During late 2015 into spring 2016 I worked on a small painting called Slow Motion Blackbird. Against a grey background, with a blush of red beneath it, bright colours sing out from behind a central black form, flowing from top to bottom of the canvas. Amongst the many impressions and ideas that formed this painting is the lyrical stream of notes that a blackbird sings from the tree outside my studio; others are a contemporary jazz piece and Orpheus, descending into Hades, attempting with the song of his lyre to return with Eurydice back to the light and life.
As I worked on this painting I was travelling around the mining world heritage sites of West Devon & Cornwall, immersing myself in their landscapes, buildings, histories and geology. The painting and its themes, though originating in other narratives, became closely bound up with those experiences. It established a path along which the sights and sounds and shapes of the mines materialised in the paintings as graphic colour in layers of textured darkness and light.
The impenetrable black below the grass and the brightness of the tin & copper that emerged into the light; the unexpected brightness of colour in the minerals; the bright flowering of colour in the gardens of the big estates; a line of brightly coloured washing, blowing in the wind one grey misty morning driving up through Cornwall’s post-industrial landscape; colour as treasure and hopeful renewal. Also lamentation, a passing culture, lost souls.
Moving through the mining landscapes over the last 18 months I have often been filled with wonder at the extraordinary visual richness and the quite unexpected vividness of colour. I make paintings, abstract images arising out of my experience; things seen, heard & felt. Light, colour, sound; the absence of light; silence; the silence of painting. In painting, to move away from white into colour, is to move toward black. Colour won like ore from the dark. Song wings into the air, the blackbird sings.
Spring at Devon Great Consols; spoil from arsenic workings thrusts out from the hillside into the valley – almost devoid of plant growth even after the best part of one hundred years – huge, monolithic, red – spilled up from the earth, thrust out into the vivid new greens of the spring countryside.
A sparkle of green around the entrance to an adit sharply set against the sand of the beach colouring the sand a complimentary orange.
Marriott’s shaft – grids, structures and brickwork a barrier to the eye as I try to see into the depths. Darkness a barrier to seeing.
The wholly unexpected pleasure of colour and structure, mineral samples dancing in the sunshine on the windowsills of the Miners and Mechanics Institute, St. Agnes.
The yellows and oranges of the screes at St Agnes; turn over the grey green lichen covered stones and there expose the bright yellow ochre of iron.
At the entrance to the canal tunnel that leads through the hill to Morwellham quay; genteel architecture, bright greens of moss in the gloomy dankness, sparks of gold & copper autumn beech leaves; then the shock of plunging blackness right there beside you, the gaping maw of an incline shaft, entrance to Hades.