Artist brings the Fens to life

Artist Joss Goodchild has been documenting a fenland year on a Cambridgeshire farm.

She approached Lords Ground Farm for a year’s “residency” and the response was immediately positive from this commercial arable farm that forms part of the Greens of Soham enterprise.

Joss is now in the final stages of the project, with the 485ha unit having offered total access to her by foot, vehicle and even her horse. They also helped out with the provision of tours, maps, meetings and frequent Q&A emails.

Joss has always painted the countryside. A career within the horseracing industry was interrupted by a five-year spell on a remote sporting estate in the West Highlands.

She returned to East Anglia and undertook formal art training. Her degree “Final Piece” depicted a bird’s-eye study of 20 symmetrical fen fields and their crops. This abstract interpretation reflected a growing awareness of land geometrics and farming rhythms.

These elements continue to influence her work today. She finds the man-made lines and patterns that are so obvious in the fens particularly fascinating – rows of poplar trees, grids of rivers, ditches, dykes and lodes, the bisections of roads and boundaries, the regular repeating patterns of young crops, the marks a farmer and his machinery make upon the land.

Travelling from home, she has focused mainly on crop rotation, machinery and wildlife.

“I find turning from the fen into the farm itself hugely enjoyable, the avenue approach through oaks and evergreens leads you into a ‘world within a world’. The farm has energy, there’s always a tractor in the distance but one still gets a sense of peace and privacy.”

Watercolour paintings are created from observational drawings supported by photographs, notes and sketches. The scale of these is perhaps influenced by her tiny studio, an outside washhouse that husband Martin converted into a working space.

“I have a desire for accuracy in my paintings, the beet or turf harvester need to be recognisable; I often return to the farm for further observation. I realise I am becoming an illustrator and recorder rather than a fine artist.”

The seasons and dramatic fen weather also influence Joss’ work. “A fen blow is a pretty exciting phenomenon whereby strong winds whip a layer of peat from the fields into blackout.”

Further subject matter is provided by an abundance of wildlife. Farm cover belts give shelter to game birds, the reservoir holds a variety of fish, plus harriers, buzzards and kestrels are commonplace.

Corvids, woodpeckers, goldfinch and pied wagtails abound; barn owls, lapwing, and mute swans are also evident.

During 2014, Joss aims to produce a book of paintings detailing her fenland year, and an exhibition will follow in July. 

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