This painting was inspired partly by the work of Joaquín Sorolla, ‘Spanish Master of Light’ whose work is being shown in a major exhibition in London this year, and partly by a photo that I took while I was canoeing on the Helford estuary in Cornwall. The Helford river is rather lovely because the water is very clear and green, unlike my local river, the Tamar, which tends to be a bit brown in her upper reaches. I added a seal and a swimmer : the seal is a grey seal, but I’m not sure what their story is!
This is a larger painting than usual: A2 size, and it’s on a box canvas so I finished it by wrapping the paint around the edges.
I painted this image of the upper Lynher river in early spring, and then decided to add narcissus poeticus, or the pheasant’s eye narcissus, which has by far my favorite of all the many daffodil / narcissus flowers, and is also one of the more ancient varieties. I painted the flower, and then decided to add the reflected face of Narcissus, from the ancient story about the young man who fell in love with his own reflection and was transformed into a flower.
A3 acrylic painting of the Tavistock Canal, with the ghosts of a bargeman and horse lingering.
I walked this way in early spring a couple of years ago and tried to take a picture of the white wood-anemones and yellow celandine flowers along the banks, but they didn’t really show up at all in the photo, so I thought I’d try painting them. Then I added a pair of ghosts, because I thought it would be interesting to reflect the past more graphically.
The canal was built in the early 19th century, to carry goods, and particularly the products of the mines, down to the Tamar River and on to Plymouth. As so often with mining projects, it ran into difficulty at the point where the builders had to drill a tunnel through some unexpectedly hard rock, and by the time the tunnel was completed, the price of the copper that it was designed to carry was already falling. It was built to have an unusually high flow rate, the idea being that this could power water wheels used by industry along the canal, creating further products for the canal-boats to carry, and also power the inclined plane rail to transport goods from the canal down to the river 72 feet below it.
The canal is still not just decorative even now. It powers a hydro-electric power station, and has done with quiet efficiency since 1933.
The railway that runs over the viaduct above was completed in 1859, and quickly killed off the canal as a working waterway. Now the railway is gone too: the line that ran above this canal is closed now, although there are apparently now plans afoot to re-open it.
The Anglo-Saxon period of British history is really interesting, and I find one of the particularly interesting things about it is the few tantalising remnants of old beliefs that have now almost vanished.
I decided I’d like to practice a sort of portrait / still life type painting, and so* I painted an old lady preparing to practice the healing charm Wið færstice ‘against a sudden stabbing pain’. It’s a bit of a mish-mash of ideas : her clothes and beads and knife are from Anglo-saxon Wessex, I think, but the bottle, candle and the glass globe full of melted butter are clearly more or less modern. I think the cat could be from any period. There’s no dating cats. She also has feverfew, red deadnettle and some plantain plants, though you can’t see them very clearly through the steam.
*I’m aware this is a non sequitur but I’m hoping if I type it really fast you won’t notice
The ghosts of two Balmaidens (female mine workers) haunting the ruins of Gunnislake Clitters Mine, not far from my house! Balmaidens often started work as children.
This was inspired by a challenge to paint inspired by the words ‘zeitgeist’, ‘ephemeral’ or ‘subliminal’. I thought of approximately 999 very depressing things I could paint for those words, but I wanted to paint something more cheering, so in the end I went for ‘Ephemeral’ and painted one of our old copper & arsenic mines which were once both deadly and blighting, but now are overrun with plants and beautiful in their own way.
Then I decided to push my luck and added a pair of balmaidens for ‘zeitgeist’ – either literally as time-ghosts, or in the sense of ‘well, things may not be perfect now, but at least girls are not routinely expected to take jobs working in arsenic mines at the age of 7 or 8 years old’. I used some of the photos on http://balmaiden.co.uk/ for clothing/ tools reference.