OUR picture choice this week takes us to Abingdon in Oxfordshire and the work of artist Dougie Simpson, which features as part of the UK’s oldest and biggest open studio eventnext month.
An online spring show organised by Oxfordshire Artweeks offers a sneak preview of work by more than 200 local artists which will be available to buy during the organisation’s forthcoming May festival.
Dougie, who comes originally from Scotland, was relocated to work in Wallingford in 2005, retiring 10 years later.
During a year-long period of rest and recuperation in Venice, he started attending drawing classes and art workshops held at the Bottega del Tinteretto.
“I’m very keen on attending art courses and workshops both here and in Europe,” he says. “Since I started exhibiting four years ago, my work and range of subject matter has developed and increased in popularity.
“Several of my pictures have be found in the USA. Understandably I use the opportunities when I travel to paint outside. So you will find a selection of landscapes and cityscapes amongst my paintings.”
Dougie will be exhibiting with alongside a quartet of other artists known as the Abbey Group in St Nicolas’ Church in the centre of Abingdon, showing a selection of watercolours and pen-and-wash paintings.
The Abbey Group exhibition runs from May 17-22 from 10am-5pm.
Many of the other artists exhibitiing at this year’s festival have had their work featured in past Beyonder features, including Katie Cannon, Jane Duff, Maureen Gillespie and Sue Side, with local landscapes proving perennially popular subjects.
Traditionally May is the month that artists across Oxfordshire open their doors to the public.
The Spring Show is a seasonal collection celebrating the natural world as it awakens, awash with vivid greens, blues and golden yellows, hares and songbirds, blooms and blossom. It offers a sneak preview of what’s on offer through May, when more than 650 artists show off their creative talents.
Despite lockdown restrictions, this year there will still be dozens of secure pop-up galleries and studio exhibitions to visit across the county, with another 500 available online.
“I CAN barely remember a time when I didn’t paint, or wasn’t thinking about painting,” says Sue Graham.
Last week the Chilterns artist took us to the west coast of Scotland as she reflected on the challenges of a year like no other, and the need to put a remarkable family rewilding adventure on hold because of the pandemic and ongoing hospital treatment for cancer.
But this week’s picture choice takes us to the other end of the country and a hamlet on the edge of Dartmoor called Water.
“Some of my favourite paths wind through it, crunching along stream beds, splashing through rivulets,” says Sue. “And everywhere there’s the music of water, gurgling, burbling, dripping. Such a life-affirming place.
“Parts of the trail are not quite stream, not quite path: my walking boots make a resonant crunching splash. There’s a half-derelict cottage on the edge of the path. It has the best location.”
Closer to home, another location with a story to tell is Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire.
“This painting marked a bit of a stylistic turning point for me in that it was my first mixed-media piece: I used spray paint, paint diffuser (that’s like a right-angled straw with a hole that you blow into), acrylic ink and acrylic paint,” says Sue.
Known for her colourful, expressive and atmospheric paintings in acrylics and oils, Sue frequently finds inspiration in natural landscapes and soundscapes.
“There is nothing (other than blackbird song, maybe) that brings me into a state of summery bliss than the screaming sounds of swifts. It’s the sound of childhood summers, of long evenings, of softness in the air, of possibilities as yet undreamed of.
“In this painting I tried to evoke that sense of ethereal joy: to honour the beauty of the bridge at Henley, without being over-literal in its depiction – photographs can do that better. I wanted to convey the the flow of the Thames and capture the sweetness of an early morning in summer, with the human world not yet making its presence felt, just the flow of water below with swifts wheeling overhead.”
FACED with another week of lockdown, escapism is the theme of this week’s picture choice – in terms of theme, period and geography.
So while our chilly Chilterns landscape continues to provide plenty of inspiration for local artists and photographers, our weekly feature is taking a trip a little further afield – and a step back in time to the unsettling period between the wars when Eric Ravilious was at the height of his powers.
Raised in Eastbourne, the outstanding British painter and designer is particularly known for his watercolours of the South Downs, and he remains as popular as ever almost 80 years after his early wartime death, when the aircraft he was in was lost off Iceland.
For the definitive story of the artist’s home life, the people and places he knew and the culture and customs of 1930s England, essays by art historian, lecturer and curator James Russell feature in a series of volumes published by The Mainstone Presscollecting many of his most memorable watercolours.
Russell writes of Ravilious in his blog: “I love the fact that his watercolours and designs are both enjoyable and serious, light-hearted yet powerful, dream-like but rooted in reality.”
Although he settled in Essex and roved as far afield as Wiltshire and Wales, as captured in his Wet Afternoon portrait from Powys in 1928, Ravilious rediscovered the South Downs in 1934 and over the next five years painted a series of watercolours capturing the beauty of the Sussex landscape.
In a Youtube tribute in 2019, Tom Outdoors embarks on a six-mile circular walk in Essex following in the footsteps of the artist, visiting the church where a war memorial commemorates him and walking through the fields and woods that inspired some of his work.
