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After the Floods
6 years, 3 months ago Posted in: Blog Comments Off on After the Floods

 

Oil on canvas – 30″ x 39″

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This picture was painted over a period of three years. For a long time I have been an admirer of ‘The Isle of the Dead’ by Arnold Bocklin and I have already painted several pictures influenced by this masterpiece. I remember reading that Bocklin had said that he wanted to have ‘a picture for dreaming over’. Sitting in my London flat in a room without a view I wanted to have a picture for dreaming over and what’s more I had recently discovered the perfect subject for a Bocklinesqe picture. Laid out across the floor was a series of photographs and sketches of the most amazing place. I had just returned from a sketching trip to southern Ireland and while I was over there I had discovered an extensive ruin called Athassel Abbey, situated just outside the town of Golden. Neglected for centuries the ruins of the transepts and the monastery that once surrounded them are spread out across several fields beside a fast flowing river. Broken and battered by many storms the ancient stones were spotted with lichen and a thick carpet of moss lay across the stone quadrangles, it was reminiscent of ‘Gormenghast’, the rambling gothic castle in Meryvn Peake’s novels even though the moss wasn’t quite ankle deep and one didn’t need a stick to beat back the cobwebs that festooned the dusty stairwells. The atmosphere was further enhanced by the loneliness of the place, every time I went there it was utterly deserted.

After the Floods 1

After the Floods 2

I began by painting the abbey, I tried to make it look as if the river had burst its banks and then I added some graves and statues. I wanted to paint a place that looked as if it had been abandoned by humanity, a vision of a possible future when our world has fallen victim to some fierce weather conditions. In any case I love painting ruins and graveyards and I decided that this was going to be my ultimate cemetery painting.

Fortunately I live quite near Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington. This rambling and overgrown Victorian graveyard has already been the subject for a number of paintings. Most of the graves and statues in my picture are derived from photographs taken in this cemetery. When shooting source material for a painting such as ‘After the Floods’ it’s important to get the perspective right. Most of the statues are on plinths so that one is looking up at them. I wanted images that are on eye level. Getting the right pictures meant using step- ladders to take some of the shots. Other details such as the trees and wild life are developed from sketches and photographs made in the Lea Valley which is also close to my home.

After the Floods 3

 

This picture is painted almost entirely from photographs. It couldn’t be done any other way. I have sifted through hundreds of images to fine the references for this painting. Thanks to digital technology it is now quite easy to assemble this kind of material. Twenty years ago one had to go to the chemist to get enlargements made. But now i can do it at home with a computer and printer.

After the Floods 4

After the Floods 5

As the painting developed the abbey began to recede and the viewpoint changed, I dropped the water level and added some geese and coots then I dropped the water level again as the foreground started to take shape.

After the Floods 6

I have always liked deep-toned paintings; certain pictures by Francis Danby spring to mind and then there’s Friedrich’s ‘The Abbey in the Oak Wood’, Miillais’s ‘The Haunted House’ and many others. A few years ago I saw an exhibition at the National Gallery which really impressed me. It was called ‘Radical Light’ and it featured the paintings of a group of Italian artists called Divisionists. As this movement is spliced in between Symbolism and Futurism it has often been overlooked. Divisionist artists aimed to create the maximum intensity of light through the use of optical colour. I have painted many pictures with this intention in mind and seeing the show inspired me to rework the middle distance in my own painting.

The preceding images show some earlier versions of this painting. I have included them to give the viewer some idea of how such a picture is developed. Looking at them now I wonder if perhaps I took the theme too far. I have at times been criticized for overworking my pictures. I think this is a risk one has to take. For me it’s important to take a painting to its ultimate conclusion. Having said that I’ve decided to paint some other pictures based on this source material. And I’m going to try very hard to bring them to a swift conclusion.

 

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