ABOUT THE WORKS

A selection of text, written by Dr Angela Summerfield, about her paintings found on this website.

The Landscape of Memory

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 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 Appearance of Things: Transience

Taking Debussy’s meditative piano piece, ’Footsteps in the Snow’ (‘Des Pas Sur La Neige’), as its starting point, this painting is composed to evoke the experience of intractable and sometimes intangible pathways we experience in our lives. The snow melts, and some tracks seem to lead nowhere, or to end in circles, but as one looks deeper into the snowscape, one glimmer of light, caught on a footstep, suggests the possibility of hope. The whole painting can be read in terms of both depth and flatness, while the background forest explores the Japanese concept of Notan (light and dark suggestive forms). The whole imagined scene is illuminated by a “pensive lustre” (Junichiro Tanizaki, ‘In Praise of Shadows’), a restrained form of lighting associated with a Japanese cultural experience of light, which encourages a slow-paced exploration of the painting.

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.

Awaiting

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”.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

Portraits of Trees

The “anatomy of trees” can be seen as analogous to our own. Many artists, such as Constable and Hodler, have also been inspired by the expressive nature of trees. Van Gogh wrote that “in nature, for instance in trees, I see expressions which resemble the human soul.”

Un-Natural Nature

A new series of works, begun in 2017, which explores the concept of “un-naturalness” in terms of its (1) context within nature and (2) context within society and received ideas as to social norms and personal identity. The paintings of tree silhouettes, at dusk and twilight, appear as dislocated tree portraits or as grouped forms, in combination with “un-natural” colours - such as “shocking” pinks and neon lilac, vibrant yellows and electric blues. The term “nature” (sometimes capitalised) has a long literary association in Britain with ideas of naturalness, the unspoilt and refuge for the human spirit and body. Conversely there is nothing less natural than aspects of the British countryside, with its history of enclosed fields, managed moorland and forests, and attempts to restrict public access. The silhouette of a tree is suggestive of ambiguity - is it still a tree? Within the context of society, the use and placing of aesthetically-speaking “un-natural” colours, also questions perceptional and cognitive assumptions.

Treescapes