I have long grappled with how to paint the landscape around Doolin in Northern Co. Clare (Ireland). I think is part of the ongoing dilemma for newcomers who are struck by the beauty of the views but do not wan to sentimentalise it. Over the years I have moved more towards trying to understand the geometric patterns, the borders and atmospheres of particular ‘views’. My current approach is to see the landscape for the perspective of Australian native art, a sacred dreamscape viewed from above.
Most of my Irish landscape paintings are reworkings of a scene that I look at every day from my west of Ireland studio - the fields of Cahermaccrusheen. This collection of small meadows bordered by dry stone walls - with the Burren off to the right, Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher to the left and the Atlantic Ocean behind - is to me the most beautiful view in Ireland. Sometimes I will leave a painting for months, sometimes years, until I feel ready to finish it. Others are started and finished quickly, using my fingers or whatever is to hand to apply the paint.
The landscape is wild but there are patterns in the small fields surrounded by dry stone walls. Moving further out, using a map as a guide, one can see the outlines of townlands, a different atmosphere emanating from each.
Watching the light disappear in late summer you're hit by thick bands of blue of different hues as the clouds roll in from between the Aran Isles and the Cliffs of Moher.
Earlier on, in June and July if the weather is good*, the evening colours towards the west and north can be intense and the water of Galway Bay appears as a shimmering purple pool. In these situations I apply the colour quickly to the canvas – sometimes with a big household brush (which I 'borrowed' from father-in-law with the intention of painting the shed – or an old gardening glove and bits of kitchen roll. But mostly with my fingers.
* Of course, the weather is invariably crap in summer, so you wait for the good days.
But is it right to want to preserve landscape so we can look at it? Many locals would suggest the land is there to be worked and profited from. When Dolores Keane once sang “You can’t own the land, the land owns you” she obviously hadn’t foreseen the charge of the Celtic Tiger. Small local disputes over planning permission and building seemed to be a microcosm of what happened in Ireland over mid 90s to mid 2000s. It was the edgy conflict between the needs of rural communities and the need to preserve the countryside for future generations. (If The Irish myths were set today, all the heroes would be big-shot developers fighting over rezoned scraps of meadowland and they’d charge into battle on brand new JCBs.)
In London we don’t have townlands, but villages and postcodes – and yet more atmospheres, patterns and borders.