Avenue of Trees, Greenbank Cemetery, Bristol, 2020
Oil on linen, 68 x 100cm
Yesterday I completed my latest commission, a large painting of the avenue of trees at Greenbank Cemetery, Bristol.
I painted the picture at home, referring to photographs and sketches of the subject I had made in situ.
The photos I referred to were taken by a friend one day last Autumn, when we went to the cemetery to seek the right subject for the painting. It was clear that the 'stars' of the composition were the long shadows and the beautiful gold, ochre and bright yellow leaves.
Greenbank Cemetery is a short walk from my studio in Bristol, and also not far from where I used to live. It was a real pleasure to paint a subject so familiar and one that I have a personal connection with.
I worked with a linseed oil medium for this work which is something I haven't done for a while. It was like being reacquainted with an old friend! I loved how it allowed me to get some really translucent layers of colour on, and I really enjoyed painting the trees using big brushes, making a mark and leaving it; allowing the materiality of the paint to represent the many textures of the trees. Working with higher fluidity paint was really inspiring and something I will continue to explore for now - it reminded me of 'Sumi-e' - japanese ink painting techniques, where the movement of the brush is used to reflect the movement of nature. Therefore I was really happy when a friend said they thought the trees looked like they were dancing; I loved that the dance my wrist action did across the canvas in the initial brush marks was still traceable many layers of paint later.
I painted this work at home towards the end of 'Covid-19 lockdown' and I think distance away from the subject helped too. I actually set up studio in my garden for some of the sessions and loved being open to the elements, painting a scene completely different to the one in front of me!
I feel this work combined my default approach to watercolour with the way I instinctively work with oils, and I feel I was really at home with this approach. Luckily I have more commissions in the pipeline and I'm looking forward to more experiments with oil paint.
My temporary studio in the garden, the residents of the bug hotel keeping me company, and the birds! This was taken on the 2nd session painting this work, with the Indian Yellow and Golden Barok Red underpainting on the canvas.
A wonky 'in progress' shot! If you look at the trees you might be able to see how I dragged a loaded brush to create a bark-like texture, and the branches with that 'Sumi-e' impulsive quality. The lightness of touch with the brush is something that takes confidence and isn't how I would normally work, but I feel it really lent something to the development of the painting. The blue of the sky is really transparent thanks to a lot of painting medium, this allows some of the yellow to show through and adds a bit of luminosity.
I thought the painting might be finished at this stage, but after a week of contemplation I found a lot to work on! I liked the idea that the work was wholly composed of abstract marks, almost as if I was some kind of figurative Abstract Expressionist! But in the end this painting needed a greater variety of brush marks, and a more subtle tonal range. After a week of looking and scratching my chin, this began to look quite clumsy and I heard it calling me to keep working on it!
Here's a detail shot from a work in progress, 2/3 of the way completed I would say...
Close up of trees
The dead leaves on the dirty ground...
The autumn sun setting
The finished painting (again!)