Chasing time in the British Landscape

@ The Leys Gallery

 17 – 19 December 2021 


Cop26 proved inspirational. None of us can remain oblivious any longer to the right route to take for the planet. The crucial challenge for humanity now is to get excited about embracing a new way of thinking which will result in positive opportunities both creatively and economically. The land, Sea and Sky have all been appreciated with reinvigorated focus of late. Today was the first frost and a great reminder that the complex systems of gravity, weather and atmosphere are still operating as expected. At least in this part of the world!  We must not take our eye off the ball (the miraculous blue sphere) or we risk witnessing the loss of the wonderful predictability of the seasons. It is my aim to make work that mirrors just some of nature’s extraordinary power.

The Landscape tradition in British Art has a long and fascinating path. With Romanticism as a starting point, my work is intrinsically linked to both seeing and being in Landscapes. I am always looking out for the ultimate in dramatic sequences of light and weather events and then make something which bears witness to this sublime in nature. Similarly, I want to think like a paraglider launching off a hill to find the unknown thermal, or a surfer seeking that ever elusive wave, that will carry them that little bit faster for longer. This idea was taken beyond intentions this summer when four of us got thrown out of a boat by a huge freak wave in the Outer Hebrides and an adrenalin-fuelled escape reiterated the dominant force of nature! ( No. 7 Pabbay Storm)

Over the last five seasons an exciting addition to my artistic approach and practice has been walking. Almost like an unconscious pilgrimage through the landscape whilst memorising light, weather, growth and decay. Having been allowed the opportunity to see change daily, these long walks became a kind of time travel where the experiences equated to a mind bogglingly rich soup of experiences to draw upon back in the studio. Some of the paintings in this exhibition are about these ‘cognitive collections’. Drawing upon learnt painting processes as well as the experiences of these walks, I worked with a more internalised approach in the studio. It is no coincidence that I regard the sculptor Richard Long (the artist who considered the body itself an integral part of the art making process) as one of the most interesting artists to date. 

Another way of making paintings is to spend time in one place for up to a week and concentrating on the ‘Genius Loci’ or ’Spirit of Place’. It can be a solitary, challenging process and never more so than this summer, working on the River Gruinard on the northwest coast of Scotland. The landscape is centred around this black peaty river where nature is left to its own devices. All weathers would visit within one hour – busy clouds tumbling across the view, followed by sun blazing on the valley as if a performer had been called in ‘stage right’. The hills changed from black to cobalt blue in an instant (No.35).  Sheets hung with rain appeared over the top of a hill and passed through the landscape. A fight would develop between painter and water and the oil paint was reluctant to cling to the canvas unless applied with great force. I decided to leave some of the imprints of this battle as a reminder of nature’s authorship in this work. I like that. So, it is not just a physical battle with the elements but also an attempt to catch moments of time. 

All my work demands equal and careful collecting of visual data irrespective of whether it be representative or verging towards the abstract. Two abstract paintings No. and No. were made with both approaches mentioned above. This is an exciting concept that is perhaps the start of something new for me. One includes sand from the beach I was on in Colonsay (No.32 Colonsay Coast) and the other includes lines drawn by the ancient ferns of Zennor on a coastal path (No.31 Zennor, Cornwall).

Drawing in a sketchbook or taking photographs on my i-phone are extra tools that I consider vital in making a painting. Although I do not often work from a photograph, I do not underestimate the roll of the digital image in helping one get back to a place in order to feel it again. The smells, the sounds, the temperature, the different light and atmosphere are all things that in my view come across even more powerfully with the construction of a painting. 

Despite the Artists’ wonderful broad array of media at their fingertips from which they can express ideas, It is incredible that paint, the material of the earth itself, continues almost as long s we have been human to be at the forefront of an Artist’s toolbox. Artists need to say something, beyond the pretty and decorative, so my intention is that the ‘chasing of time in the British landscape’ contributes, in a small way, in celebrating nature and to shine light on our collective responsibilities for the future. 

George Irvine 2021