Art and the landscape each played a large part in my childhood. Growing up in rural Devon, I had immediate access to nature: the moors were only a brief drive away and holidays were spent in Snowdonia. I have written of the latter:
Once at the cottage, I take myself off into the nearby hills where I pretend I am a horse. I imagine that I gallop for miles feeling strong and free and then sit in the short grass and watch storms moving up the valley. I am part of the landscape. One time I get up to witness the sun rise. I climb up the hillside and watch the light filter over the mountain tops. The sheep down below form an orderly line and file along the track, before dispersing across the slopes and commencing the day’s grazing.
For my first few years at school, I was privileged to have Devon artist Hilary Goddard (Balogh) as my art teacher. I’ve never forgotten her kindness and positivity – such an inspiration to all of us.
After that, I rarely picked up a pencil again until April of this year (2022). Forced to take a break from running due to ill health, I began scribbling again and set off on the most incredible journey. Almost entirely thanks to the support, advice and encouragement of those around me, I have embarked on a mission to learn how to paint, a mission that is still very much in its infancy. I’m learning something new each day, and it has opened up a whole new world to me.
Hills and mountains have always been a source of inspiration; hiking, running, writing and now painting. My earliest memories of Dartmoor are of visits to friends who lived near Kestor, strolling up the hill collecting sloes, the tiny car park and the walk to the tor itself.
Later on, there was everything from running to a night walk, and the last time I was there was with my husband and toddler son, in the deep snow of 2010. Over a decade on and it is rarely far from my mind. I imagine sitting in the tough grass, breathing it all in. The dampness of the fog, soaked in the scents and sounds of the moor.
When I draw or paint the landscape, I want the observer to feel it – the enormity, age, textures and colours. I will often spend days adding layers and then scraping them off again until I achieve what ‘feels’ right to me. Sometimes I discard tools and use my fingers, so that I really can feel what I’m painting. There has to be a balance, something which feels instinctive, rather than that which can be explained logically. I hope to draw the observer in and provoke emotions, or, at the very least, questions.
One of my recent series I titled ‘Resilience’, with individual pieces including ‘Weathered’, ‘Scarred’, ‘(Glacial)Drift’ and ‘Carved’. This is both an expression of geological processes and the age of the landscape, and a reference to my own life-long battle with c-PTSD. I am no poet, but I recently attempted to articulate my ‘sense of belonging’, for want of a better way to describe it, with the landscape:
Moulded into the dank earth: fingers moss deep, senses giddy with damp wood and time-trapped ancient bogland;
The song of the stream weaving weightlessly through sound-soaked air;
The cracking of creeping frost crusting over curled leaves;
Old and bone-bare as the rock; ground down, not sculpted; yet unmoved.
The roots of the ancient oak, driven deep. Branches wind-whipped and bowed; yet never broken.
When I paint, I almost feel as if I am carving out the hills, rocks, trees and ridges, and my hope is that, at least in some of my paintings, there is a tactile, almost sculptural quality. A sense of distance, light and shadow; of a landscape ground out by time.
I am profoundly privileged to be able to do something that gives me so much joy, and being asked to contribute to the Dartmoor Collective feels quite emotional. There is a longing to be back there again and an excitement to feel connected to it in some way. I could not be more grateful for the opportunity.
Finally, I also wish to thank Dartmoor artist and art therapist Malcolm Learmonth of Insider Art, without whom none of this would have been possible.