Abstraction has allowed me to find my own voice as an artist. When I moved to West Cornwall in 1997 I felt a need to paint more freely. I wanted to express movement, light and more importantly, energy. Rather than taking a static viewpoint, it was my aim to try and capture the sensation of moving through landscape – floating, feeling the power of wind and sea. There is a feeling here of living on the edge of the land and this encourages an incredible sense of freedom. During the last 15 years the Cornish coast has probably influenced my working practise more than anything else. This became particularly heightened when severe storms began hitting our shores last winter. Experiencing such extreme weather at first hand is both inspiring and frightening. Although I always observed at a safe distance, the 50 foot waves and roaring gale force winds still made a huge impact. Some mornings I would drive to Porthleven or Praa Sands and watch in awe, trying and absorb the sensation of it all. Then I would rush back to the studio, place a large canvas on the floor and try to capture that energy. Paint was squeezed and poured onto the canvas and worked with large brushes and palette knives. Once something of the moment had been captured it would then take months to gradually fine tune and refine the pieces. In Wild Sea I tried to capture the endless movement of the incoming tide. This piece aims to suggest the surge of the ocean, driven by gale force winds. The rhythm of the waves is almost hypnotic. At the same time I wanted to suggest the depth of the water and hint at a sandy beach in the foreground. In other words I am really trying to capture the sensation of being there at the moment. The softer light of Atlantic balances passing storm clouds with the circular form of an incoming wave. The red dot represents the red flag set out by lifeguards. I always associate these with danger and they appear quite often in my work.
The dynamics of the storm paintings are taken one step further in the group of large more abstract works. These are less tied down to recognisable motifs and essentially celebrate the force of life. Something we are all aware of but is very difficult to capture or describe. Discovery is the largest canvas in this exhibition and aims to fill the field of vision with an explosion of intensely coloured energy. It is intriguing that we all feel we know what reality is and yet images from the Hubble Telescope or a view of earth from the International Space Station make us aware of a very different viewpoint. In the same way paintings can be as much about emotion as portraying physical objects. These works allow me to convey something that is almost impossible to do in any other way.
In contrast the Landform series create a very different, much calmer atmosphere. For years I tried to avoid a recognisable horizon in my paintings, it seemed to tie the image down too much and make it obvious. Since moving from St Ives, now living further inland, I am much more aware of a softer, protected environment. Living here I definitely feel more connection with the land. The history of tin and copper mining in the area has made me much more aware of things happening beneath the surface too. In paintings such as Field of Gold there is a balance between surface and suggestion of strata, a sense of almost breaking through the earth’s crust to layers beneath.
The final and possibly more surprising group of paintings in this exhibition were inspired by a visit made to Hong Kong last October. I have always admired the oriental sparse sense of design and appreciation of colour and texture. So this, my first visit to the far east was not disappointing. Memory plays a large part in the way I work and because of this the smallest detail observed in the street can become just an important as a grand view. Hong Kong – Orchid was based on one of these details – in a very exclusive florist’s shop I noticed a stunning arrangement of a purple orchid set in moss. It was so simple but perfect and reflected something of the sense of style apparent everywhere. Some of the oldest buildings in Hong Kong are temples which often sit immediately next to huge skyscrapers. The brilliant colours and incense filled interiors of these buildings are suggested in Hong Kong – Temple and Hong Kong – Red Temple. The more contemporary side of the city can be seen in Hong Kong – Harbour. The closely packed steel and glass architecture of the city is very beautiful especially when viewed across the harbour from Kowloon. Other pieces were inspired by the colourful Temple Street Market and neon lit city streets.
In this, my third exhibition at Lemon Street Gallery the influences of east and west meet. It is important to develop and extend subject matter that remains constant source of inspiration for me but it is equally vital to seek new themes. As a painter I have always considered myself to be on a journey of discovery.
“Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.” Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, Nobel Prize winner 1937
Neil Canning March 2014.