A Tale of Two Cities.........
The Golden Light of Morning, Edinburgh - 72cm x 36cm
It has been a busy few weeks since the start of the year with new commissions requiring attention and more work heading off to the galleries that represent me. It has not given me as much time as I would have liked to update the blog and so I have made a trawl through the archive to bring you these two paintings - two stunning British cities, captured at either end of an autumnal day.
Some might argue that the sprawling urbanisation of Edinburgh and London has no place on a landscape blog. Granite monuments, sandstone buildings, steel, concrete, glass, traffic - these are not the constituents of what we understand as landscape. Yet these two cities are nothing more than a living document of our needs as a species to shelter, survive, share, trade, create and progress. There are very few locations left in Britain that have been untouched by these societal requirements; the winding footpath through the woodland to the top of the hill may convey a sense of nature more than Blackfriars Bridge spanning the River Thames, but they are largely the same; functional conduits that take us from one place to another, often for reasons of necessity. One is etched into the soil by the fall of our tread - and indeed that of our ancestors - the other a construction, superimposed on land and water, through the ingenuity of minds and the skill of hands. In their own ways they shape, contribute to, and become the landscape.
Cities don't just happen by accident; I am unaware of any city that does not owe its location, history and success to its geography and topography - studies that we readily associate with the landscape. Edinburgh does not exist without its proximity to the Firth of Forth. Scottish Firths, usually found on the country's east coast, are substantial inlets, carved from the coast, slicing inland as a result of ancient glacial activity. In past millennia it was obvious that these would provide a natural location for shelter, shipping and commerce. Edinburgh is also built on old volcanic outcrops providing a defensive structure to the Firth and the lowlands to the south. Castle Rock - a distant feature in the painting - is a fascinating, almost magical, dolerite crag that protrudes from the manicured elegance of the gardens aligning Princes Street. But it was there long before the marigolds and dahlias. On top sits Edinburgh Castle, the most appropriate and logical of locations. Edinburgh - 'Auld Reekie' - is an ancient, beautiful city, but not just an occupant of the landscape, or contributor to it. It is the landscape.
London is no different. For a city of global significance it would be easy to talk about its many characteristics: the financial district, West End theatres, royal palaces, Cockney culture, red buses Lord's cricket ground (obviously!) and historic architecture. Be that as it may, London is nothing but the River Thames. Springing up from its source in verdant Oxfordshire, the Thames snakes through the Home Counties, broadening and gathering pace and prestige through London before slipping into the North Sea. If you want to know London, then make it your task to know the Thames; almost every aspect of the city's history and life flow through it. Being such an intrinsic element of the city, it is implausible to suggest that London is not a landscape.
The Golden Light of Evening, London - 72cm x 36cm
It is easy to narrow our focus to individual components when thinking about the idea of landscape. We zoom in on 'things': mountains, meadows and moorland, beaches, beeches and bridleways. Their natural appearance makes it easier for us to align them with a traditional understanding of landscape. Important as they are, we need to use a broader viewfinder and consider geography, location, rationale, society, history. Then our landscapes become more than just objects to view - they are experiences to participate in.
Complex city landscapes like these present significant challenges to the artist. With such prominent and recognisable landmarks, a premium is placed on accurate drawing. With my representative style, an incorrectly proportioned St. Paul's Cathedral would immediately jump off the page and it would then be difficult to enjoy the rest of the painting. Equally important is the need to emphasise or understate different components in the painting in order to arrive at a compelling composition that accentuates the focal point. Continual tonal counterchange throughout the scene is important to maintain - it helps to give the painting a sense of unity, a rhythm if you like. Extraneous detail and allowing shapes and edges to soften and disappear helps to create a scene that has clarity without becoming a cluttered mess of architectural elements. Significant challenges they may be, but I wonder if watercolour painting would be as compulsive, thrilling and irritating without these trials and tribulations? Perhaps not.