How the barnscapes began

I have been working on the barnscape series for over ten years now, although the initial inspiration began to develop some time before that. Old buildings, particularly ‘functional’ buildings have always caught my attention and have featured in my drawings and paintings. About twenty years ago, my then wife (Sheila) and I acquired a painting by New York artist (and friend) Kyle Gallup. The subject was a brightly painted barn, yellow walls with a near black, half-hipped roof. This was one of a series Kyle had produced, all of which we admired.

Kyle gallup Barn painting

Ten years or so later, while at the Frankfurt Book Fair, I came across a calendar with twelve photographs of work by German artist Udo Mathee. He had roughly fashioned house shapes out of blocks of wood, left these outdoors to ‘weather’, allowing the blocks to twist and split, then painted them in bright colours.

Udo Mathee calendar001

I thought these very attractive and brought back a publicity leaflet which I showed to my children, whereupon daughter Hannah, with a forthcoming birthday, asked if I could make wooden houses for friends to paint at her party. I made sixteen, cutting them from off-cuts of pine. I enjoyed making them – and the party guests enjoyed painting them (still treasured possessions for some, I understand). It then occurred to me that I could make and paint a barn to emulate the one in Kyle Gallup’s painting. In the painting, only two of the walls are visible, so I had to use some imagination to create the non-visible parts. This was the first ‘artist’s barn sculpture’ or ‘barnscape’. (Actually, I am still working on it. I haven’t yet matched the colour of the sidewall, although it is not as far out as appears in the photo in the top strip – that was an earlier iteration). As it seemed to work out quite well, I was inspired to create more. Thus the barnscape project – making and painting barns in the style of a known artist – was born.

Initially, I looked around for other artists’ barns, studying originals in galleries or reproductions of the work of the masters, both for any barns appearing in their work and for style. Cézanne, van Gogh, Turner, Constable and Stubbs all had barns I could work from. Of course, not all artists whose work I admired were landscape painters, and even those who were did not frequently feature barns in their paintings. But why not just paint barns in the style of an artist? So added to the existing list were artists like Rothko, Riley, Pollock, Lichtenstein, Magritte – and even Tracy Emin, and Hergé – an ever lengthening list of inspiration to draw upon.

I have also been ‘collecting’ actual barns for a good number of years – in photographs, or in sketches and descriptive notes. Initially, these were simply to inspire shapes of barns to carve, or for their colourings. But it then occurred to me that some of the more dilapidated barns would perhaps not last as structures. I ought to record some in ‘portraits’ if I could. This required more detailed study, obtaining images of all sides, and more exact representation, both of form and appearance. Fortunately, a long training in producing detailed artwork for illustrations (I owe a great deal to the late Bob Chapman) stood me in very good stead. Nevertheless, ‘brush ruling’ on angled surfaces was a new skill to acquire. It is maybe not surprising to learn that a great deal of time and effort goes into the creation of the barns. More of that in a blog to follow.

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