Wednesday, 26 September 2012

To The Sea....

It was exciting coming into Copenhagen on the ferry in the morning. We slowly passed a huge line of wind turbines that extended out into the sea and greeted us with an eerie wave of their huge ‘arms. In the distant mist we could see the epic sixteen mile bridge that crosses from Copenhagen to Malmo, Sweden that had recently been the lead character in our favourite Scandinavian TV noir. As we disembarked onto the dockside and caught a taxi to the airport, where we were to pick up another hire car for the week, I was immediately struck by how different the place felt from Oslo. It felt much more cosmopolitan with a familiar urban beat that made me feel more at home.
It wasn’t long though before we were heading off the motorway out of Copenhagen into the flat arable landscape that seemed typical of much of Zealand, heading out towards the coast to Vejby Strand, which wasn’t much further than a half hour’s drive. Here we had a wonderful summerhouse waiting for us, complete with grass on the roof, which we had rented for the week.

As we zipped along, the landscape opened up into big skies above us and a mixture of lots of different types of wonderful trees that also had a more familiar feel, strangely like much of the English landscape I love in the Midlands. After unpacking and cooking something that wasn’t barbequed, we went to explore the local landscape for an hour and to try and find the sea as the sun went down. Just ten minutes away were some beautiful rolling hills covered in purple heather that lead to a dramatic hilltop view across the North Sea. It was the most amazing pale transparent blue colour that appeared so vast that it wrapped itself around you.

A couple of nights later I found myself sat alone on top of this hill painting this view as the sun set on the sea. I felt extremely lucky being in this moment.  I tried to chase the disappearing deep purple shadows as they dramatically crept across the landscape as the sun disappeared so quickly. The small paintings made were as much informed by my memory of the scene as the scene observed. I was particularly excited when I finished by the colours I had found myself using. They seemed very Munch-like with their crimsons, blues and yellows and the light contained within them. They appeared to have a distinctive Scandinavian feel.
I was so excited as I ran back to the car across the heather hills with my canvas paper flapping in the wind, wet with oil paint, desperate not to get them spoilt. It felt like a door had briefly opened and I had found myself in a new room.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Away from here....

'The view from the ferry from Oslo to Copenhagen', i-pad painting
After my morning at the Munch Museum we climbed aboard the DFDS overnight ferry from Oslo to Copenhagen in the afternoon. It was great to shower, use a proper loo(!), and lie down on a decent bed. The three of us were in a small cabin, but after the week outside in the cabin, which had felt like a camping trip I suppose if I was being philosophical, it felt good to be moving on from Norway and put some distance between some difficult feelings left up there in the forest.

We were very weary but we all felt a weight began to lift as we headed to Denmark, which in no small part was helped by Cliff Richard singing ‘we’re all going on a summer holiday’ as the ferry pulled away from Oslo. It wasn’t something I expected to hear in Scandinavia, but somehow it seemed to sum up what had been a strange and unexpected week.

If you ever have the opportunity to do this journey I would recommend it. Below deck the ferry was like a big floating nightclub full of boozy Norwegians heading to Copenhagen for a weekend’s cheaper shopping. I was on the top deck on my own with my thoughts while Diane and Isaac slept below, enjoying the views across the open sea and seeing Oslo disappear from view. I stayed there until late, watching the sun go down and the waves around the ship get blacker and blacker. On one side you could see Norway and on the other the lights of Sweden flickering in the distance.

Monday, 17 September 2012


'Melancholy', Edvard Munch, 1895
At the end of what had a been an increasingly tiring week in our cramped cabin, especially for Isaac, I finally found myself in the Munch Museum in Oslo. We had been to Oslo a few days previously to visit the Viking Museum where one has to travel by boat out to the islands around the Oslofjord to visit the museums where many of them are located. Seeing the impressive longboats close-up was inspiring, where you could see each individually hand-crafted nail punched in the hull and almost feel the hands that made them. 

'Moonlight On The Sea'
'Summer Night At The Beach'
Arriving in the Munch Museum though was a total revelation. I was greeted by a striking life size portrait of a woman with a dead yellow baby on her lap, her piercing eyes looking right through me (sadly I can’t find an image of this). The power of it stopped me dead in my tracks. Working my way around the other paintings struck such an emotional chord  inside me. My head was reeling as I encountered one stunning painting after another. Many of the rooms were very sparcely hung, with just one or two paintings the focus, such as ‘Puberty’. Other rooms were less so, but seeing these paintings after my experiences of the Norwegian landscape during the last few days, in quite difficult circumstances at times, I felt they just were Norway. They just seemed to capture the essence of the landscape, but also the psyche of the place in a way that made perfect sense to me. It was really uplifting and made a deep connection with me as a painter in a way that I’ve not felt from another artist in a long time. 
'The Yellow Log'
The images were full of poetry and atmosphere, but the way they were painted seemed so fresh and contemporary with an urgency and fluency that was revelatory.(if contemporary painting was only this fresh and urgent! I've just seen who won the John Moores Painting Prize today. You have to think, 'Of all the entrants  this is the best?'). I loved the scale of so many of them, which was often about 5 feet across, and the treatment of space and the forms, but especially the colour (this would make it’s way into things later…) to depict the unique atmosphere and light. I came away thinking he was my new favourite artist! Weirdly Munch was one of the first artists I was directed to as a student on my foundation course after making my first paintings. I did also see a stunning Munch show at MoMA, New York about seven years ago where I was quite shocked by their large scale, but I was in a very different place with my own work. These connections you make are often about the timing.

I have yet to visit the Tate Modern’s current Munch exhibition, but this is on the cards in the next week or so….oh, and yes a version of 'The Scream' was on display in Oslo. Despite it's familiarity, it is a disturbing and original painting that still seems to resonate. 

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Into The Woods...

My wife and I are very self-sufficient, and always work hard at making things work. So despite the disappointment at the situation we now found ourselves in, we were soon off exploring the local landscape with Isaac on foot or by the car, which we had hired for the week. It was my first time driving on the other side of the road, and despite Diane’s nervous protestations from the passenger side (‘you’re going too near the edge! We’re going to be in that ditch in a minute!’ etc), I felt I soon got used to it.

The landscape was very beautiful: not mountainous or particularly rugged like the north of Norway, but rolling, open fields, lots of woodland and forests, and large lakes. We barely saw another soul, as it was now also ‘out of season’ if you like too, with most of the weekend Norwegians in their ‘hitters’ now back in jobs in Oslo with kids back at school.  (On evenings back at the cabin this did seem to enhance our sense of ‘aloneness’ and ‘abandonment’ surrounded by the tall, silhouetted trees against the sky. We sat by candlelight on the porch with the box of wine we felt so glad to have bought at Duty Free).

My I-Pad seem to come into its own on these journeys: the camera and video on it is excellent, but I could also make quick paintings and drawings on it (although I still prefer my sketchbook to draw in with my favoured brush pen), as well as more detailed pieces when we were back in the forest at our cabin: I could start a painting, tuck it away in my bag when Isaac would come along wanting my attention, and then easily resume it again, and make easy alterations in response to the changing light. For the first time, now I look at them in the studio, I thinka few of the paintings I’ve made could be seen as finished digital artworks in their own right which is an exciting development.

I would take my pachode box with my oil paints off on my own to work in more concentrated periods. I’m quite pleased with some of the small oil paintings I’ve made, where I found myself heightening the colour in the purple trunks of the trees, and in the myriad of greens and yellows in the changing, diffused light. This seemed to bring me closer to the feel of the place. The paintings seem to pick up on some of the visual ideas I worked on a couple of years ago in some of my tree paintings, but with more success. The fact they are rooted in a particular place is significant here.

At night though as the darkness descended I continued painting on the porch with a head torch that I use. I painted the barely visible tree trunks that seemed to surround us like ghostly spectres, trying to capture their presence and the bruised green and grey shadows and shapes between them. When I look at these pieces now they seem to have a psychological edge to them that echoes the thoughts and feelings swimming around my head during these days…..