My first big show since my BBC appearance has now opened at Upfront Gallery near Penrith. And what a fabulous preview evening, given that it was raining stair rods outside.
26 oil paintings completed ‘en plein air’. All safely brought down off the fell. It’s ok, oil paint doesn’t run. Plus, I made a special frame so that two canvases could face each other without touching, enabling them to be safely transported.
This ‘en plein air’ phrase is stolen from the French Impressionist painters, who were known for working speedily from life, outdoors. I bet those Impressionists would be so jealous of the lovely weather conditions I get to work in...
I’ve explored 16 individual sites so far. Quarries and mines that between them yielded 13 different rocks and minerals. But what brought all this on?
A fellow artist asked just this. I’m afraid I only see this chap at exhibition previews, so I mistakenly called him Robert, instead of Gary.
Gary “So, I thought for a minute you’d done these [landscape paintings] as a pastiche of the genre.”
Celia “I see what you mean Robert, but no, I’ve painted these in all sincerity. I wanted to properly immerse myself in the experience of workers of the past by painting outside the whole time, day after day.”
Gary “So, this interest in workers. Is it political? Something to do with Marxism?”
Celia “I’m not clever enough for ideology.”
Gary “I’m sure you are. I suppose these paintings could be seen as a bit bourgeois.”
Celia “I know what you mean. I gotta live though.”
Gary “So, it’s a commemoration of mining. Of the people.”
Celia “Yes. A commemoration. I’ve got a thing about industry. My dad’s work was in the Black Country.”
Gary “So it’s about you and your father”.
I can’t believe it all boils down to something Freudian. Surely not. That’s one thing about art, you can never control how your work is interpreted.
What I was hoping was that the paintings would hint at just how overwhelming these sites are. The dark tight tunnels that cut under whole mountains, with the endless drip drip of water. Quarries that drop away sheer, just by your feet, then yawn out across flooded chasms. Slate huts strewn across windy hillsides, a few stacks short, with labyrinthine ledges, cubby holes and entrances. Hard to imagine they were once filled with the noises of clunking machinery and the calls of children, women and men.
I was never alone in these sites. Besides the walkers and climbers, very occasionally there were also those who had simply come to remember and reflect.
“According to Epicurus and Lucretius, if human thought wants to understand its mechanisms, it has to learn its lesson: the earth is in ruins, it carries the stigmata of innumerable catastrophes and long processes of sedimentation” Alain Schnapp writes, in ‘Naturalia’, an absolutely stunning book of photographs by Jonathan Jimenez depicting nature taking back man-made structures, such as a fairground in Chernobyl, and a castle in Croatia.
When we take an interest in these historical sites, it appears that we are looking backwards, taking refuge in or inspiration from what once was. But perhaps we’re also comforted by the way that nature gently recycles man’s efforts back into the pot, ready for next time.
Pursuing an understanding of what we need to exist in the world: how do we connect with others (and the wider world and its objects), what is our language.