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.


August 2015

group exhibition at The Framing Rooms – Collingwood Street Nelson, August 2015.

Refraction (Port Ligar)

While working on this work I explored relationships between line and colour and how this affects form. “ Refraction” noun- the phenomenon of light being deflected in passing obliquely through the interface between one medium and another or through a medium of varying density.

The Eye of The Artist

This year something unexpected happened in my work. I abandoned my studio and set off on a new path. I also put aside my brushes and discovered different tools to put paint down and achieve the immediacy I was seeking. My most important tool however, became my eye, which led to the title for this exhibition. These works are about seeing and responding to my Marlborough environment.

After Passages  opened at the Millennium Gallery in December 2013, I felt the need for a new direction. For once, nothing was rushing in to fill the creative lull inevitably following an exhibition opening, and I found myself literally facing a blank canvas, and asking where to from here?

As always, nothing stands still, and I hosted a workshop led by Wayne Seyb early in 2014, which inspired me to get out of the studio, plant my easel outside and take another look at my backyard. To paint outside was a major change for me. I realised I had to work quickly, for lots of practical reasons, not only including the rapidly changing light, weather, unexpected gusts of wind, to name just a few of the challenges I hadn't experienced before in my calm studio.

But more than the limitations, I discovered a new way of seeing and responding to the everyday backdrop of my life. I feel as though I've had to learn to paint all over again - that everything I have worked at since Art School needed to be put aside. I have re-learnt to observe how the light falls onto the landscape, how my eye sees that, and how I respond by applying colour to my board or canvas. I have forced myself to stop and truly observe until I have a clear visual understanding of what is in front of my easel. This is the essence of my work this year, and these studies are my response to what I see around me. I have moved away from the paramounce of form.

My new routine is to load paints, boards and tools into the back of the car and set out for the day to remote places. I observe then attempt to capture my response to the places I find myself in. I have learned that if I go back to the studio and tinker with the work, I lose the immediacy of my response, so all these studies have been completed on location, sometimes after several visits at the same time of day. I have also discovered other tools besides my brushes - all of these works have been painted either with pallette knives or pieces of reinforced card, to achieve the desired marks.

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