Friday, September 08, 2006
I was bowled over by a twin site exhibition at the Quarr Gallery and at the Rectory Classroom in Swanage. The painter was Stephen Bishop and the exhibition was called "Images of a Purbeck Summer". Normally, I think I would have given an event with such a title a bit of a miss; I think I've seen just about all the views of Old Harry and Studland beach that I care to see. But this was something different. These paintings were, indeed, of the iconic views but they were painted with such energy and commitment that you couldn't but be rocked backwards by the effect. The paint was thick and layered from bright greens and blues and purples. The horizons slanted and swayed. It looked as though the artist was attacking the Purbeck landscape. A whole room full of these works and you really got something from the place that is usually missed by the chocolate box painters. You got a sense of the underlying force of nature, the oppressive summer heat of the heath, the cutting wind, the angry waves. The picture for me was of a single heathland tree, angled by the wind standing in a sea of gorse and heather with a brilliant blue streak of hills in the distant background. If anyone wanted an image of Hardy's Egdon Heath. This was it.
Astonishingly, Stephen Bishop is a warm, friendly person; happy to talk about his work. Not precious at all. And, incredibly, the paintings are made en plein air. He sets up his easel and he gets the paint and sand and anything else adjacent onto the canvas until he's finished and then he stops.
Congratulations Stephen Bishop and also Keith and Jane at Quarr gallery for letting us see this fantastic display.