Friday, 11 May 2018

Andrew Cowdell, Snow at Hermitage, 2018

Andrew Cowdell, Snow at Hermitage, 2018, oil on board, 10 x 8 inches

My low-key paintings are defined by their subdued tones and colour mixtures that tend towards neutral browns, greens and greys. They seem a natural progression from my earlier monochrome works and allow me to explore the possibilities of a limited palette. It is precisely these sober tones which propel these landscapes into the gloomy, contradictory universe of romanticism. This of course makes sense as they bear witness to my admiration for Corot, Courbet and Friedrich. It is possibly my preoccupation with 19th Century painting that is somehow channelling timelessness into these paintings. They are imbued with a quality which seems to owe very little to our present epoch and, on reflection, these landscapes are totally devoid of people. It may well suggest that our information age is enticing people away from nature. However, I think nature will cope.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Gustave Doré, Sister of Charity Saving a Child, Episode in the Siege of Paris, 1871

Gustave Doré, Sœur de la Charité sauvant un enfant, 1871, 38 x 51 inches

Gustave Doré's engravings won him worldwide recognition as one of the foremost illustrators of his time and yesterday at Tate Britain we were given a rare opportunity to stand nose to canvas with this fine example of his oil painting. The scene shows the awful human cost of the siege of Paris, when the French capital was encircled by Prussian troops after Napoleon III's surrender on 2 September 1870. Whilst other artists fled, Doré joined the National Guard to defend the capital. Here, painting that winter, he seems to be recording a scene that he had actually witnessed. He shows a nun carrying a child to safety along a snowy blood-stained street, by a wall which might belong to the religious house where she hopes to take the child. A part of the city burns behind her, and someone sprawls wounded on the pavement further back. Ahead of her, a jagged piece of shrapnel lies on the snow, and at the side is a large bloodstain. The painting showcases Doré's unique vision as both fine artist and illustrator.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Andrew Cowdell, Winter, 2018

Andrew Cowdell, Winter, 2018, oil on board, 10 x 8 inches

My study of the French School of Painting has taught me a very valuable lesson - that a painter's worth is less dependent on the technique than on the vision. With this in mind, I am distancing myself from the static hyperrealist approach of my youth by unpicking years of illustrative habits. As I proceed devotedly onwards I realise increasingly how important it is to subject technique to one's personal vision.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Andrew Cowdell, Oiseau de Dieu (Wren), 2018

Andrew Cowdell, Oiseau de Dieu (Wren), 2018, oil on board, 7 x 5 inches

In Normandy, the wren could be called Oiseau de Dieu (Bird of God). People believed that this bird was present at the birth of Christ, and brought moss and feathers to form a coverlet for the Holy Child. In other parts of the world, the wren was also regarded as a symbol of wisdom and divinity. The spotting of a wren could be taken as a sign that the beholder would be blessed with inner knowledge during the coming year. Finding a creature so small and camouflaged in its habitat was a metaphor for finding the elusive divinity within all life.
We are lucky enough to have a wren who is a regular visitor to our garden. When I spy this tiny creature bobbing between flower pots in pursuit of insects, I too pause to reflect on the wren's secretive life which so often goes unnoticed.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Andrew Cowdell, Abandoned paintings

Half-finished canvases by Andrew Cowdell

These abandoned canvases are reminders of moments when, for whatever reasons, my vision was racing ahead of execution. During these times fears arise - is it a good composition? will it be worth the time or the effort? who will appreciate it? But what separates artists from ex-artists is that those who challenge their fears, continue; those who don't, quit. I have since acknowledged that vision is always ahead of execution, mastery of materials is my only contact with reality, and uncertainty is a virtue.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Andrew Cowdell, Corvid, 2018

Andrew Cowdell, Corvid, 2018, oil on board, 10 x 8 inches

The raven is, in my view, the most imposing species of the family Corvidae. It is easy to see how people, struck by the intensity and completeness of the raven's plumage, might conclude that this bird must also be black on the inside - be black at heart. But look closer at the gloss and brilliancy of this corvid and you will notice the sharp sculpted feathers which, in certain light, glow iridescent with purple. The raven is not so black, in this respect, as he is painted. He may transform into an ideal of beauty, to which it would be a delicate compliment to compare the dark eyes or hair of a loved one.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Andrew Cowdell, The way home, 2017

Andrew Cowdell, The way home, carbon and watercolour
The path tears through hedgerows across Bothampstead and cuts across fields toward the outskirts of Hermitage village. The familiar tree has become a symbolic signpost on a walk I've enjoyed countless times. It tells of home, journey's end, a couple of easygoing miles beyond the brow.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Andrew Cowdell, Dawn, 2017

Andrew Cowdell, Dawn, 2017, carbon and watercolour, 7 x 9"

These early morning sessions enable me to capture that sense of stillness when trees and fields are wet with the morning dew and the light of the breaking day has not reached its full intensity. The atmosphere created is both romantic and realistic.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Andrew Cowdell, Two crows at dawn, 2016

Andrew Cowdell. Two crows at dawn. 2016. Oil on linen.

My fascination with darkness requires an idea of light. In Two crows at dawn, the beauty of morning’s first light is matched by the eeriness generated by the arresting, black, thorn-like tangle of trees within the hedgerow. This traumatised landscape is a realm that snags, bites and troubles, and yet still invokes the pastoral dream of natural tranquillity. Beauty is envisaged here as William Blake’s “marriage of the contraries”, dependent upon both positive and negative aspects of existence.

The darkness of the setting serves as a representation of the Other, or the Unknown, which subtly imbues the scene with a sense of the supernatural. In subverting the aesthetic certainties of the usual green and pleasant Berkshire countryside, I am simultaneously identifying with both the picturesque and sinister presences within it. Presences which may include fiscal forces churning and poisoning the landscape; evidenced in the painting by tyre marks along the field margin. Alternatively, ‘absences’ may refer to the slow grinding away of our flora and fauna as species are lost; the two sentinel ‘carrion’ crows sent forth by vengeful nature. This landscape may even have its phantoms, lying or waiting where they fell or were taken at some unspecified time in history. And yet, all this darkness depends on the corresponding light of dawn as the beauty of the landscape reawakens.

But ultimately, I shall leave it to your own interpretation.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Théophile Alexandre Steinlen, Chat au clair de lune, c1900

Theophile Alexandre Steinlen, Chat au clair de lune, c1900
Théophile Alexandre Steinlen, (1859-1923) was a French painter and printmaker who lived in Montmartre, Paris. He painted and drew many studies of cats including the now famous poster art for Le Chat Noir. Steinlen’s drawing Chat au clair de lune, c1900, includes symbolist elements of witchcraft and paganism. The abstraction of the tree creates a primeval silhouette which posits the ‘familiar’ cat between the moon and an ancient mound on the horizon.