Beside The Wave
Kerry Harding is a painter whose semi-abstracted work is inspired by an everyday intimacy with the Cornish landscape. Ahead of her solo exhibition at Falmouth's Beside The Wave Gallery this September, she tells us what fires her creativity both in and out of the studio.
Words by Mercedes Smith
'A white canvas is nothing to me, I don't recognise it, I don't know it' Kerry Harding tells me at her Krowji studio. It is a curious but telling comment, which after our interview, I realise, is the most poignant of all her quotes. It is shorthand for everything she tells me next. 'Working and reworking a canvas makes me familiar with it' she continues. 'Familiarity is so important in my work, in the studio and outside of it. I literally can't bring brush to canvas to paint a tree I don't see daily.'
With a BA from the Ruskin School of Art, Oxford, a Masters in Fine Art Painting from Falmouth and an art career that has seen her shown in the UK, Australia, America and South Africa, Kerry is making her mark on the contemporary definition of landscape painting. In contrast to the traditional idea of landscape painting as a response to the sudden discovery of an inspirational view, Kerry's paintings specifically define her long-term relationship with places and things.
'My work is about noticing - and not noticing - the things I encounter every day. I have to see things again and again over a long period of time to bring them into my work.' Those things, whose shapes are soaked into the surfaces of her canvases like ghostly photo negatives, are details synonymous with Cornwall - wind bent trees, yellow gorse, concrete beach steps, ploughed fields, blasted clifftops and the elegant, industrial silhouettes of aqueducts and bridges. Devoid of the prettiness some expect from landscape work, they nevertheless have an uncensored, blunt beauty that is more real, and therefore more appealing perhaps, to those of us with a love for the landscape of Cornwall as it really is.
'The immediate, familiar landscape of my home on the north coast inspires me most. I run or walk the same route near St Agnes every day, from the village, through the woodlands, down along the coast path and back up again. It's not work, I do it for necessity in the morning or the evening, to keep fit or simply walk the dog, but it has given me a particular intimacy with the landscape there. Creatively, I will become more aware of a route that repeatedly offers me the same viewpoints. The trees that inhabit my daily run, for example, are the constants that anchor my sense of place. After fifteen years of passing them every single day, they have become like friends and family to me. It is my ongoing relationship with these visually familiar things that inspires me to paint.'
This same need for familiarity, or what Kerry refers to as 'history', also extends to her working practice. Rejecting the neutrality and emptiness of the aforementioned white canvas, she works on the reverse side of old paintings, or prepares her surfaces by painting and erasing marks repeatedly until an abstracted image or sense of composition settles in.
'My experience of landscape is mirrored in the way I paint' says Kerry. 'Old paintings are continuously revisited and reworked here in my studio. Finished canvases like these may have spent months, sometimes years as unfinished works. We have history, these paintings and me, these places and me. I work from memory and from photographs, and I paint, and then strip it all off again to leave only a shadow of what was there before. Then I will layer new applications of paint over the remaining marks, the paint stains and traces of past images, and repeat that process again and again. I enjoy the 'hot and cold' of it, the on and off, the random reworking of the canvas until the image becomes whole. I see it as a poetic balance of extremes - old and new, faint and bold, fast and slow. What I'm looking for is the richness of expression that comes from working a surface over and over again. A finished painting must have that history - those years of walking or running the same route through the landscape, reflected in the making and unmaking of the image.'
Her preoccupation with trees, the shapes of which appear throughout her work as stains, outlines or crisp, two dimensional forms, recently led to her membership of the acclaimed Arborealists group. This international group of fifty painters was founded in 2013 after the critical success of the exhibition Under the Green Wood : Picturing the British Tree, at St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery, Hampshire, which presented a historical review of artists including celebrated nineteenth and twentieth century painters John Constable, Paul Nash and Paul Sanby, alongside work by contemporary artists, who have given trees, forests and woods special value in their work.
'I've painted the same three trees repeatedly over the last few years without, perhaps, fully realising their significance to my work. Becoming a member of the Arborealists gives me the opportunity to develop what has become a common motif in my work, and exhibit alongside painters I've admired throughout my career. It's the start of an exciting new chapter in my work.'
Article featured in Cornwall Today: September 2017
Please join us for the Private View of Kerry's solo show on Friday 1st September, 6 - 8pm.
Beside The Wave
Falmouth Gallery: Open Monday - Saturday 10:00am - 5:00pm | Sunday 11:30am - 4:00pm | Bank Holidays 11:00am - 4:30pm