ABOUT THE WORKS
A selection of text, written by Dr Angela Summerfield, about her paintings found on this website.
2014 - current
Life will be beautiful again (1)
‘Every work of art is the child of its age,’ wrote the 20th-century artist and influential theoretician, Wassily Kandinsky in ‘Concerning the Spiritual in Art.’ And so the question for me remains, how as a contemporary landscape painter can I respond in a meaningful way to the worldwide tragic loss of life? The frieze-like composition of this painting was inspired by the garden room wall paintings from Pompeii and their poignant associations with sudden human loss all those years ago. In my painting the variety of hedgerow-associated trees appear as both actual subjects and also as visual metaphors for those human beings no longer physically present, yet present still within our thoughts: trees in art have a long history as anthropomorphic forms expressing and embodying humankind. The billowing whiteness of the Maythorn and shimmering warmth of the day is set against a space of cool blue sky; the shadowed forms of the trees bearing witness to the unfolding beauty of a simple country meadow below. Created in the studio and based on careful, in-the-field observations, this painting embodies the sense that the experience of beauty in Nature can be restored to us all.
The Night of All Our Souls
This painting was created on the eve of Spring, in 2021, as a psychological landscape, in response to the Covid-19 situation we are all living through. Trees by their very structure and growth habit exhibit anthropomorphic qualities. In this work I explore visual ambiguity, so that spatially the trees appear elongated reaching for the stars, while at the same time floating within “a state of mind” expressed through modulated blues and deep mauves. The cluster of stars depicted is The Pleiades, known as the Seven Sisters, accompanied by the constellation, The Bear, which usually appears with them. They are seen around the time of the Spring Equinox which is when I created this painting. In Greek mythology The Pleiades are also known as celestial doves: symbols of peace and harmony. Music and poetry are important inspirations for me, and this painting references the moving libretto from Benjamin Britten’s ‘Peter Grimes’: ‘Now the Great Bear and Pleiades....are drawing up the clouds of human grief...’ Suggestive of numinous experiences, this is a painting to be quietly contemplated and pondered upon.
Towards a Kinder Form of Nature
When we listen to Nature, we are also listening to ourselves and others. My landscape paintings are visual metaphors for contemporary living. The countryside has long cultural associations with the human need for places of refuge, tranquillity and healing. 'Towards a Kinder Form of Nature (1),' features my habitual walk up the country lane, where I now live in rural North Gloucestershire. The geometry of the lane and the wind-caught beech tree offer a dialogue. The saturated colours suggest the possibility of multi-sensory engagements: for example, smell the autumnal air and hear the early evening bird song.
Being with Trees: “in the pink”
Our natural environments and our presence within them are ever changing. Each of us carries within us a landscape of the mind with which we personally identify. In the British countryside the current future of farming practices, such as sheep rearing, and the whole appearance of the land, as fields, is the subject of debate. This painting is about human nature’s yearning for hope, continuity and resilience.
The very nature of trees suggests strong anthropomorphic qualities. How might a contemporary artist paint tree portraits? This is an on-going series of paintings exploring the individual nature of trees by removing them from their natural settings. The silhouetted and twilight forms capture the essence of each single tree. Earth colours, associated with landscape traditions, are dispensed with in favour of “electric” colours, associated with urban neon-lighting. These contemporary portraits of trees challenge conventional perceptions and understanding of Nature and human nature.
The Appearance of Things: Transience
What could be more transient in our contemporary world, than melting snowscapes and the disappearance of trees? Are the pathways in human life intractable and intangible? How can these questions be made visual in contemporary painting? This painting draws upon Western and Non-Western ideas to encourage a slow-paced experience of seeing: Debussy’s meditative piano piece, ’Footsteps in the Snow’ (‘Des Pas Sur La Neige’); the Japanese concept of Notan; and the “pensive lustre” (Junichiro Tanizaki, ‘In Praise of Shadows’), a restrained form of lighting.
The Landscape of Memory
This is an on-going series of paintings of the same square-format. Works situated within the Rural are currently in preparation. From every compass point, across the heath in Blackheath, a church spire is discernible. Inspired by habitual walks across the heath, where I lived in London, these studio paintings are not literal transcriptions of perceived reality, but created from an assemblage of visual material (which includes sketches, photographs and notes), whilst also recalling the works of Constable and Dutch 17th-century Art. The state of flux in nature (weather, seasons etc) is analogous to our own states of reflection, and the evocation of these experiences can be enhanced through the dissonance and harmony of colours, luminosity and darkness, and visual fragmentation combined with “hidden geometry”.
The Forest’s Music (The Life of the Forest)
As dusk falls the deer and trees become one in the autumnal forest. The complex symphony of colours enhances the sense of serenity and contemplation, while the repetition of triangular geometry draws the viewer into the composition. Compositional motifs and geometry also refer to the Sacra Conversazione of Renaissance painting, but here the trees (silver birch and oak) are emblematic of humankind. The geometry of light in the background recalls both stained-glass windows and also the visual experience of looking through tree branches at dusk.
