Welcome to my blog. My name is Emma Green and I am an artist based in Woodbridge Suffolk. I have been commissioned to create a special artwork for the new premises of Suffolk Coastal District Council for their new premises at East Suffolk House. Here I aim to keep a written and visual diary of the painting I will be working on and the beautiful Suffolk river that inspires it.
“Pale beneath dark clouds, the winter sun descends. Across it’s shine the gulls patrol, while over marsh and saltings the oyster catcher’s call comes borne on salt-sharp wind.” – Ian Tait
The winter this year had seemed to go on and on. With tantalising glimpses of spring one day, then the daffodil stems smothered in snow and an icy north easterly howling down the river on the next.
With an equally cold studio progress was slow, with paint seemingly taking forever to dry. But on a rare sunny day in April, the big painting was dry and ready for another layer.
The boatyard was busy, with yard hands and boat owners keen to get their boats back in the water. The hammering, sawing, sanding, the crane and forklift engines beating their own tune, becoming part of the rhythm of the painting.
The boatyard in the painting is suggestive. I splash and smear the paint on – here the suggestion of a rooftop, and there a hull, a mast.
Scared that I will drop and damage it, I enlist some help to move the panels over to the window so I can check the surface in the light.
Out of the studio window the Lapwing are doimg their aerial dance, the males showing off now as they dive and roll and zig-zag to alert their presence to rival males and potential mates.
Knowing when a painting is finished can be hard. Ultimately the artist has to trust their instinct. I knew then as I looked at the huge painting dominating the studio wall, that it was finished.
Studio tunes of the day:
Eivør – Trøllabundin
Fairport Convention – Who Knows Where The Time Goes
‘Ambiguity to clarity, absence to presence,
and the hazy mysteries of nature’ James Fox
For my idea of the two linen panels for the painting and inspired by the segmented black framed windows of East Suffolk House, I have drawn on an art form dating back to sixteenth century Japan. Here artists worked on multiple contiguous surfaces, not only on small decorative screens and partitions but also on a magnificent scale and designed to enhance the architecture of the building in which it was placed.
Popular subjects included flowers, birds and sages from legend, but also most notably for me, landscape. Branches, hillsides and mountain streams flow from one panel to another in simple Zen-like style.
Hasegawa Tohaku’s mesmerising ‘Pine Trees in the Mist’ 1580 is one of Japan’s most famous and one of my favourites. The trees stand ethereal, their forms appearing in and out of the damp mountain fog. It was painted about one hundred years after Sesshu Toyu’s iconic ‘Splashed Ink Landscape’. In a recent television program James Fox discusses this ground breaking but remarkably humble painting which was the beginning of this unique aesthetic. The simplest brush marks and shifts in tone create a remarkable serene, shifting landscape three or four hundred years before Impressionism began visually exploring the landscape in such a way.
What strikes me most is the amount of space and light in composition. Areas of what appears as empty space are just as important as the areas of detail and it is this that exudes a calm meditative feel in works of this nature. It’s a characteristic I hope to capture in my own work.
‘Eastern Horizon’ Oil On Linen, Emma Green 2018
Horizons are placed low, leaving a large expanse of space and light in which to breathe. In my painting for East Suffolk House, the sky and light-filled river below will also take centre stage.
“Various winds, the Sea Wind, the sound-laden winds of Evening,
Blowing the stars towards them bringing snow”
from ‘Various Portents’ by Alice Oswald
Before the snow came, the towpath was lined with bare stems of Blackthorn and barbed Dog Rose. Only the vivid yellow of the Gorse enlivened the grey and the sparse winter landscape.
It won’t be long however before the Blackthorn and Cherry Plum will be in blossom, and then later, on long warm summer days, the Dog Rose, Sea Aster and Sea Lavender.
Blackthorn 1 – oil on copper
For now though, the riverbank and the far shore beyond are cloaked in ice stone snow, the Gulls, hungry, wheeling above. And the river, as ever, a beautiful place.
