“I was born and raised in the countryside near Winchester. After the Second World War my parents bought land full of trees.
I grew up climbing them, collecting conkers, and beech nuts, being paid to pull up sycamore seedlings and sitting by log fires in the winter. Each day as a very small child, I stepped out under a canopy of trees and walked to school through lanes with hedge- rows dotted with trees. In summer I played in places with names such as ‘ghosty wood’ and ‘bluebell copse’ and gazed up to see the sun filtered through the branches. I used it as a clock, watching as it slipped sideways through the woods to check the hour until ‘tea time’. To see bright green and azure together still sends a thrill of anticipation through me. In winter, when the snow lay neatly upon even the tiniest branches, I remember the stillness that fell over the landscape broken periodically by children let out to play, crying out loud and laughing as they tracked each other and the foot prints of animals through the woods.
I am well-known as a conceptual artist and for years, my work was concerned with gender politics and the effects of advertising upon our everyday lives. In 2005, I rediscovered trees and relish the continual visual interest they provide and in the twenty-first century, trees are not without their political side as we become more aware of the need for sustainability and realise more keenly their scientific importance to us. We must also remember that the forests we love are managed for profit. During World War II, woods and forests symbolised mankind’s propensities for good and evil, places in which people could hide but also places of execution and torture. My painting In the Hunting Wood is a reminder of resistance fighters, the French ‘Malgré Tous’, the Poles and the Jews, who were forcibly marched through forests to their deaths.
As a child I spun round and round looking up into the trees. As an artist, I sit very still and record them in small pen and ink draw- ings about 15 x 9 cm. To discover new ways of painting trees is the agenda for many of the painters in the Arborealist Group and I am always striving to create a new painting language, a new form of mark making. For me it is utterly pointless to copy what has gone before. Small drawings completed in situ are scanned, enlarged and then printed onto canvas, sometimes monochrome, other times as a brightly coloured grisaille. This is then squared, enabling me to paint layers of marks copied from the original ink drawing.
Sometimes I allow parts of the grisaille to show through giving the painting its luminosity. This is a contemporary but similar version of methods which have been in use for centuries; preparing a fresco by painting red oxide onto wet plaster is one example. From ancient times, grisaille has been used by artists to prepare a ground – it could be a clay wash, charcoal or ink depending on the period and the surface which is to be painted. We have come to love the muted tones of Constable and Turner, but see a Constable that has been kept out of the light in mint condition and you will see colours as bright as mine.”