This February we have seen some terribly miserable wet weeks as we witness the likes of Storm Ciara and #StormDennis mesmerising us with high winds and lots of rain.
These annual weather phenomena have caused masses of destruction, touched thousands of miles of land and caused fatal casualties. The scales we are seeing are unimaginable and relentless. The question is, how do we portray this in our paintings?
Let’s look at JMW #Turner, classically provocative with nature and often showcases true turmoil and chaos. Turner loves to highlight the power of the elements and how powerless we - the rulers of the world are, who cannot fight against it. If nature wants us to be swallowed up, it will triumph. If nature wants to burn our grasslands, it will roar fearlessly and if it wants to drown us on the land, the sky will pour down.
In the painting above, The Shipwreck, Turner shows how water and the movement of waves both tease and sinks boats with ease and great magnitude. Water is not our natural environment and if we are risking our lives to travel across the oceans, then we are gambling with our lives. Nature will always show us her true power and remind us how fragile we really are. This #painting evokes fear, trouble and helplessness among the viewer and quite frankly, it is difficult to see. We know that even if this painting wasn’t created from life, the realism of the imagery and the historical narrative shows truth regardless.
The painting has a very cool feel to it using greens, blues and cold hues. The shapes of the waves are steep and powerful, engulfing all in their way and tormenting every human it touches.
His style often replicates the movement of water and slapstick approach with application. If you look at other paintings by the same Artist, for example, the Evening of the Deluge suggests a magical force lifting the water from the ground and recycling the journey back onto the earth in a true force.
The dark grey tones are contrasted with splashes of blue and red to remind you that we have a sky and the ground so we can figure out which way is up. However, it takes a brief moment to figure out that this is home, our home. The scene is of biblical scale and exaggerated to tell a story, but a story we can all relate to and that we fear for the future of our planet.
The Evening of the Deluge
If we take another #Artist and compare, we can see how two different styles can still enable the same narrative and emotional response. Caspar Friedrich of Sweden was an important landscape painter from the 1800’s. He allows the landscape to become the protagonist rather than the figure that he sometimes places in his paintings. His understanding of nature and painting was subtle yet relatable and extremely powerful.
If we look at the Winter Landscape below, you can still see his decision of composition has shown nature engulfs the land and disrupts the horizon as far as the eye can see. The misty background makes the church look like an onlooker, a helpless character to the story and a victim to the whiteout. Friedrich chose to use the importance of composition as a way to suggest the severe impact of nature rather than the application of paint like Turner had.
Just like in nature, we see snow as soft, gentle grains of frozen water, often carelessly falling from the sky. We can also sometimes feel snow as harsh pellets and destructive weapons in storms. But for this, Friedrich represents the snow in its more dormant state and by using his brush strokes, he can suggest those soft, gentle layers and calming applications. You can barely see where one colour starts and one stops. If we look at the snow, there is a warm pink glow to the left side of the painting and a yellow/ green tint to the right.
Caspar David Friedrich
Friedrich famously once said: “The artist should not only paint what he sees before him, but also what he sees within him.”
This means we cannot only just copy; we must see and feel what’s before us and translate that using colour, hue, composition and gesture. Both Turner and Friedrich have managed to demonstrate the power of nature by using completely different techniques. One is chaotic, whilst the other is calm. One uses warm colours, whilst the other uses cold; yet they both depict cold temperatures and chilling scenes.
ArtistAnd sometimes dabbles in this same subject. The force of nature and the emotional connection we as humans can have with it. In 2019, I was briefed to paint ‘a moment’. Something that felt significant and relatable but completely personal. Sharing ‘a moment’ can sometimes leave people feeling vulnerable, as if their painting is a cry of help or a therapeutic activity and don’t get me wrong, it is and should be used exactly for these reasons too. If you haven’t noticed already, we actually provide classes that bring mindful drawing sessions to the workplace. Expression doesn’t always have to be negative and can often be a positive experience and so that’s what I was after.
This #painting is titled ‘Something from Nothing.’ It is exactly what it says on the tin. The moment was taken from a lake in Japan when travelling solo. When you search for something, you will never find what you are looking for. So, I stopped looking. I decided to hire a bike and head out to a lake on a rainy day in Hikone to see what it was all about. Having not been too impressed by the area and the lack of sunshine, I thought it might be a waste of time but I had plenty of it and so headed out anyway.
Once I got there, I looked out and hunted for the horizon. I couldn’t see it. In front of me was nothing. I looked down on this tiny beach and there were soft gentle waves hitting the shore. This grabbed my attention so I watched it a little longer and started to feel something. The moment was more significant than I realised because I started to turn away and move on but something made me go back and watch it a little longer. The gentle noise of splashing water and the misty background was nothing but therapeutic.
Hikone - Japan
I started to look deeper into the vast emptiness in front of me and the colours began to stand out. They were green, blue, brown, purple. Full of colours and full of shapes and movement. I noticed some small black dots in the distance so I grabbed my camera and zoomed in to beyond what my little blue eyes could see. There, I saw life. Lots and lots of life. Huge birds sitting on these rotten wooden stumps, communicating, interacting, resting. There was a family, a group of friends, in what I thought was empty just a moment ago. My moment came to me when I realised there was always something, and here I painted ‘Something from Nothing’.
Something From Nothing
Oil on Canvas
Since this painting, it has been published in the ‘Landscape’ online magazine which you can read here:
This piece has since been united with its original commissioner who happily gets to share a moment with the Artist every day.