From Peak to Palette

Aspects of Ward Peak, Marlborough, 2015

The hills and peaks of Marlborough are what I see every day, whether studied from my kitchen window, or walking to and from my studio. Their compelling and dramatic presence is constant, yet ever changing with the time of day, season and particular quality of light. Ward Peak has long held my focus, being an especially prominent feature of the Wairau Valley southern backdrop. I had often wondered over the years how it looked from the foothills of the patchwork of southern valleys. It was time to get up closer to it and start to get a sense of the part the topography played in the mutability of light and shadows I had long observed from the plain.

My project necessitated I ventured onto private farms in order to gain closer access to Ward Peak to undertake this series of paintings.* This in itself added an unexpected dimension to my work and thinking. I found myself considering such things as - how do these farmers view their land, and how does their long-standing familiarity with it change their visual perspective? Do they see it differently from me, looking at it for the first time? How does a lifelong relationship to a particular landscape change one's seeing of it? Great pride in the land was evident as the various landowners introduced me to their farms, both in the innate beauty and sheer drama of the landscapes, as well as satisfaction with the results of their own tending and taming over a lifetime, and sometimes over several generations. How would these owners and keepers of the land respond to my representations of their place?

Accessing and working in such terrain brought its own practical challenges, in that I was limited to what tools and size of canvases I could carry up and use. I was also still working under my self-imposed no brushes rule, so found myself ascending the hills in the early mornings with a backpack full of pastels, rollers, inks and palette knives. I learned to discard my daily life as I trudged up hills, away from the rivers I have painted so often, trying to disengage from everything apart from what was unfolding as I climbed.

I discovered quite quickly that using my palette knives worked the most successfully in helping to satisfy the need to urgently lay down the colours, and try to capture the immediacy of the visual drama in front of me. Using a knife forced me to commit to the scene as I was seeing it. Paradoxically, I felt I was able to render an unchangeability to a constantly changing landscape - in a way, honouring that moment in time in that landscape.

Joanna Dudson Scott
December 2015

* My grateful thanks to the farmers of Aschworth, The Barracks, Brookby & The Wrekin, for generously allowing me access through their properties, occasionally giving me and my gear a ride up the hills, and fitting me into their busy farm routines. I hope you like the results.