‘Now the warriors of winter they give a cold triumphant shout,
And all that stays is dying and all that lives is camping out.
See the geese in chevron flight flapping and racing on
before the snow’ Joni Mitchell
On the other side of the river, the land rises up, cloaked in trees. Scott’s Pines stand sentry, gazing down over the river. Here is Sutton Hoo, home to the legendary Anglo- Saxon ship burial and other earthen burial mounds which can just be seen on the horizon of the hill.
Apart from a couple buildings, I like to imagine that little has changed here. And it’s not just Sutton Hoo. The Suffolk coast is littered with clues to it’s past. Some have been taken by the sea but some like Barrow Hill ,which rises above Butley Creek, remain. It’s inhabited by cows now, signs of the excavations here 1978-81 still visible, their findings dating the site back to Neolithic and early Middle Bronze ages. These ancient sites contribute to the unique atmosphere of the coast here I think.
Back at the studio I am excited to find the big painting is dry and I am able to work another layer over the piece. Gently defining some of the clouds and a hint of branches on the trees. By the time I have finished it is almost dark and a gentle snow is falling.
I haul the painted panels into what little light is left. The boatyard and river has fallen quiet. On my stereo Kate Bush’s ‘Snowflake’ is playing.
‘I am Ice and Dust and Light, I am Sky….’
I look back at the painting, it is almost done.
I cycle to the studio along the tow path through mud and puddles. It’s freezing in the studio. No matter though, another jumper and a big flask of hot coffee does the trick. I gently touch the painting. Still wet. No work on the big painting today.
It’s one of those February days where the air is damp and still and it never feels like it has truly gotten light. The calls of the Oyster Catchers, Redshank and Curlew are eerie in the gloom. Later in the day as it starts to get dark, the trees on the other side of the river turn a deep slate blue and the white hulls of the bats in the yard gleam even brighter in a fleeting moment before the light vanishes. I love painting the river when it is on the cusp of nightfall, or since I have had my daughter, seeing the sunrise. At these times the river takes on a special quality as the day slips into night or that first gleam of light as another day begins.
Studio tunes of the day: Satie: Gnossiennes – 1. Lent
Kate Bush: And Dream Of Sheep
Today the sunlight is streaming through the windows of the studio. The tide is high and choppy and the wind is strong, rattling the halyards of the boats and creating an unearthly holler that whistles round the boatyard like a banshee. The sun shimmering on the water is dazzling and when I turn back to look at the painting it takes time to adjust to it’s subtle colours and tones.
Today, with the background now dry, I’m tackling another layer. Along with some thinner layers over the whole thing, I now need to add some thick impasto layers where the suggestion of the boatyard would be. It’s a little daunting as once dry these thicker textural areas are there for good and will shape the composition of the final piece.
Often the messiest stage of the painting, I am adding layers that you only want a glimpse of when the final coat goes on. Brushes ready I turn up the stereo and begin to mix the bowls of paint.
Studio tunes of the day – music to lose yourself in! :
James Blackshore ‘Cross’
Fever Ray ‘Coconut’
On a bright day I get the background down. I spend time carefully blending my colours, six of them in bowls. I’ve chosen a palette of Charcoal grey, burgundy, olive, and lighter hues of white, grey and a creamier colour to add some warmth. I love nothing better than painting twilight, or thunder storms brewing, but for this piece I want to keep the light predominantly calm and not to feel cold once it hangs in the light, bright space of the council reception.
I work quickly, instinctively, gradually covering both panels. At this stage there is little detail, only the rough shapes of trees, shore and sky. It’s a thrill to work so large and I love it, revelling in the freedom of moving swathes of colour around such a large surface and beginning to see a hint of what this painting will become. Once this first layer is complete, now follows a period of waiting for it to dry (at this time of year the studio is freezing, and drying times frustratingly long) before the next can begin.
Studio tune of the day: Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto ‘Emperor’ – this glorious piece always makes me feel energised! essential for gearing up to work big.