Tag Archives: thinking about painting

Christmas Eve – the best part of Christmas

Christmas Eve walk on the fell image

looking towards Sedbergh in the muted, colourful, afternoon light

When I was a child I realised that I preferred Christmas Eve to Christmas Day. It was so still and mysterious and there was that wonderful anticipation in the air. You could imagine anything was possible and it could be true, in a way, before reality arrived the next morning.

Being a Catholic family we went to church at Christmas and Midnight Mass when I was older. This seemed to make everything even more charged and exciting, because staying up so late meant entering an unknown world – a sleepy, magical, miraculous place where people gathered in the darkness inside a hazy candlelit church. One year it snowed and we were cut off from the rest of the world, a small quiet village marooned by a bypass stuffed with drifts. That Christmas Eve felt especially enchanted as we trudged around streets devoid of engines, with glowing stars, the blue dark sky and waves of snow shimmering with crystals.

This year a walk on the fell saw gloom pierced by rays of light, fiery bracken all around and beautiful gentle colours of violet and green in the distance.

photo of sun's ray in the gloom

could this be the fabled ray of hope?

Tilly may have been looking forward to the future with enthusiasm and hope or she may just have been lunging for a treat. Who’s to know?

photo of dog in bracken

Tilly lunges into the future

In 2015 I hope to paint furiously and, if I can, adopt the mindset of Ray Bradbury who once said:

“I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.”


Keld photo, 1980s

Keld, 1980s

Lately I’ve been getting random attacks of nostalgia – a strange feeling which seems part mental and part physical, with a bit of an achey quality to it. It made me wonder exactly what nostalgia is and how it relates to painting.

A lot of my reasons to paint something from real life seem to come from a strong feeling of nostalgia, a feeling for a particular place at a certain time. Even painting out of doors means putting moments on the canvas just after they have flitted by.

Old, golden-faded photos from the ’80s show I visited some of the landscapes round here a long time ago. Memory brought me back here to recreate them in paint, translated out of time and into something else (perhaps so I could save them?).

Kingsdale photo, 1980s

Kingsdale, 1980s

Is trying to immerse yourself in a painted scene an attempt to cure nostalgia? To me, a painting offers immunity from nostalgia because you can step inside it at any time.

Although looking at a photograph can feel as if you’re peering into a mirror reflecting another time, the landscape of the mind seen in a painting feels, to me, much more immediate and intense than anything frozen by a machine. Paintings have a structure and emotions that the artist provides because they were “there” and transferred everything they experienced into paint. The translation process, if successful, adds many extra notes or layers so that viewing the painting is like entering the space the painter occupied and being “there” yourself.

photo of Ingleton to Hawes road

the road from Ingleton to Hawes, 1980s

One of the most dramatic experiences I had of being “there” was looking at a painting by David Bomberg in an exhibition at Abbot Hall in Kendal, in 2006. It was a painting of the view at dusk from a Cornish cliff – and I felt like I was standing inside the scene. It may have helped that I had been to that same or a similar spot in the past, also at dusk, but it was odd the way the scene became “real”.

In a reversal of this there was one Bomberg picture of a Cornish scene, a valley rolling at fast pace towards the sea, which I used to be particularly fond of when I lived in Manchester, often visiting the City Art Gallery to bask in front of it. A camping trip to Cornwall resulted in a walk which passed along the same section of sparsely inhabited coastline. We became lost and began to run out of daylight and started to rush away from the sea and head up the nearest valley towards civilisation.

It was a steep climb and the sea was behind us. Suddenly a helicopter buzzed over our heads and made us turn and, as it disappeared from view, I recognised that we were scrambling up the valley from the painting. I was inside the picture I knew so well, with its tumbling painted slopes and twisting course racing down towards the waves, although I was moving against the paint, heading up towards the fields.

Recent visits to the City Art Gallery in Manchester, since its renovation and extension, have revealed that painting never seems to be on display any more.

Fleet Moss photo, 1980s

Fleet Moss, 1980s