Nature has always provided the inspiration for my work and I especially love painting trees; they have such a special presence in the landscape. Over the years I have tried to understand why trees particularly resonate with me, but I realise there is no single reason.
For me, their significance lies in their form; their shifting colour; the sound of the wind through branches; their silhouettes, set so beautifully against the sky (particularly in winter);and the great age of the older trees, which have endured so many winters, storms and drought they exude a native wisdom. Who cannot fail to be moved by the pale green haze that comes in April or May when the new leaves emerge, or by the richness of russets and ochres in the Fall?
And then there are the skies…. which hold an equal fascination...but that’s for another time.
It is a privilege to roam the green and verdant landscape around my ancient house, Gelli Dywyll, deep within rural mid-Wales. Soft valleys and steepening slopes rise up through ancient oakwoods to the higher moorland plateaus with their rocky twmps and rushy bogs. All around there is evidence of mining, which was mostly for lead and silver. The old spoil heaps are softened now by the passage of time, but remain as a reminder of how and why some of the small communities hereabouts came to be. It is a landscape formed by an ice sheet that covered the tops that thrust tongue-like glaciers into the valleys below. Some 20,000 years ago their rapid retreat left a legacy of varied shapes and forms carved into and plastered across the hillsides.
Today in winter the sound of rushing water is ever present, coming from the Nant (the stream) that runs deep in the cleft of the dingle beside the house. A descent of narrow ledges has been worn though the mudstone bedrock as the water makes its way to join the Twymyn far below. Even in summer the trickle never ceases.
It is hard to retreat indoors to the studio when the sun is shining but dreary days in late autumn and winter are a different prospect. My collection of photos, sketches and books offer endless inspiration, and months of serious painting are possible. A walk, a view, a moment in time….saved in the mind’s eye, caught with the camera, hurriedly sketched or slowly worked up over days that sometimes creep into weeks, and occasionally months. I pour over my scrapbooks and notes for hours and learn as much as I can about the things I paint.
I am glad to spot the old grey fox, a seasoned campaigner of the Gelli fields, still abroad and looking well nourished in readiness for the leaner months of winter that lie ahead. A lone hare seems to occupy the top field and there are signs of a healthy population of badgers, yet there are no roe deer, nor any other species of deer in this area. This is a bit of a puzzle as the ample woodland, the sparse population and mixed terrain potentially provides the perfect habitat for them. Perhaps the past excesses of hunting have made them scarce here? I do hope they will eventually return.
Winter beckons now, at the end of a strange year. I reflect that the isolation did not bother me too much. It was good to have the time to garden and walk without the tasks of the everyday pressing in. Now we begin to claw back towards the ‘old life’ of hustle and bustle. I am not sure I want it to return! I am grateful for friends and family but there is so much to experience here during this time of relative solitude. Literally and metaphorically I feel more and more at home as I work, and the trees provide a source of being rooted.
Birchwood with Roe