As the Wind Traverses the Land, So the Breath of Life Passes On
This painting is a response to the inclusive themes and concerns of change, loss and continuity we all experience in our lives, and humanity’s relationship to, and existence within the natural world. Just as the seasons, weather, time of day etc change and follow natural patterns, so too does human life and our lived experiences. The trees while recognizable as rowan and birch, for example, can also be read as different genders and personalities. The choice of colours too offers both symbolic and associative readings. Rich colourings deliberately evoke comparison with Renaissance altarpieces, such as the Sacra Conversazione, and their associated meanings. The “heavenly” blue of the sky finds its counterpoint in the complexity of the earth and the secular world: the fallen leaves, brambles etc on the moss-covered and moist earth. The blood-red leaves read as both the loss and beginning of life in the world. A combination of Western and Non-Western compositional elements encourages a dual sense of depth and flatness. Variable colour-hue density and mark-making are deliberately complex, so as to achieve both a metaphorical and aesthetically harmonious whole.
Deer in The Forest
As dusk falls the deer, birds and trees become one in the snow-laden forest. These creatures symbolise a universal sense of goodness, beauty and grace. The mixing of blues, violets, mauves and whites enhances the sense of serenity and contemplation. In the 19th-century theorists such as Humbert de Superville and Charles Blanc (‘Grammaire des arts du dessin’) devised morphologies of form (line and colour), and lexicons of colours and their relational properties.
This triptych series explores the state of visual continuum and reflective experiences. The triptych, with it references to Renaissance religious paintings, also draws upon the concept of the mystic or spiritual presence associated with the hue, Blue, which the poet and essayist Rilke defined as the “listening blue”.
The Angel Amongst Us
The angel is an archetypal image and here its presence, as in life, may be metaphorically difficult to discern or comprehend. A landscape can be thought of as a state of mind. The ideas of the early 19th-century theorist and painter, Carl Gustav Carus (‘Nine Letters on Landscape Painting’), are immensely appealing offering the idea of paralleling human thought and endeavour with the “peaceful and eternal laws” of nature.
Clouds Wall Installation
Clouds are immensely appealing to the imagination. The French meteorologist, Lamark, even named typical summer clouds (the Cirrus family) as nuages en balayures, i.e. cloud- like brush strokes. From the late 18th century clouds became emblematic of individual expression and human emotions. Visual artists, such as Constable and his Norwegian contemporary, J C Dahl, captured these natural phenomena of wonder, in oil sketches which were both quasi-scientific and emotionally-charged. This installation features the English folklore’s “fair weather” summer clouds, with their characteristic optical brightness, suggestive in turn of calmness and inner clarity. In cultural terms, clouds are perceived as both predictors of weather and, as natural manifestations, analogous to human expressions of mood, sentiment and feeling.
The Field of Recollection and Remembrance
This oil painting, which took several months to paint, was created as a universal image inviting the viewer to contemplate, reflect and meditate upon their own life and that of others no longer with us. The poppies and crosses represent all those who have died through armed conflict, while the corn chamomile and ox-eye daisies represent the civilians left behind: all our lives and memories being interwoven in a visual tapestry of subtle light and colour.
What is the experience of memory? In the title, “remembrance” refers to the collective public ritual of memory (11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month), while “recollection” refers to private individual memories.
What do you see first in this painting: the flowers or the crosses? Why are the crosses deliberately individualistic and organic, rather than upright and regimented? The painting invites the viewer to quietly ponder and reflect.
Is this simply a field or a “field of vision”? This imagined composition (based on actual nature studies), of an English field in Kent, recalls lines from John McCrae's famous First World War poem ("In Flanders fields the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row"); William Blake's 'Jerusalem'; the practice of English tapestry-making; and the individual experience of early evening summer walks through the English countryside.
The arrangement of the clouds deliberately recalls the famous pose of God creating Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. “Hidden geometry”, derived from the Italian Renaissance, has also been used to lead the eye backwards and across the surface of the painting.
The Bright Field (Roseberry Topping at the Height of Summer)
This painting is inspired by a well-known North Yorkshire landmark, rich with cultural significance; an actual walk on an intensely warm summer’s day, which re-called R. S. Thomas’s famous poem ‘The Bright Field’ (itself a metaphor for the passage of life); and Van Gogh’s words “there is no blue without yellow and without orange.”
Between Heaven and Earth, Between Land and Sea
We have a wide range of vocabulary to express our response to natural phenomena: magical and mysterious; awe-inspiring, amazing and miraculous; the marvellous, over-whelming, dramatic and breath-taking; the unaccountable, improbable, bewitching and dazzling; an experience beyond words ... which is, of course, why we need the visual arts. The re-composition, in this painting, excites curiosity, perplexes the brain, in terms of its spatial depth, and evokes the experience of great beauty and loveliness in the material natural world.
Finely-tuned personal observations of the North Sea, reminiscences of childhood ferry journeys, the application of Western and Non-Western spatial geometries are combined with in-depth knowledge of oil paints and their luminosity. This “re-composition” also captures the experience of flux and change in the poem ‘The Cloud’ by Shelley:
I am the daughter of Earth and Water,
And the nursling of the Sky;
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores;
I change, but I cannot die.
.......And out of the caverns of rain,
Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb,
I arise and unbuild it again.