An exploration of landscape

Watercolour artists in the Villuercas Mountains (Martin Kelsey)

It was a summer that seemed never-ending, but the plunge into autumn, although a good month later than last year, has nevertheless been dramatic. Warm and sunny weather had three interregnums over sucessive weekends of rain. For the last two weeks we have hosted budding watercolour artists on a landscape painting course run by Peter Delahaye and during that time, each day in different settings, we explored by observation the shapes, shades and shadows that comprise landscape. Ever since my childhood, thanks in part to my father and also to the freedoms to explore, to discover and nurture patience, I strive to feel landscape, its myriad of parts and how they sum together. Watching for movement, picking up sound and colour. My media have been the pen and a camera and so it was an adventure to take the artists to our carefully selected sites and witness their own encounters with Extremadura.

Amongst the olives (Martin Kelsey)
From the challenge of interpreting slopes that descend and then rise, carrying ancient olive trees with their anguished trunks, to the proportions of distant mountains seen across undulating plains, the reflections of rock emerging from peaceful pools to folded strata multi-coloured by lichens, I watched as palettes were worked to find the colours that lay before us. And over the two weeks of painting, so the colours themselves changed. It seems nothing short of a miracle the transformation that is Extremadura's autumn. By the end of the first week, tiny green grass shoots had started, like shards of glass, to cut through the barren soil, emerging through the criss-cross of grey-blond dry vegetation, remnants of a distant spring. As the second week finished, the landscape bore a fresh green wash. The preciously ephemeral Autumn Snowflakes and Autumn Squills which had been early messengers of the change to come were now joined by vast swards of Serotine Narcissus, white carpets lying between the evergreen oaks of the dehesas.

Autumn Snowflake (Martin Kelsey)
For me nothing has epitomised the change so well as the onset of a passionate, almost melancholic, liquid song that has poured from the sky. The autumnal song of Woodlarks, delivered by these stubby-tailed, small larks on a wide, slow-circling flight had greeted us from above the house as we set off each morning and then at every stop we made in places of open woodland, olive groves and dehesas. There has been an urgency in their singing, so the birds have been aloft against both clear blue skies and in heavily overcast conditions too. I cannot stop myself, ever, from pausing to soak-in the sheer simple and poignant beauty of this sound.

As all good and patient observation does, the encounters the artists had with landscape became a personal exploration too. For some it had been the first time they had painted since childhood, indeed the first ever some claimed. The results were a fascinating mixture of figurative and abstract approaches, drawn from the encouragement to explore and experiment. It was a reconnection with self and careful witness of the dynamic of natural landscape.

On the edge of the plains (Martin Kelsey)


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