This exhibition has just opened at Lancaster Museum, showing a series of work by myself and four other artists: Milan Ivanic, Fay Collins, Gill Aiken, and Rosa Mackinder. The artwork was made in response to the museum collection.
Here’s my two paintings.
Looking around the museum I was fascinated by the old photos of the city. I saw how much some aspects of the town and surrounding landscape have changed in the last 200 years or so, yet how little others have, at least outwardly. Photos of Lancasters’ back alleys, or ginnels, in the late 1800’s do not look much different than they do now, the chief difference as far as I can tell being the wheelie bins, which have to be carefully parked so they don’t roll down the hills. This is the ginnel (alley way) behind the street I used to live on, and I wanted to try and capture the somewhat timeless feel of the place. It was August when I painted this, although there are no trees visible, and the flat grey light of a rainy day looks pretty much the same in summer and winter.
There are several paintings showing the River Lune and the Lune Valley in the museum’s collection. Joseph Mallord William Turner painted ‘Lancaster, from the Aqueduct Bridge’ in 1825, when the aqueduct was being constructed. I decided to paint the River Lune today with the new Lune West Bridge under construction at Junction 34 of the M6. My studio at Halton Mill is just upstream from the new bridge, and I have watched the progress of the bridge over the last year or so as I walk along the riverside. I wasn’t really sure how to go about painting such a large-scale subject. I looked time and time again at the bridge over the course of 2015, looking for inspiration. I even canoed underneath the bridges in search of an unusual angle! I thought that the huge yellow cranes would form an interesting composition to paint. In the end, however, the inspiration behind my painting was a fleeting moment on 12th November when I watched a cormorant fly under the two motorway bridges, reflected in the still water of a perfect autumn morning. I found the simple beauty of the bird, the trees and the water far more interesting than the vast bridges. My painting reminds me that in spite of the expanding and changing human landscape, the river will always have to flow downstream, and the cormorants will continue to dive for fish.
Retrospectively, what I find most interesting about this painting is that it represents one of the last days of a long dry spell of weather, before the seemingly never-ending rain of most of November and all of December. The floods of December 5th were monumental, and have really changed this part of the River Lune – large parts of the bank were washed away, the trees are now adorned with debris several metres above the river level. It looks odd, carpets, black bags, hay bales, twisted gates, electricity pylons, and rubble, everything out of place. New islands have been created, trees uprooted. A shipping container from the building site of the new motorway bridge I painted was washed down into Lancaster, damaging one of the bridges there. The river rose to 8.5 metres at Caton, over a metre above the highest previous record.
I’m now working on a series of new river paintings – I’ll post some images of them shortly.