Above – Silver Walk, Ardnamurchan. Oil on 34 by 24 inch wood. Rose Strang 2022.
This painting is the first in a series I’m creating for an exhibition which launches 12th June at the Resipole Gallery in Ardnamurchan. The show will feature work by myself and landscape artist Jim Wright.
It’s such a pleasure to create a series for the Resipole as it means I get the chance to travel up to Ardnamurchan for inspiration. It’s a beautuful part of Scotland, quite remote and unspoiled, though these days there are more visitors than when I first came, in 1992.
I was entranced by the ancient forest of birch and oak growing all the way down to the sea, and of course Castle Tioram, which featured in my Planet Narnia paintings inspired by the book Planet Narnia, and the cosmos as understood in the Medieval imagination.
I wrote about the forests of Ardnamurch in 2018, exploring the idea of a community of trees and the discovery by scientist Suzanne Simmard that trees ‘talk’ or communicate as an eco-system, through mycelium – a complex root system of fungus that sends ‘signals’ from tree to tree.
Wandering through the forests of Ardnamurchan, you really feel the alive-ness of the forests here, many of which have been left untouched for hundreds of years. In the case of Ariundel oak forest in east Ardnamurchan, thousands of years!
So in this new series, I’m tackling a subject I’ve long wanted to paint – the Silver Walk near Castle Tioram. We went there a couple of weeks ago in early May, a time at which the forest is at its most vibrant I think. It was shimmeringly beautiful, luminous in fresh green leaves and the seas reflecting cerulean blue skies. Sometimes when I’m in a place like this I feel almost overwhelmed – my mind, emotions and senses being flooded with luminous colour. It felt idyllic too that it was warm enough to sit there in a T-shirt and paint some sketches!
I think my painting above is a good start, I want to keep it loose and light in feel to express the feeling of Ardnamurchan in May.
I’ll be posting the paintings as they’re created every couple of days. In the meantime, here are a few photos of us in Ardnamurchan this May! ..
Above; Sutton Hoo Series. River Deben. Oil on 16.5 x 23.4 inches. Rose Strang 2021
This is the first of a series of paintings inspired by Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, England. The series will be on exhibition at the Limetree Gallery, Long Melford from August 2021.
I was inspired first of all by the film, The Dig which tells the story of the excavation of Saxon burial mounds in Suffolk called Sutton Hoo. Almost everyone I know has watched the film but for those who haven’t; the film follows the story of Edith Pretty, a widower and owner of land that includes Sutton Hoo – un-excavated burial mounds thought to be Viking. She pays local archaeologist Basil Brown to explore the mounds and very quickly he discovers that they are earlier and far rarer than Viking – in fact Anglo Saxon in origin.
I thought the film was a wonder of cinematography, capturing the dreamlike landscape of Suffolk in all its subtlety. It was also a poetic and moving meditation on what makes life meaningful.
Since I was visiting Suffolk to meet my partner’s family, we visited Sutton Hoo while there. I’d already decided to paint the landscape, and thanks to The Dig I had some foreknowledge of the history of the mounds. I knew too that seeing the place in person might be a disappointment. A talented camera-person captures landscape at its best, in the misty light of dawn for example or a glowing sunset. I knew I might have to bring considerable imagination to our exploration!
As it happened though, it was a perfect, warm sunny evening with almost no one around. We looked at the mounds – surrounded by hawthorn, pine trees and tufty grass, on which numerous rabbits were enjoying their dinner. The house that belongs to Edith Pretty is still there – Tranmer – sitting on top a hill overlooking the River Deben.
To get down to the river we walked through some woods, past leafy ponds and over a grass bank. The River Deben winds all the way from a village called Debenham down to the coast of Suffolk like a silver snake, becoming wider as it reaches the sea. Where it broadens out there’s a small town called Woodbridge, known for its Tide Mill and tranquil views across the water.
The west bank (Woodbridge side) of the river is busy with boats, houses and cafes, but the east bank, where you find Edith Pretty’s house and the Sutton Hoo mounds, is very quiet. We saw just a few people as we wandered along the riverside. It felt dreamlike, gentle – hidden or secret even. I began to see why people might choose this spot as a place to bury their dead.
Sutton Hoo wasn’t a simple cemetary for everyday people though, the (unplundered) mounds contained jewels, helmets, swords, textiles and various objects that would have been extremely valuable. The theory is that Burial Mound 1 was the grave (or perhaps Cenotaph) ofKing Rædwald. He was descended from the Wuffinga dynasty and would have been a powerful leader. He ruled from about 599 to 624 but very little remains of Anglo Saxon belongings or history, thanks partly to later Viking raids.
