I paint places/Places draw me.
The Water Tower; The Highest Point. Oil on wood panel. 61.5 cm x 61.5 cm. 2022.
The Past, The Future. Oil on wood panel. 30 cm x 30 cm. 2022.
For the last year I have been painting for an upcoming show at Cambridge Contemporary Art. Generally speaking, I normally allocate work to galleries not long after they are finished. But because I needed to keep work aside for this show, I ended up with a large collection of paintings sitting side by side, which allowed me to look at the work as a whole, not just as individual paintings. This led me to realise things about the subject matter which I choose to paint, that I hadn't contemplated before. One really strong theme emerged; this being that I am continually drawn to things/places that hover 'on the edge'.
Over the past year or so I have started to paint slightly more urban settings, and buildings, I think this really began during lockdown, during which the only scenery available was urban, due to living in a city. I quite enjoyed moving into this slightly new realm of subject matter, but when I looked back on the recent work I realised that what draws me to certain landscapes, is even more so in the urban scenes that fascinate me. I am drawn to areas that sit just on the outskirts, just on the border between becoming 'town', places that lie in the grey area.
For example, There were numerous reasons that compelled me to want to study the water tower for the painting 'The Water Tower; the Highest Point'. I find there the combination/contrast of the concrete structure amongst the quiet, still, peaceful tree lined site. There is the essential nature of the building, contrasted with the familiarity of it that makes it un-noticed by many. It quietly sits there, essential and used daily by city dwellers, without really being part of the city. It is there, and not there. There is an inherent duality. And duality seems to sit side by side with places that lie just at edges of towns.
Similarly when I paint landscapes/treescapes, it is the outer edges that draw me close. Juxta-positions and contrasts. Things and places that can hold opposing characteristics simultaneously. The beauty of the woodlands and forests co-existing with an idea that it would be east to get lost within. One heightening the other.
Another place that I find fits this theme is Sizewell in Suffolk. I find the huge nuclear power stations that sit right next to the sea outstandingly beautiful. Without a shadow of a doubt the reason I personally find them so, is because of their proximity to the forests and the water. There couldn't be a greater contrast of nature sitting literally side by side with man-built. One enhances the other. But again it is a place that is full of duality. Some people loath the buildings as an eye sore, some people love it. Some people are fully against the idea of a nuclear power station being there, and against the third one that is planned, yet others see it as essential, and the way forward. Despite the disconnect between the power plant and the natural beauty, I feel that there are also similarities between the two...the immense power of the nuclear station seems as sublime to me, as the sea it sits next to. Each containing potential for danger, whilst being essential.
The overall theme which I find continues to emerge when I paint is that of dualism. Places that can not singularly be defined. Places for me personally that can't easily be defined by words, but can be felt strongly with distinct atmospheres, Places that for me produce that particular feeling, that is difficult in itself to define...that of 'the uncanny'.
in Freud's essay "The Uncanny", the German words heimlich and unheimlich are related to our definition of uncanny. Heimlich literally translates as "belonging to the house, not strange, familiar, tame, intimate, friendly". With unheimlich being its opposite. I think I am drawn to places that lie on the narrow border between the two, or span into both categories. I am drawn to places that hold personal memories, that invoke feelings of the heimlich, yet in settings that invoke the uncanny. Memories of childhood picnics, full of remembrances of the familiar, tame, and friendly, yet in places that upon revisiting I find odd...edges of roads in the middle of nowhere, desolate car parks. During road trips with my nephew, I found that same feeling. inside the confines of the car, that feeling of pure 'homeliness', travelling though areas unfamiliar and 'other'. Looking at the scenery and woodlands as it passed and admiring its beauty, from afar, more so because of the beauty of the heimlich within.