As I was watching a costume drama on TV recently I started wondering why it didn’t look quite ‘real’. It’s difficult to put my finger on it but somehow the images on the screen look too clean, too precise, uncluttered with the detritus of life as it is lived. The women’s complexion is just a little too clear, the men’s hairstyling a little too sharp and the costumes all look brand new – even those of farm labourers. The streets are too sanitised; you can sense that light coloured gravel has been spread rather too evenly to hide modern road markings. And of course there is no animal dung on the streets of Edwardian London! Photographs from the period tell a different story; the reality was altogether more messy.
Now what has this to do with painting? Well, it seems to me many landscape paintings that I look at resemble the kind of film set I’ve just described. The edges are clean, precise, there is perhaps too much attention to sharp detail. The grass is evenly green with few of the random imperfections that nature permits, and the painting is generally overcooked.
I am aware that I am guilty of this in many of my paintings, so my intention is to try to depict more of the chaos and rawness of reality. I am allowing some marks I make to stand as they are, resisting the temptation to tidy them. I am allowing some edges to blur, to leave some passages of my painting a little mysterious so that the viewer has to work to interpret them. I am not fully articulating every detail, allowing some room for interpretation.
I am working to overcome my natural inclination to paint what I know rather than what I experience. We’ll see how this new painting develops, but my aim is to make paintings that reflect better how I truly feel the world – through all my senses.
“It is all about the arranging of marks on a surface, and the creation of an abstracted version of reality, with the suggestion of things that are unseen, but felt.” Douglas Fryer, a contemporary American painter whose work I admire.