The Saxons were also a sea-faring people though and Burial Mound 1 was found to contain an entire ship, in which the grave objects were contained. No obvious body was discovered, but there were chemical remains suggesting a body had been there.
What also interests me is that Rædwald lived in a time when people in Britain were encouraged to adopt Christianity and monotheism as their religion. Rædwald’s burial mound contained a bowl that was typically Christian in theme and design, but most of the objects were typical of an Anglo Saxon burial. In fact Bede tells us that Rædwald did adopt the Christian religion towards the later part of his reign, but it’s likely this was more a a political move than a spiritual change of heart.
I don’t say that in a cynical sense, but more because it benefitted leaders to adopt Christianity since Rome was so powerful. Rædwald’s wife (whose name was unknown) was described by Bede as Pagan. Rædwald must have felt conficted. There’s a story that describes how she rebuked him for his lack of morality in one particular situation – so-called Pagans had a code of ethics too of course!
The above is a very cursory run-through of history I’ve picked up from The Dig and reading through Wikipedia, but the question that intrigued me most was – why did they choose this particular landscape for these prestigious burial mounds? I came across a website by someone called Lindsay Jacob (http://underlyndenchurch.com/) who describes a little about Anglo Saxon beliefs. It reminded me a lot of the research I’d done during my Arthur’s Seat Sacred Wells painting series. Landscape itself was spiritual and sacred in ancient cultures. They believed that certain places were liminal – places seen as ‘in-between’ or as some people might describe it – where there’s ‘a thin veil between heaven and earth’. These places were usually hills, streams, rivers, certain trees and so on.
Sitting on the banks of the River Deben the water looked calm as a mill pond, reflecting a milky sky. It looked to me as though if I removed the land there’d be nothing to differentiate sky from water – a band of grassy land off the river bank looked like it was floating in space. I tried to capture that in my painting above.
I’ll write more about Sutton Hoo in the next blog post in a few days when I post the next painting.
‘Seagull, St Ronan’s Bay. (Isle of Iona)’. Mixed media on 16×12″ wood panel. Rose Strang 2018
Just 11 days to go until the launch of the new three-artist exhibition Texture, at the Limetree Gallery in Bristol!
The private view is on Sat’ 15th September from 11am to 3pm. I hope if you’re in the area you’ll drop in to see the work, which includes beautiful paintings by Vivienne Williams RCA and Henry Jabbour, also my recent paintings of Iona (see below).
Two have sold (Iona I and Iona II) also several by Henry Jabbour and Vivienne Williams, so if you’re interested in buying and don’t want to miss the opportunity, give the gallery a ring and they’ll reserve the work for you (contact details on link below)
The Limetree in Bristol is a lovely gallery next to the waterside, with large windows that bring in plenty of natural light – have a look at this link to Google maps which gives a 3D view of the space –
I’m very pleased to introduce you to Jennifer L William’s response in poetry to one of my recent Lindisfarne paintings.
In this video she recites a poem in response to ‘Stormy Sky, Lindisfarne’..
It always feels magical to me when Jennifer plucks poetic inspiration from a painting, and draws viewers in to the meaning behind the image.
This is Jennifer’s personal response, but as with previous poems it gets to the heart of what I wanted to paint and communicate. In an earlier blog I spoke about the process of visiting an island like Eigg or Lindisfarne, as a painter. There’s a wish to be more present, or to see beyond the obvious, I described it in an earlier post as peeling back layers.
Jennifer’s poem takes this further, and expresses in words what I try to explore in paint. This line from her poem; When you write to the light, you write beyond the grave expresses to me the idea that we can only perceive with our limited human senses, and in the process of responding as a painter, or poet, you hope to see beyond your own thoughts, beyond a mirror.
The final line; you are the light could be read in a spiritual sense, or in the sense that we are the light, we make landscape what it is, or project our thoughts on to it. It makes me think of Shelley’s poem Mont Blanc;
..and what were thou, and earth, and stars and sea, if to the human mind’s imaginings, silence and solitude were vacancy?
Contemplating Jennifer’s poem has been a pleasure (especially on these dark winter evenings!). Tomorrow I’ll post a second poem and video, in response to the recent painting ‘Castle Point, Lindisfarne’.