My immersion ‘into the landscape’ began when unknown to my parents I bunked-off school and spent my eighth birthday in late January shivering with a fishing rod on the banks the River Ribble in Lancashire. This experience – two minnows and a gudgeon – led to an obsession with fishing and shooting and by the age of fifteen I owned three shotguns. In the game season, I supplemented my lowly-paid day job by selling trout, partridge, pigeon, duck, pheasant but mainly rabbit. My shooting days came to an abrupt end aged 17 when in fading light I shot an owl by mistake. My hunting friends and I had a deeply held but perhaps superstitious belief that such an act had ominous consequences. I threw my treasured Bernadelli shotgun into a deep basin in the river never to shoot again. This experience led me to turn inwards and from that moment on I developed a more contemplative approach to life. Instead of stalking game, I became a hunter of images and in the blink of an eye I was in the life room of Blackburn School of Art (65-67) gaining admission with a 20ft long work on the reverse side of a roll of wallpaper using charcoal, pen and ink – expressionistic depictions of the Blackburn poliomyelitis epidemic of 1965. Then on to Walthamstow School of Art (69-72) and Royal College of Art (72-76).
Returning to my roots in The North of England after a long absence has triggered a passionate interest in landscape. Here in Todmorden, it’s easy to access within a ten to fifteen minutes brisk walk, the rambling, natural rich diversity of oak-clough woodlands that rise up steeply from the valley bottom and cluster along the skyline of pasture, eventually petering-out into wild moorland. I find the ever changing complexity of wood-land-scape simultaneously uplifting and unsettling and I try to reflect this ambiguity in my work. Gradually, over the past few years trees have become essential subject matter through which I’m able to ‘speak from the heart’ with my language as a visual artist. Returning to ones place of origin after a forty years absence can be a gamble but in my case I feel increasingly able to connect with that magical element- inspiration. It doesn’t happen everyday and it certainly doesn’t come easy. The very best moments on a walk can leave me lost for words as I reach for the camera or sketchbook in order to capture what can often be a fleeting moment. The photo/sketch may lie dormant for weeks or months but once triggered passes through a series of graphic transformations all leading towards the closest proximity to the original scene that grabbed me.
When a drawing takes-off it slowly develops to a point where it has its own inner dynamic and momentum. A struggle then ensues as the surface undergoes constant orchestration, a process of erasure and editing, akin to both forging with hammer and anvil alongside the delicate application of pastel or charcoal.
It is an ironic use of trees burnt offerings charcoal, used in order to record its beauty!