As an official war artist, Ravilious visited ports, naval bases and airfields around Britain, witnessed the Allied invasion and retreat from Norway and produced watercolours of subjects ranging from the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal to the interior of a mobile pigeon loft.
He was only 39 when he died in 1942, yet he had already achieved amazing things. A brilliant wood engraver and designer, he remains best known for those haunting watercolours in which lighthouses, white horses, empty rooms and downland paths came to life.
Ravilious was an enigmatic figure who made little public comment on his work, but in his books and blog entries James Russell manages to piece together many of the jigsaw pieces of the artist’s short life.
And at a time when so many families have been taking a fresh look at their local landscapes, this seems a good week to spend a few moments in the company of Eric Ravilious; luminous, evocative and timeless, his extraordinary watercolours reflect the talents of an artist now regarded as one of the finest of the 20th century.
THE natural world dominates Jane Duff’s art in the same way it has dominated her life, and our latest Picture of the Week reflects that.
Jane’s childhood was an idyllic existence on the edge of Snowdonia in which she was largely left to her own devices, riding her bike or climbing hills with her dog as her faithful companion. By university her horizons were broadening and she was to spend much of her early twenties in the Nepal Himalayas, initially trekking and camping alone and later becoming a guide herself, taking groups for weeks at a time through Nepal’s magnificent peaks and forests.
When she returned to the UK a few years later to work for OUP as art editor, her passion was for photography and it was not for many years that she turned her hand to drawing and painting.
This led to her enrolling in an arts foundation course and her interest in the natural world also led to an advanced diploma in environmental conservation at Oxford University. She now fuses her interest in the environment with her love of painting.
Landscapes dominate much of her work as demonstrated by Winter Snow in the Wetlands, a 60x60cm oil on canvas painting of the Earth Trust’s River of Life wetland project near Wallingford.
She is also a volunteer for The Earth Trust in Little Wittenham and an avid supporter of their efforts to create new wetlands and improve water ecosystems along the River Thames and River Thame, as well as several new ponds in Little Wittenham woods, home to one of the country’s most significant populations of great crested newts.
“The new ponds, reedbeds, backwaters, wildflower meadows and wet woodland provide vital habitats for wildlife including otters, water voles, club-tailed dragonflies, kingfishers, skylarks , yellowhammers,” she says.
“Regular monitoring has shown that hundreds of thousands of fish fry are using the channels as a safe haven and that 12 of the Thames’ 20 species of fish are already present.”
Phase Two of the project will involve creating wetlands between Little Wittenham and Clifton Hampden and is due to start in 2021.
“The Earth Trust do amazing work,” she says “They look after miles of footpaths and open access land over Wittenham Clumps enjoyed by over 150,000 people per year as well as running a farm and an environmental education programme for local schools.
“ I’m not sure if the general public realise how much work is involved maintaining the paths and hedgerows and forests. Things are really tough for them as for many charities and they do need our support, especially right now.”
Jane put together a solo exhibition entitled Wildsong at the North Wall Arts Centre in Oxford showing 55 paintings of some of the wildest landscapes in the UK, including several west country seascapes and many paintings of the Welsh moors and mountains.
They showed remote, dramatic and elemental landscapes – even if she laments there is no true ‘wilderness’ still to be found in the British countryside.
At present she is preparing for a solo exhibition at West Ox Arts gallery in Bampton in Feb-March 2021 entitled A Love of the Land.
Oxfordshire may lack the more dramatic landscapes reflected in her paintings of Mid-Wales, North West Scotland or the far west of Cornwall, but the softer surroundings of Oxfordshire nature reserves, heathlands, woodlands, chalk downs and open spaces, as well as the River Thames and its many tributaries, provide their own inspiration, she insists.
Jane loves the ever-changing light of wild places, as well as the solitude and peace which helps to concentrate the mind, and despite the practical challenges of painting in situ she tries to do so whenever possible.
“I immerse myself in a landscape for hours, absorbing the atmosphere, the play of light and shadows, the textures and colours of the vegetation before finding the place that moves me enough to want to put up my easel and paint there,” she told OX magazine in an interview last year ahead of her Wildsong exhibition.
“I often struggle to get started and procrastinate a lot as I love it all too much! I find it overwhelming. But once I start I am away with a burst of energy and find myself reacting instinctively to the landscape, bringing the emotions, weather and light of the place into my paintings.
“I will often finish a painting in one sitting but will equally often work further on a painting back in the studio. It can make me a bit nervous painting in remote places especially if there are curious cows and horses around so if this happens, I sometimes pack up and go home armed with sketches and photographs. My two dogs sit alongside me for hours. They must wonder what on earth I am doing.”
She works mostly in oils, cold wax and acrylic and often on a large scale.
She firmly believes that art has a part to play not only in reminding people of the beauty of the landscape but highlighting the importance of protecting habitats and their biodiversity.
