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Clouds and Climate

The depiction of clouds has found a new symbolism in my work as a painter. The recent lockdown marked a turning point in the way I expressed myself, and having long been interested in the alchemy of paint, I took advantage of the imposed Covid isolation to experiment.

This turning point enabled me to link two parallel concerns. Climate change and the effects of global warming on our planet as well as new ways of expressing my ongoing fascination with depicting watery terrains, whether in landscapes or the skies above.

The “Red Dust Cloud” paintings are a multi-layered response. Using a palette of pinks and earth-reds became a meditation, recollecting colours used in Renaissance painting, yet pertinent to concerns reflecting the increasing desertification of Africa and the dust storms that covered streets and cars across much of Europe. My work also considers elemental phenomena, aspiring to a state of beauty in the tradition of Constable and Turner. Captivating, chilling or enchanting, according to how the spectator responds to it.

In developing this series of paintings I was able to link both process and concept. Red Dust Clouds became a subliminal response to the forces of climate change. They speak to alternative ways of looking, or envisioning. Having prepared colour solutions of heavily diluted paint, I begin saturating the surface of medium sized canvasses with water, leaving certain areas dry. The fusion of pigment and water pooling on the surface helps achieve the veils and skeins of tinted colour which expresses the sensations of light, vapour and mist seen in the cloud-skies above.

Climate scientists’ reports of melting Arctic sea ice, desertification of once fertile land, plastic pollution and emissions into the atmosphere, has knock on effects across our planet. Unfortunately the overwhelming scale of these issues can engender a paralysing apathy; and yet not caring is unconscionable. What can be done, remains a constant nagging preoccupation for us now and even more so for the next generation. Dramatic photographs of the Victoria Falls reduced to a barely visible trickle after an exceptionally prolonged dry spell, brought back memories of “The Smoke that Thunders” from my own childhood in Africa. These memories inspired “Earth Melt” and other paintings reflecting the dissonances of a planet suffering extremes of drought at its centre, while melting ice and rising sea levels are swamping low lying islands and coastal cities in temperate zones. Artists and writers have of course, warned of the devastating effects of industrialisation as long ago as John Ruskin, in his well known Lecture on Work published in 1866.

These ‘water-cloud-scapes’ depicted through the alchemy of paint, are a portrayal of the power, beauty and magnificence surrounding us when we find ourselves steeped in nature.


Memory Clouds

The emotional sensation conjured up by memory has been the subject of my exploration over the last three years. I have used cloud forms to portray those sensations through the materiality of paint. Cloudscapes with their ever changing forms from soft fluffy shapes to threatening cumulonimbus towering over the land has enabled me as a painter to find a unity in the emotional polarities experienced between states of turbulence and serenity.

Like many artists, the depiction of light has been an ongoing concern within my practice. Light is important to us all, it draws us in. It is wired into the human psyche going back to prehistoric time. Light acts as a conduit, a passage out of the dark. The experience of seeing light breaking from behind a cloud or shimmering like sapphires across the water has the effect of drawing us in, filling us with a sense of wonder and enchantment. The light, the dim and the dark evoke memories conjured up in remembering events that experience etches on our lives.

Clouds and weather have influenced writers and artists over the ages. Romantic poets were happy to wander with Wordsworth "lonely as a cloud", others like Shelley wished to sublimate himself into a cloud. German artists were more robust in their approach to weather; Casper David Friedrich's 'Wanderer' looks up into the infinite depths of the sky and gazes down at the dense fog of the world's intellectual life. Chinese and Japanese artist's depicting clouds sought to find a union between two anti-thetical emblems. "The union of the brush and the ink is that of Yin and Yang" ref1.
The image of a cloud formation enables me to depict the veering from one emotional polarity to another. In my paintings whether depicting a dark apocalyptical anxiety or calm serenity, I pose the question, is it the same for you the viewer? Do you have these emotional polarities?

Of course, the irony today is that in our digital age, memories of millions may be stored in the ether aptly named the iCloud, as opposed to the reality, which is this data, is stored in a gigantic warehouse in California. The only feature the warehouse has in common with a cloud is the colossal consumption of electricity!

In finding a space away from the LED-lit visual bombardment of our screen-based lives, I seek to find a space to be, a place where the materiality of paint and the human hand-print may remind the viewer; to look away from their screen now and then and enjoy the pure aesthetic pleasure to be derived from the ever-changing spectacle of passing clouds. Or as the monk Huaisu (eighth century) did, which was to look up and "It was while watching the summer clouds glide by on the wind, suddenly seized upon the idea of the brush and obtained Samadhi (ecstacy) from ink" ref2.

Reference 1: Theory of /Cloud/ Toward a History of Painting, Hubert Damisch P.215, Stanford UP 2002

Reference 2: Quote taken from Theory of /Cloud/ Toward a History of Painting, Hubert Damisch P.222, Stanford UP 2002