revisiting reed beds …

Video

Coastal reed beds, sunlight. © Mari French 2019

I need some new inspiration. I’ve loved exploring my impressions of Dungeness (see my last three posts), but in all fairness I probably need more than that one day of exploring and sketching back in October. I’m not abandoning the subject, but I do feel I’m retreading old ground now. I need to go back to visit and sketch, but for various reasons I can’t for a while. Three largish canvases stalled, so time for a change of direction. I believe artists need to be able to study a subject in some depth before creating meaningful expressive abstract interpretations.

In the meantime, I’m continuing to practice markmaking in my studio with acrylics, ink and other mixed media and enjoying messing about in my workbook. I can feel coastal reedbeds and sunlight coming through again and the urge to go walking and sketching in my usual stomping ground on the North Norfolk coast between Thornham and Burnham Overy Staithe.

Experimental painting with ink and acrylics © Mari French 2019
Workbook markmaking practice.

Reed beds, early Spring. © Mari French 2019

Another effective way of moving through a stalled phase for some artists can be to change techniques/medium for a while. So I’ve purchased some sheets of Mylar (as used for stencils) to try out. Obviously I need to play around with them for a while to discover their potential. So far I think oil paints with oil bars/pastels might give the most satisfying results, but oh the drying time! More about this in another post.

Art at the edge: developments

Dungeness workbook page © Mari French 2018
Dungeness workbook page © Mari French 2018

At last! Having had an enforced break from painting for a few weeks since before Christmas (hope you all had a good one!), my thoughts are turning once again to my most recent source of inspiration – Dungeness. Read my previous post ‘Art at the edge: Dungeness’ for more on how a recent holiday led to my fascination with this unique and strange place.

Dungeness workbook page © Mari French 2018
Dungeness workbook page © Mari French 2018

In this post I’m sharing a few recent pages from my current workbook, which I’ve produced since the small paintings in the last post, and I’m working through ideas for a series of mixed media pieces, inspired by my experience of Dungeness, hopefully eventually leading to large canvases. I’m hoping to get back in my studio soon to carry on developing these.

Dungeness workbook page © Mari French 2018Dungeness workbook page © Mari French 2018.
Dungeness workbook page © Mari French 2018

You can perhaps see from these experimental pieces that, as with my other work series, I’m exploring the shapes, linear motifs and colours that the place suggests to me, rather than trying to achieve anything recognisable, so I’m using a lime green for instance, to evoke the weird evening light (not grass!) and to suggest the latent power of the nuclear power station squatting on the edge of the area. I’ve previously used very little green in my artwork, but it feels right here somehow. Linear marks recall power lines, pylons, remains of tracks in the shingle, fences, telegraph poles etc.

Dungeness workbook page © Mari French 2018
Dungeness workbook page © Mari French 2018

In building up the workbook pages shown here, I used torn up pieces of scrap monoprints I’d produced with a gelli plate, while loosening up and playing with colours, textures and ideas. Then layered over with gouache, acrylic, homemade stencils and collage elements till I got the effect I wanted. I keep a box of scrap prints, textured card and assorted materials close to hand for when I’m messing about in the workbook, either incorporating them or using them for impressing or printing shapes. Sometimes it pays to be a hoarder!

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 puncture 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 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