrees of opacity and I am now working on a row of ten green bottles – all different thicknesses and shades.  We’ll see…..

Hanging by a thread  30 x 90cmHanging by a thread  30 x 90cm

ten-green-bottles-in-progress

Ten green bottles – work in progress

Splash! – a unique exhibition…….

The Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours (RI) is holding a fundraising exhibition called ‘Splash!’ (8-13 November). This exhibition offers a unique opportunity to buy work by top watercolour painters. Included in the exhibition is a silent auction of 65 small paintings – with a starting bid of £50 it is highly likely some people are going to go home with a little treasure.  Please come along and support this event.  Members of the RI will be there every day to show you around.  Here is a Private View Invitation with all the information.

e-vite_a4_final-sm

 

From ancient to modern

Here are two more paintings from my time at the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology – small bowls ranging from 400BC to 3 Millennium BC and a row of nineteenth century trade beads.  They were very different subjects to paint – the pottery vessels felt soft with their muted colours, loose designs and curvaceous shapes.  In comparison the trade beads were like little jewels – hard, intricate and brightly-coloured.

 

Ancient vessels 26 x 45cm watercolour

Ancient vessels,  watercolour  26 x 45cm

Trade beads 19 x 71cm

Trade beads,  watercolour 19 x 71cm

And here is the result of my time at the Suffolk Constabulary Police Headquarters (please see previous post – Unconventional beauty).  This is another large painting – most of my subjects are painted life size and with this subject matter I felt it was particularly important.  This is the first of a series of work which I am hoping to complete by the end of the year.

Amnesty knives 41 x 96cm

Amnesty knives,  watercolour 41 x 96cm

I hope to be adding a commissions page to my website soon – watch this space.

Unconventional beauty

A row of  Roman bottles - 21 x 50cm

A row of Roman bottles,  watercolour  21 x 50cm

I have recently been working on paintings from my time at the University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA). ‘A row of Roman bottles’ will be in the RI 2016 exhibition (see invitation below), alongside other new paintings – some mentioned in previous posts.

 

IMG_5446a

Over the past few weeks I have visited the Suffolk Constabulary Police Headquarters. They have a diverse collection of knives acquired through their Knife Amnesty and I wanted to do a painting of them. Some look so innocent (everyday kitchen or garden knives), while others definitely aren’t. We will never know who handed them in or why. It’s hard to know why I get these urges to paint certain subjects. Obviously, whether it is rows of Roman bottles, old boots or knives, there is a huge gap in what we know about their history – who owned them, what did they used them for or why did they get rid of them? There is literally more to them than meets the eye and I am trying to point towards it.  For me, these objects have an inherent attraction. It is an unconventional beauty. It is not only the simplicity of the objects themselves that inspires me – what lies behind the surface also adds to their attraction and potency.

 

The RI 2016 exhibition runs from 6th – 16th April (10am – 5pm) at the Mall Galleries, London SWI   

The Private View is on Tuesday 5 April, 12 noon – 8pm, and you are welcome to come.  

It is being opened at 3pm by

Rt Hon John Whittingdale MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.  

Eight pebbles - 18 x 41cm

Eight pebbles,  watercolour 18 x 41cm

As tough as old boots

 

Old boots 92 x 42cm bOld boots   watercolour 92 x 42cm

Recently we picked up an old boot on a farm walk.  Not knowing where it came from, we felt lucky when we found another one.  Then, over the next few weeks more and more appeared across the field and we discovered that the nearby moat had  been dredged and the earth had been spread across the field. They had found about 40 pairs. So, once upon a time farm workers must have thrown their old boots into the moat.  They are so evocative, taking you back to the time when so many people worked on the fields. But there is something sinister about them now.  They seem to have been dissected – peeled apart over time to reveal their sturdy construction through the disintegrating layers of leather and rows of rusting nails determined to stay put. One has a horseshoe-shaped heel.  I felt like a forensic artist as I painted them back to life. I aim to do another one soon showing the hobnails’ patterns on the soles and heels.