Earthy medium and at one with the landscape

10 October 1997

Earthy medium and at one with the landscape

PASTORAL views are not featured in the landscapes painted by artist Jason Gathorne-Hardy. His images are a response to what he sees and feels and incorporate the very earth of the place he is painting.

Jason (29), who is a partner in a family farming business at Saxmundham, Suffolk, has painted professionally since 1993 but studied zoology and conservation biology at university.

"My father and grandfather were zoologists and I followed in the family tradition. I always loved wildlife and the outdoors but found myself to be working more in science. It came to a crisis point when I embarked on a masters degree," explains Jason, who dropped out of the course and started taking sketching trips along the Suffolk coast.

"I had always drawn and painted, and started the mud painting almost by chance when I added a bit of earth to colour the picture I was working on. Then I used the plants growing in it as a tool to work with," he recalls.

"I worked more and more and found a way of painting that expressed what I feel for the landscape, a real passion and excitement, expressed not in words but in materials."

His materials are mud mixed with Unibond to form paint and "brushes" which may be a bunch of twigs, rushes or even a feather that he finds where he is working.

"I find a site that feels right, one that is powerful and full of energy. I take a handful of soil and a handful of plants and start to work," says Jason.

&#42 Indian paper

Mostly he works straight onto board. but smaller pieces are done on Indian handmade paper. Painting is a very physical thing for him and he may walk on the picture, roll on it, beat it with alder twigs. "Some of this is frustration, it becomes a bit of a wrestling match," he says. "I am trying to wrestle something out of the materials. I have this need to connect."

The results are striking and sell from £600 for the smaller ones under glass to £2500 for the largest on board.

"People are surprised at the nature of the work. They come in expecting muddy prints but I am interested in the quality of the pigments and using them as the simplest paints for landscape work."

Another surprise is the range of colours. His first use of mud, from a river estuary, produced a blacky-brown, but slowly he came to realise the amazing colours that can be found. One of his latest works is orange. "That orange came from Hampshire from the soil round a chalk pit. It is a raw broken landscape that was somehow free and liberating," says Jason.

Making paint soil from is a very old practice. The burnt siennas and ochres in old paintings were made from soils round the Mediterranean but Jason doesnt know of anyone using earth in the way that he does.

His pictures are mounted on blocks to display them away from the wall. "They seem to die in conventional frames, this way they seem to float off the backing, it frees them."

&#42 Inspired by landscape

While many of his works have been inspired by the landscape of Suffolk and Essex, he has been working lately from a studio in Londons Battersea. He crosses the Thames each day to get to the studio from his house in Chelsea and is getting to know its ebb and flow. "Much of my work is connected with rivers, they are a very powerful feature, particularly the Thames," he explains, adding that his latest project has been based on the rivers of London.

Closer to his own roots is the River Alde, Suffolk, which passes through some of his farmland, and he is keen to walk from the source of the Alde to the sea, taking mud samples and making sketches for future works. "I would be very glad to hear from any farmers* with land that abuts the river, with a view to receiving permission to walk their land," says Jason.

He works by trying to tap into something within the landscape and feels very much concerned with the final image – a powerful strong finish. "But I dont want this to be the only way I am working. I want to find more of a story and tell more about what that work tells about the place," says Jason, who intends to show materials and working sketches, photographs and perhaps audio recordings alongside his pictures in future exhibitions.

Tessa Gates

&#8226 Inquiries: (0171-7302980)

Work by Jason can be seen at the Young Artists Exhibition, Nov 1-10 at Christies, St James, London.

Jasons crumbles mud into Unibond to produce the simplest paints for landscape work. The orange earth he is working with here is from Hants and was used on the painting behind him.

Powerful images evoked by the landscape and materials he finds there, express Jasons passion for the countryside.

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