Art at the edge: Dungeness

Photo of old fishing boat, Dungeness. © Mari French 2018

Old boat, Dungeness. © Mari French 2018

What draws so many artists to challenging landscapes; those that would be considered by many as bleak, abandoned, unwelcoming, even ugly? For myself, as a painter of abstract landscapes, this kind of subject matter can punctuate the complacency that can occur with more familiar types of scenery, making us notice things with a fresh eye. And, of course, they often present unusual motifs, colours and shapes. On a week’s stay in Rye at the end of October I spent a day at Dungeness, the U.K’s only ‘desert’, a remote headland of wind-blown undulating shingle, poking out into the Channel on the southeast coast of England.

Small experimental mixedmedia artwork on paper, inspired by Dungeness. © Mari French 2018

Small experimental mixedmedia on paper. © Mari French 2018

Black fishermen’s huts, some abandoned and pulled apart by the weather, punctuate the scene. Decaying wooden fishing boats with their distinctive shelving sterns to cope with the haul over shingle banks, not one but two impressive lighthouses, and of course, the hulk of the nuclear power station squatting at the edge of the sea, all under a lowering and suitably ominous sky.

Remnants & power station under a stormy sky, Dungeness. Photograph © Mari French 2018

Fishing industry remnants & power station, Dungeness. © Mari French 2018

I’d become aware of Dungeness some time ago mainly through ‘Modern Nature‘, the book by artist, filmmaker and writer Derek Jarman, who made this his home with his partner in ‘Prospect Cottage’ a traditional black wooden house with bright yellow window frames. The driftwood garden he coaxed from shingle, became famous and is still visited all year round.

 

 

The weather had turned earlier that week and the bitter strong easterly, intermittent rain and massive ink-dark weather fronts sweeping the sky made for a challenging sketching spot. I crunched over the shingle, dodging the wind behind the bulks of abandoned fishing boats and settled in the lee of a working fisherman’s hut to attempt some impressions of this place.

 

 

Back in my studio I considered what intrigued me about this ‘edgeland’ and how to respond to it:
thinking about the technology, old and new; the telegraph poles and pylons threading the space; the lighthouses – fingers stabbing into the sky; the nuclear power plant with its slab-sided buildings and slatted towers; the light, the shingle, the scribble of dying vegetation, the black wooden huts standing and fallen, the rusting discarded machinery – old tracks, winches and chains – for hauling boats and catch in the past.

The beauty, the desolation, the blank canvas waiting.

Dungeness, tracks & fishing huts. © Mari French 2018

Dungeness, tracks & fishing huts. © Mari French 2018

on the high moors 2: emerging images…

White Cross (mixed media on board) © Mari French 2018White Cross (mixed media on board) © Mari French 2018

White Cross (mixed media on board) © Mari French 2018

Well, the recent trip to the high moors above Rosedale in the North York Moors I wrote about in my last post paid off inspiration-wise I’m pleased to report. If you haven’t seen that post you can read it here.

I’ve been on a bit of a roll since getting back in the studio – a new palette reflecting the stone, iron ore, soft purples and ochres of the late summer/early autumn moorland landscape of North Yorkshire. First came these small studies on paper, after checking through my photos and sketches:

Moors above Rosedale, North York Moors. (study) © Mari French 2018

Moors above Rosedale (study) © Mari French 2018

 

Then a few explorations in a more abstract graphic style of the distinctive medieval ‘wheelhead’ White Cross or ‘Fat Betty’ that sits up on the moorland at the crossroads of 3 parishes:

 

Eventually I allowed my subconscious to take over and without referring to any of these resources trusted to memory and instinct (the way I love to work!). I wanted a soft palette of green-greys, bruise-greys, and blue-greys with also a soft brick tone to reflect the outcrops of iron ore in the area. I often mixed these directly on the support itself. I tried 40x40cm canvas but found in this instance I was more happy working on watercolour board at a similar size.

Anyway, these works below (and top of this post) are what emerged. I’m very excited by them and enjoyed creating them so much. They’ve already aroused interest in two galleries. I’m pleased to report I’m taking these first three of this new series to a gallery in Sevenoaks, Kent at the end of September. Now looking forward to what else emerges in this series!

High moorland (mixed media on board) © Mari French 2018

High moorland (mixed media on board) © Mari French 2018

Land of iron (mixed media on board) © Mari French 2018

Land of iron (mixed media on board) © Mari French 2018

 

sunshine and storm…

North Norfolk salt marsh with sea lavender. Abstract landscape in mixed media painting on canvas © Mari French 2018

Saltmarsh with sea lavender. Mixed media on canvas © Mari French 2018

Despite the continuing high temperatures I’ve managed to get some painting done lately in my studio (not as much as I would like!), by getting up earlier and using the few morning hours before the heat cranks up.

Inspired by my recent visits to Thornham salt marsh on the north Norfolk coast (see previous post here) and also the ripening harvest in the local fields, I’ve produced the few mixed media pieces shown here.

Ragged Marsh at Thornham, Norfolk, with wildflowers. Abstract landscape in mixed media painting on canvas © Mari French 2018

Ragged Marsh, late summer, Thornham. Mixed media on canvas. © Mari French 2018

The work at the top of this post was painted soon after a hot sunny day at the coast with swathes of purple sea lavender carpeting the marshes. The second canvas (above) was produced shortly after a spell of cloudy, humid, then spectacularly stormy weather (many hours worth of lightning, thunder and heavy rain in one evening). Interesting how the weather change seems to have affected the colours and light in the two works.

Like most of my artworks the pieces in this post are painted mainly in acrylics with the addition of a variety of other media such as inktense pencil, watercolour pencil (fixed with a little acrylic medium), and a little Posca paint pen. One of the reasons I use acrylics rather than oils is that it lends itself successfully to combination with a wide variety of other media, which is especially good for mark-making.

Ripening barley fields. Mixed media on canvas by contemporary Norfolk artist Mari French.

Harvest. Mixed media on watercolour board. © Mari French 2018

‘Harvest’ (above) and ‘Hot summer sun’ (below) are completely intuitive works. I was playing around with paint, layering it on and wiping it off, spraying it etc. just to see what happened and obviously the late summer heat and the golden fields of barley have subconsciously influenced the results.

‘Hot summer sun’ below is a bit different to the others, almost like a linocut or screenprint. Yet, recognisable imagery from my recent experience seems to be there – hot sun, black fields or cliffs depending on how you perceive it, hints of golden reeds or ripening barley. It’s this ambiguous nature of abstracted landscape that appeals to me, leaving some leeway to interpret the imagery according to our own experience.

Hot summer sun. Abstract landscape in mixed media on watercolour board by contemporary artist Mari French.

Hot summer sun. Mixed media on watercolour board. © Mari French 2018