I think I have always been a rural person at heart, from a childhood wandering the countryside of Hertfordshire and Cornwall, looking at and learning about British wildlife and the great outdoors and how everything ticks. Now as an artist primarily concerned with the natural world, I spend my days absorbed and involved with the detail and substance of the fauna and flora (and us) and the lie of the land, attempting to capture and celebrate it in my paintings.
I live in the far west of Cornwall so the majority of my works involve the immediate – the land and environment that surrounds me. However I travel upcountry for my subject matter as well. I need to have some connection or a reason to spend time in a place that I paint – so it might be a memory or family interaction, or a wish to discover a specific animal, plant or habitat for myself. Through painting I become close to a locality – understanding and appreciating it. The paintings might follow a route: a river’s journey, a prehistoric trackway, a footpath.
These last few years I have been travelling and painting throughout Britain for my latest project Place, resulting in a book and a touring exhibition that launched in November. As a result I have been reacquainted with the diversity and beauty of this country.
Here in West Cornwall I have been working on the nearest stretch of cliff to me – about 10 fields from my door. It is a post-industrial landscape, and has reverted to somewhere dominated by the elements – the wild Atlantic and nature in the raw. It’s a paradise. Here the choughs and peregrines rule, and a million wild flowers carpet the granite soil on the cliff.
I feel both town and country have potential from an artistic point of view but the country is where I feel most relaxed – where I don’t have to look over my shoulder when I am working, where the distraction is the shield bug crawling across the canvas rather than a curious bystander. Every year I paint as the artist in resident at Glastonbury Festival – is that town or country?
I think the greatest challenges facing the countryside are a combination of rising population, food sources, housing pressures and climate change. All exert demands on our precious rural areas.
My work can start in situ outdoors and finish in the studio or vice versa, or be wholly made in the studio, or wholly made outdoors. I try to vary my working practice as much as possible to keep it fresh and dynamic. Essentially I immerse myself in the natural world with an eye for detail and composition, with the locality depending on the project. The environment gets involved with the making, there’s a certain amount of serendipity, the elements may add or detract, the paint comes and goes. Whether I take a massive canvas out or just a piece of paper, plein-air painting is always a battle, but that’s when the best work happens.
Yesterday I had two choughs flirting –tumbling and screeching above me on the cliff – charmingly acrobatic and comical. But often it’s the mundane I delight in, the ordinary and often ignored, like the moth on the window pane. I made a BBC documentary last year about moths and became fascinated with noctuids with their poetic Victorian names. Beautiful to draw as well.
My rural heroes are the Wildlife Trusts – Cornwall Wildlife Trust specifically of course. I approve of all their work with local communities. The Bumble bee Conservation Trust has my vote, as does the Butterfly Conservation group.
I want my work to be appreciated and noticed. Ideally I want my work to reflect the beauty and diversity of the natural world. I need my work to both be accessible to the general public and also to be taken seriously by the art establishment. To be non elitist.