“We have such fantastic landscapes in the UK – we are fortunate beyond belief to have so much packed into such a small island. Thank heavens for the National Trust protecting so much of our beautiful British coastline and for our wonderful National Parks and nature reserves. Some of my paintings are of Sydlings Copse, a BBOWT nature reserve under threat from encroaching development to the north of the Oxford ring road.
“It is small – only 22 hectares – and is considered by many to be the jewel in the crown of Oxfordshire nature reserves. It has heathlands, amazing wildflower meadows, broadleaved woodland and a rare fen and supports over 400 plant species. It is of international ecological importance yet it is still under huge pressure from development.
“We need to respect and protect our natural world much more than we do. If an area is designated greenbelt, AONB, SSSI, SAC or SPA or landscape conservation area it means that it is likely to have very high biodiversity or landscape value and too often local authorities and government disregard their protection status such as with the recent loss of Calvert Jubilee nature reserve near Aylesbury.
“This precious flagship reserve has a lake which is a haven for overwintering wildfowl, waders, bittern and tern and it has wildflower meadows with all five species of the rare UK hairstreak butterfly yet it is in the process of being razed to the ground to make way for HS2.
“One can’t always mitigate against loss of some habitats. It takes a very long time for a woodland to regrow with its complex ecology so we must do everything we can to take care of these special places. They are irreplaceable and I would say that it is deeply immoral to destroy them. I’m not sure if I’ve left it too late to paint Calvert jubilee nature reserve but I fear I might.”
THIS week’s painting is a new work by Chilterns artist Sue Graham, who has often drawn inspiration from local landscapes.
A feature in April revealed how a series of paintings inspired by her love of the dawn chorus prompted her family to buy a croft and start planting hundreds of trees on a remote Scottish island.
One of her latest completed works takes its inspiration from a landscape at the other end of the country, in Cornwall.
Sue explains: “In 2019 I decided to organise a group exhibition in St Ives, famous for its artist colony and a place I had always wanted to visit.
“It was a great week: off to have a beer and yoga on the beach every evening after I shut the exhibition doors, and wonderful company from my fellow artists. It was just a fabulous hard-working but energising experience.
“One evening I climbed up on the grassy slope above Porthmeor Beach as the sun was setting. The whole bay was lit up and the air itself seemed to glow.
“I wasn’t interested in catching a precise rendition in paint of St Ives viewed from the hill, more an expression of how it felt to be there at that moment: intoxicated by the sense of space, light, the natural world and infinite possibilities.
“I started painting this in August 2019 when I got home: it started well and then I got lost in it. So I put it away, then Covid came and cancer came and by the time I felt like painting again I pulled it out and by then somehow in my mind I had resolved how to make it work.
“It’s often best to put things away when they get stuck, though I did at one point almost chop it into pieces. This is painted on board: it’s a weird surface, ungiving and thirsty, but it makes for some great textures if you layer the paint and scrape it back again. That’s the technique I used for the foreground, which is my favourite part.”
TO MARK the start of Hertfordshire’s annual open studios event, we’re launching a new weekly art feature.
The focus is on artists specialising in landscape, nature and wildlife working in any medium and nominations are always welcome.
To kick-start the series, our first ever Picture of the Week is one of a series of local landscapes produced by Hertfordshire artist Andrew Keenleyside, a regular exhibitor at the annual Herts Visual Arts event, which this year includes a wide range of virtual galleries and demonstrations.
Andrew is a painter and printmaker living and working in Hertfordshire who enjoys chronicling the changing seasons at a number of local locations.
His work and approach to painting have been influenced by a variety of artists: Pissarro and Sisley in terms of subject matter, Matisse and the Fauves in his use of colour.
He works in oils on both board and canvas and the picture chosen is one of 15 forming part of his online gallery for the open studios event showing Rothamsted Park, formerly part of the Manor of Rothamsted, owned by Sir John Lawes.
Lawes initiated agricultural experiments in 1843 which led to the founding of the nearby Rothamsted Experimental Station, one of the oldest agricultural research institutions in the world.
He also created the formal entrance from Leyton Road to what is now the park and planted the avenue of lime trees in 1931. Seven years later the Harpenden Urban District Council purchased the land to provide playing fields and preserve an important open space.
Other popular local spots featured in his paintings include Southdown Ponds on Harpenden Common, and the Nickey Line footpath and cycleway on the former railway line linking Harpenden and Hemel Hempstead.
Galleries featured on his website include paintings in Norfolk, where he has family connections, and other holiday destinations at home and abroad.
The Herts Visual Arts event runs until September 30 and features artists, artisans and designer-makers who live or work in or on the borders of Hertfordshire. Visit the Herts Visual Arts website for more details.
Do you have a favourite artist or sculptor specialising in landscape, nature and wildlife work? We’d love to receive your nominations for future works to feature in our Picture of the Week slot – drop a brief explanation for the reasons for your choice to email@example.com.