Four subjects caught my eye in this charming Italian mountain village, the red tower, the terraced houses, a church door and the castle – to have four suitable subjects in one place was too good an opportunity to miss.
Each painting focuses on a different aspect of this remote fortified village; the red tower speaks of its pride and achievement, the terraced houses of its earthy inhabitants, the church of its deep rooted faith and the castle of its strength when facing adversity.
Over many centuries, the Cornish people have travelled the world, spreading their mining and seafaring skills, but that has done little to diminish the region’s association in our minds with mythical kings, pirates, smugglers and romance. From the legends of King Arthur to tales of shipwrecks and bounty hunting, and from its close links with Brittany to its peculiarly Celtic brand of Christianity, this narrow peninsula at the southwest tip of the British Isles retains an ‘otherness’ that its people are fiercely keen to protect, and that gives it its unique appeal to artists like me.
A tension is created where the land meets the sea. There is a clear border between two worlds, sometimes softened and blurred by light and calm, while at others broiling waters dash against the shoreline. Cornwall makes a fascinating subject for artists, because it is both an ancient landscape and an extremity – a destination, not a thoroughfare. Away from the picturesque fishing villages and sweeping beaches, there is a dramatic interior of moorland and hidden valleys that provide endless opportunities for me to capture its magic.
Cephallania, to give this Ionian island its name from antiquity, is forever linked to Homer’s Odyssey as the birthplace of the wandering Odysseus. Although the small neighbouring island of Ithaca is often credited with this honour, it is generally accepted that Cephalonia is the island from which he set out on his epic journey. Here, stark white hills rise from the clear blue sea, and small towns and villages crowd into rocky inlets along the coast. Evidence of the devastating earthquake that struck the island in 1953 is everywhere, with ruined buildings still rising from the tangled undergrowth that has reclaimed them. Alongside new whitewashed buildings one can still find evidence of the Mycenaean era (c.1500-1100 BC) in the form of ancient tombs, as well as Roman burial sites and theatres.
An area steeped in myth and legend encourages reality to shift, and distant islands appear to float above cerulean seas; the distant haze flattens any sense of distance or perspective, creating a natural abstract. The lack of scale makes the islands appear both far way and close in turn, inviting the traveller to cross over and set forth again just as the ancient Greeks did on their epic voyages. It was something of this mystery that I was attempting to capture in my paintings.
The roots of this ancient town reach down into the Palaeolithic age and its sleepy atmosphere helps time stand still. Perched on a hilltop overlooking the sea in the Cilento region of southern Italy, the small town is centred around the Angel’s Castle, built in the 12th century by the abbot Saint Costabile Gentilcore, who gave the place its name – from the latin ’Castrum abbatis’, ‘the castle of the abbot’. An ancient bell still tolls on the quarter hour, which, together with the chirping of birds, provides the only disturbance to the peace in this enchanting place.
Several strands come together in Castellabate; the geometry of its alleys, archways, openings and steps lead on to abstract manifestations in other works. Stairs and steps are always an enticing subject for me, not knowing who or what might be above or below, and in the case of Castellabate they suggest the possibility of an encounter with a medieval poet, a toga-clad Roman, or a Neolithic hunter returning home. The spiritual presence of countless generations stretching back to the dawn of civilisation is a rich ingredient in this mythological mix, which forms the inspiration behind my work here.
The rocky northern coastal region of the Iberian Peninsula and the Basque people who live there create an atmosphere that is a blend of both European and Asiatic. Known in the UK as ‘Green Spain’ thanks to its cooler, wetter climate and tree-covered mountain ranges, it is an intriguing area. The Basque culture’s mysterious roots, the ruggedness of the coastline and the beckoning Atlantic wilderness all feed the imagination.
Travelling through the region’s mountainous Picos de Europa national park a few years ago, I was captivated by its remoteness and beauty. Villages are few and far between, so the feeling of space and mental freedom are amplified. The spectacular landscape would encourage any artist to attempt to capture both its beauty and the romance of loneliness that emanates from an all-pervading mist that hangs in the valleys throughout the day. Snow-capped peaks rise into the clouds in mid-summer, and cattle roam freely on the lush pasture. Ramshackle shepherds’ huts and barns litter the landscape, making perfect subjects for study.
#seeinginthedark – sensations of spatial awareness
Can we see with our eyes closed? We can see perfectly clearly in our dreams and even when we are awake with our eyes closed, we get the sense of the space around us. It has been suggested that sensitive areas of our cheeks can generate a sensation of spatial awareness through a number of sensors.
If we can feel what we can see, can we believe what we see? The work of M C Escher has a wide appeal and fascinates graphic artist as do the ticks of visual illusion, Ponzo’s rail track illusion, silhouettes of two faces that could be a vase and Kanizsa’s triangle.
Both the static and the digital visual experiments work with the visual effects of clashing colours, the halos they produce and the after images.
This vaulted ceilings in the Chapter House is a testament to the skill and ingenuity of the stone masons, unhindered by what we would consider to be crude tools today. They combine beauty and strength, quite deliberately, to produce these magnificent forms that have stood firm for over a thousand years.
This heart-shaped hollow in this old tree trunk with the sinews of the form flowing around it make it a perfect subject for inspiration. There is depth and detail within the hollow and s prig of new life emerging from the heart of the old.
This vaulted ceilings in the Nave is a testament to the skill and ingenuity of the stone masons, unhindered by what we would consider to be crude tools today. They combine beauty and strength, quite deliberately, to produce these magnificent forms that have stood firm for over a thousand years.