“Much can be made of a Scot if he be found young enough.” This sign hangs in a friend’s home. People who have come from a difficult situation like the Scots exhibit a sense of determination and a great bit of humour. The countryside of Scotland is beautiful to view, but unyielding ground upon which to live. The Western Isles lie like rocky crumbs along the coast of Scotland where the weather often is rainy and foggy. Most of Scotland is really not arable, but rather home to grazing flocks of sheep. The vast vacant fields are picturesque, but not agriculturally productive.
I recently had the enjoyment of presenting my work at the Garden Festival in Stratford, Ontario. Not only did I have a display of garden paintings, but also for those four days I demonstrated my painting techniques that I had developed in shopping malls years ago. I used photographs that I had taken in England of the Cotswold area as the basis to compose the painting that is shown here.
In Tom Brokaw’s book, A Long Way from Home, a reference to the grave marker at Wounded Knee, South Dakota made me think of cemeteries that I have visited. The six-foot high stone at Wounded Knee where the last holdouts of the Dakota nation were massacred displays the names of some prominent Indians. Chief Big Foot, High Hawk, Black Coyote and Young Afraid of Bear are the expected mentions, but there is also a single chilling inscription “Many innocent women and children who knew no wrong died here.”
People are normally charmed when they watch an artist paint. Unfamiliar with the painting process, most observers are surprised as a painting grows. There is always some comedian who asks where the numbers are. I explain that the numbers are on the lens of my glasses, because if they were on the canvas, everyone could paint. Occasionally, however, there are spectators who are not pleasantly taken by the process.
It is ironic that, even though I am non-religious, I am enchanted by small British churches. These sometimes tiny buildings, that are often constructed of stone, speak strongly of their past with a mix of styles, as later additions tell of the popular style of architecture of their day. Lych-gates and porches add to the history of the gravestones that encircle these buildings. Filled with plaques, statuary and stained glass, these quiet country worship places tell the visitor all about the history and indeed the geography of the parish.
My bride, Marilyn, has a great affection for women writers, in particular Virginia Woolf, whose ground-breaking approach started a new school of writing in the English-speaking world. Our joint interest in things English has led her to infect me with “Bloomsburyism”. Not only the literature produced by this between-classes group but also their houses and gardens have become most attractive.
In 1994, Marilyn and I spent a romantic week in a rental cottage in Clare (meaning clear or bright referring to the waters of the Upper Stour so loved by Constable), a small Suffolk town just south east of Cambridge. We were unaware that our visit was to coincide with a grand concert weekend in The Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, just one block from our house with its timbered walls and low-beamed ceilings.
Most of the paintings featured in this travel series and its effect on me are sketchescolour notes made on the spot or brief reactions to my photos when I return home. This piece set near Sneem in the southwest of Ireland is however a different type of item. This painting is a full blown synthesis of southern Ireland. My aim in this painting, as in all my extended work, is to distill many pieces of information into one statement that will deliver the feeling of this singular country. Few people who visit Ireland manage to avoid being touched by a country whose biggest export is people.
We had the opportunity to live in the Cotswold village of Blockley for a week in June, 2001. This was the view from outside the local, The Crown Inn (established in 1755), which occupied the select position on the main street. We passed this patinated hostelry on the way to our digs that resembled a doll house in its size and beauty. I found this small village, on a dead-end road, delightful and the neighbourhood enchanting.
This crenellated, fortified house goes back to the 1300’s. At that point, raids were being made by the French across the Channel on Kent and Sussex. In the 1500’s, this now tranquil moated stone building was the site for a Catholic-Protestant skirmish and suffered much damage. In the 1600’s, an Inigo Jones style addition was added to the now dwarfed Elizabethan and Medieval parts. This destruction/construction story accounts for the rather oddly-shaped, but romantic, house.