Participation in Landscape Artist of the Year
In your Face West Wycombe, Screen Art and Sky Icons
The period of intense preparation was over. I knew things could go wrong on the day but felt I was ready. I’d arrived at West Wycombe Park at 7am the morning of the heat, having left my wife and daughter at our hotel in Great Missenden.
West Wycombe House car park was a hive of activity with a queue of cars to get in and lots of wild card artists waiting. A special trailer was brought over for me and all my printing equipment and it took me to the pods.
I should have taken more notice of the Sky team’s knack for selecting challenging vistas. I convinced myself they would put the pods near West Wycombe Park lake with long views and interesting reflections. Instead we were on a sort of amphitheatre shaped sloping lawn close up to the façade of the house. It was like having to sit in the front row of a cinema with the action uncomfortably close.
I set up my equipment. Although all went according to plan it took a fair while, with interruptions and things to sort out with the production team. I was hoping to have more spare time to think about my composition. Tai-Shan Schierenberg introduced himself and we discussed the challenging view.
Various little things came up to test my composure. As well as a forgotten razor and no shave I was told the production team was worried about copyright of my T shirt with an image of a Rembrandt self-portrait on the front. I had my T shirt on inside-out for the rest of the day. The weather threatened problems. A warm dry day with cloud in the morning was forecast but instead there was a light drizzle and grey sky.
It was once I was well in to getting ready that I got to meet Nelda. She was my main contact with the production team and we’d gone on quite a journey together prior to the day working out the challenges of how I was going to fit my print studio in a pod and how they were going to film it. Her role on the day was to interview me a number of times and oversee the filming. It was fascinating working with her and seeing her concentrating on her job and picturing in her mind how the filming and my answers would come across.
All was ready and we were allowed to start shortly after 10am. My plan was to emphasise the receding geometric perspective of the house, the dominant yellow of its façade, the contrast with the organic form of a big tree to its right, and uniform green of the lawn in front. A red tree beyond the house caught my interest and I decided to see if I could draw this out through the tree in the foreground and mirror softer tones of red in the house. I also wanted to incorporate my icons of CO2 and Covid images in the sky. I was aiming for it to be noticeable but not dominant, an oblique reflection to the context of the times.
I decided to be ambitious and to print four colours in the first print – the grey sky with my icons, the green grass and two shades of red for the background tree, pedestals for the statues in front of the house and one of the walls, to balance and pick up on the red tree in the background. I’d allowed myself around an hour and 20 minutes to complete the first print but it was closer to two hours before it was set and I was started to get in a panic. I let Nelda know I was ready to print and Kate Bryan came over to see. When they saw my sky icons there was a moment of worry as the series position was not to refer to Covid. Kate pointed out it was part of my concept for the work and it was let be and I set too.
It was a difficult first print layer trying to fit in all the colours in one go and keep everything registered and in order. Kathleen Soriano was watching and said how gorgeous the colours were. I thanked her but don't think I really took it in while concentrating on the printing. (see preview clip on my News & Blog page). The sky icons did not come out as crisply as in my preparation prints. It went well enough though to still be in line with my plan, provided I could catch up on time.
Lunch was called but I pressed on without a break. The whole set was thankfully quiet and calm and I worked away with the block-out paint in preparation for my second layer. I gradually relaxed as I absorbed myself in what I wanted to convey and realised I could catch up on lost time. Before leaving my hotel that morning I’d forced down an unappetising breakfast and this together with adrenalin kept me going. I let the production team know I was ready for my second layer and we all set too. This time I printed the yellow of the house and light green of the tree on the right. I decided to print the colours without a card divider between them on the screen to keep the different inks apart – not something I’d tried before so a risk. It worked out okay and I was feeling increasingly confident things were going on track and I’d do myself justice.
I set to again and prepared the next layer on my screen with the block-out paint. This was going to be for the dark green of the tree and dark brown of the house. While working on this I was invited down to talk with Joan Bakewell. She was engaging and we discussed my ‘A35 Through Chideock’ picture and the issues of a possible by-pass, congestion and pollution it highlighted.
I was ready for my last print layer and Stephen Mangan came over to watch. All went well and I had four prints all of similar quality ready to choose from. I had time to add in a few touches of purple flowers and have a quick look at the other artists working on their pictures. We were all asked to stop and stand back from our work. The hard part was over.
I had a bit of time to start clearing up but we were then called round the other side of the house to wait while the judges looked at our work. Luckily I took most of the lunch with me we’d been given earlier. It was tasty and welcome. By this time the weather had cleared up and we sat in the warm afternoon. It was nice getting to know the other artists and find out about their backgrounds.
We were called round to the side of the house to hear who had been shortlisted. I was hoping to get through but was expecting to be kept in suspense. However slightly disconcertingly my name came up first. I was though delighted to in with a chance.
The shortlisted artists were taken back to the front of the house for more waiting and interviews on how we were feeling and what we thought about our chances. My work was different to the oil paintings of the other two shortlisted artists, Clare and Dawn. I was the only artists that had explicitly included a wider social theme to both my West Wycombe print and my original submission. I felt my work also had a distinctive approach to colour and composition. I hoped the pictures would draw the viewer in to explore them at different levels. Nelda asked me whether screenprinting was a creative art form in the same was as oil painting. I pointed out that many of Andy Warhol’s iconic pictures were screenprints.
We were called back to be ready to hear the final decision. I knew as we waiting I hadn’t been selected – I caught a glimpse of the judges and they were not clustered around my pictures. It was Clare who was chosen. She’d taken the decision to focus in on part of the house and create a strong feel for the building and space and I think this was one thing that counted in her favour.
It was then back for a de-briefing interview. I was disappointed with the decision but very positive about the overall experience and great professionalism from the Sky team.
In the following few weeks it sunk in what an intense experience it had been. It took quite a while to wind down. Overall it was a great opportunity and I think my art has evolved and been pushed forward by the challenge. I hope people like the work that has come out of it and the questions about our landscape, the way we look at it and our role in it that I’m trying to illuminate.
I wrote above before seeing the show and hearing what the judges had to say. The programme was brilliantly put together and hopefully people enjoyed it. I agree with Kate Bryan's criticism that there was too much detail in places on my picture. In particular the plants and statues on the patio didn't work out as I'd wanted. I thought though this was a relatively minor point compared to the overall strengths of the picture. I'll be taking the idea of selective simplifying of my compositions on board in future work.
There's a stop motion clip of me preparing my print on the Sky Arts web site under Episode Five, Series 6: