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Born in the Middle England county of Warwickshire in 1942, I grew up and went to school in Reading where my first encounters with countryside were in the Thames Valley and the Chiltern Hills. The annual family holiday expedition to Watergate Bay on the North Cornish coast gave me a taste for wide beaches, tall cliffs and the wild cry of seagulls sailing on the wind.
Two of the books we had at home, Snowdonia Though the Lens by W.A.Poucher and Alpine Ways by F.S.Smythe, opened a window on the world of hills and mountains, which has become a kind of spiritual homeland ever since. After a memorable first climb up Snowdon's Crib Goch at the age of 13 with my father and a school skiing trip to Wengen, where I first experienced the glittering brilliance of the Alps in spring, I have had the good fortune to spend countless days in the hills, enjoying their freedom and learning their ways.
Further reading of the classic Alpine and Himalayan literature and a fascination with the old prints and photographs in their pages, stimulated my interest in the art and photography of landscape generally and of the mountains in particular. Whereas my father taught me how to use a camera, it was my mother who showed me how to use a paintbrush, and so I grew up with a strong interest in both photography and painting, which has continued with me to this day. During the student and postgraduate years, it was photography that had the upper hand, being a more practical medium when hiking and climbing in the British hills. But the interest in painting was very much alive, as I discovered the works of the Old Masters and their modern counterparts, and explored the possibilities of different media and techniques for myself.
After my early attempts with watercolour and oils, I found the characteristics of acrylic paint much more to my liking, not only being water-based, odour-free and quick-drying but also having application properties ranging from thin wash to thick impasto, and eminently suited to both precise and free-flowing brushwork. Between 1980 and 1985, when I lived in the delightful West Sussex town of Midhurst, I completed over twenty paintings in this medium, some of which were shown in the annual exhibitions of the Midhurst Art Society and in the 1984 National Trust Exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London. A new chapter opened in 1986 as a result of my move to Switzerland, where I have now lived for over thirty years, with the Alps only a couple of hours drive away. In 1995 I was accepted as a member of the Guild of Swiss Mountain Painters based in Grindelwald and served on the committee as exhibition manager and webmaster for over 10 years.
Reflections on the Art of Landscape
As in any discussion about art, the question of artistic quality has no single or simple answer. Whether the artist's intention is to portray or provoke, to stimulate or satisfy, to demonstrate technical virtuosity or indeed the lack of it, there are always both objective and subjective elements in any judgement of merit. In my view three fundamental criteria are originality, impact and craftsmanship.
By originality I mean: have I seen this image, or one like it, before? The subject may be familiar, but if the interpretation is new, then I have the feeling that I see it this way for the first time. It may also be that I really do see it for the first time because it was never done before. One is reminded of Paul Klee's maxim that the purpose of art is not to reproduce the visible, but to render visible what is not seen.
An image has visual impact if it spontaneously engages my attention and burns itself into my memory with little or no effort on my part. Whether by virtue of strong linear design or the use of vivid colour, because of some special relevance or an element of surprise, or simply my own sensibility or some new insight, that's the image that stays in my head when I leave the exhibition.
Craftsmanship is an aspect of art that nowadays seems to be less highly regarded than in previous times; in my view, mistakenly. If a craftsman is one who delights in the exercise and perfection of a creative skill, then it is clear that a high level of craftsmanship requires both a natural talent and the time it takes to master the necessary techniques and materials. Only then can the artist, unconstrained in his handling of the medium and able to exploit its possibilities to the full, succeed in creating a work that speaks for itself and delights also the viewer in the skill of its creator.
Whether or not a work of art meets the above criteria can be answered more or less objectively. Much more subjective is the issue of aesthetics. Here we are concerned with the concept of beauty and the giving of pleasure, which involves characteristics of the image and its ability to arouse an emotional response in the viewer. Not only a painting but also a landscape may be said to be beautiful if certain qualities are present, such as a spatial arrangement of the masses that holds the composition in balance, a harmonious choice of colour and lighting that enhances the intrinsic characteristics of the subject, and a linear design that leads the eye comfortably through the scene to the major points of interest.
A walk in the mountains can take you through beautiful scenery, but the challenge for the artist is finding the "right" viewpoint, that meets his aesthetic requirements, together with conditions of lighting and season that satisfy his pictorial intention. The moments when everything comes together to capture the quintessence of the scene are generally short-lived, which is why I prefer photography as the medium to gather my raw material. The subsequent creation of the painting in the studio allows me to relive the original experience in all its intensity of feeling, but with the time I need to "do it right", and not have to pack up my stuff because it started to rain or the sun went down.
In my portrayal of the natural scene, whether up in the mountains, beside a lake or below a waterfall, truth to nature is more important to me than photographic exactitude, but expressed in a way that reflects my personal view and response to the spirit of the place. If the resulting work strikes a chord in others who share my strong feeling for the value of wild and beautiful scenery, then I am more than satisfied.