Glencoe Pines, acrylic on canvas
I cannot claim to be a prolific artist, largely due to my other activities and interests, and notwithstanding the slavish devotion to my children. I have never exhibited, and despite my extreme pauperism tend to become attached to my paintings, guarding them jealousy like precious babies. So far, so unprofessional. Nevertheless, on occasion works have been wrenched from my grasp via word of mouth or commission. ‘Glencoe Pines’ the painting shown here, was one such, and I thought I may as well start with it since I have been giving some thought to the nature of commissions following an article by the lovely coastal artist Melanie McDonald, which you can read here http://www.melaniemcdonald.co.uk/commission-paintings-by-melanie-mcdonald.htm
I was interested in Melanie’s wonderfully embracing attitude to the process of collaboration between client and artist, for it is a thing which, if I’m honest, is anathema to me. This probably says more about our relative characters than I might prefer to dwell on, but the truth is, for me, commissions are frustrating affairs. Art is subjective; it evolves from the distinct idiosyncrasies of the artist, which, put simply, is the reason one scene painted by two separate artists at the same time will never look the same, or indeed be admired by any two others equally. The subject has to ‘pass through’ the perpetrator; from observation to thought process, through emotional sinews and personality to interpretation.
And then someone asks you to paint a picture of their dog. Probably with a red velveteen backdrop and a dewy look in its eye. Or wants you to interpret an improbable dream or vision they have had, and by ‘interpret’ I mean relay exactly what they see in their mind’s eye. Which of course you can never do, for you are not in their mind’s eye, you are in your own. Call me stubborn but give me the customer who points admiringly to a seascape and says ‘Do me one of those, please.’
I say all this because ‘Glencoe Pines’, although not originating from an idea of my own, was one that, unusually, I ended up reasonably satisfied with. And here’s why.
The customer was a sports fanatic; a keen runner who also happened to own some property in Scotland, and she loved to go running through these woods in spring, so there were some quite specific requirements. But all she presented me to go on were some black and white scans of photos taken in winter. And lovely as she was, my hackles started to rise. Yet I managed to be a little inspired. I have been a long-time admirer of Gustav Klimt’s landscape paintings (as opposed to the more popular, decorative portraits) and had been meaning to explore similar techniques. So I was thinking: no horizon and pine trees forming abstract pattern.
Birch wood, by Gustav Klimt, oil on canvas 1903
But wait, I said there were requirements. Specific ones. My customer loved to see the spring primroses and rhododendrons on her runs, and these were to be reproduced in all their exacting glory. My Klimtian aspirations (there is clearly no comparison) were slowly dissolved as attempts at suggestion and impression were admired, but could I make it a bit more…detailed. And Brighter. Reader, you have no idea how many times I had to change the colour of those rhododendrons…
Detail from ‘Glencoe Pines’
In the end I found a way, of sorts. I am a huge fan, from childhood, of the Ladybird ‘Well Loved Tales’ series of books with illustrations by Eric Winter, and others. There is a magical quality to these renditions of classic stories, all portrayed in a vivid and glamorous sheen of bright colour. Suddenly my pine wood became a nostalgic fairy-tale setting of enchantment… Or at least, I found a way to work with it; to accept the ideas of another mind in a way that I could get along with. I don’t think it completely sits well; the balance is wrong for a start. But the customer got her primroses and was happy. And me, well I can imagine my handsome Prince come riding by at any moment…
Illustration for Sleeping Beauty by Eric Winter published @ 1965