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Michaelmas Journey, Portland Gallery, London, 2012 - Foreword

Mary Anne's work is sheer multiplicity. She carefully picks a path through luxuriant growth, in order to expose the wealth of what there is to see. Come with me, she seems to say and we follow.

On the way, our experience of each painting is of a constantly changing and developing vista, and a multitude of sensory stimuli. There is always more potential, further possibility. The artist will never see everything there is to see, but she will go on looking and discovering and - immersed in her work - so will we. To look at one of Mary Anne's paintings is to accompany her on a journey of seeing, thinking, feeling - a journey of passion and delight into a state of poetic engagement with place, memory and myth, with the natural world and man's relationship to it. We are changed by the journey.

     

The richly textured and satisfying works in this show demand to be read and re-read; they continue to yield other meanings, relationships, narratives. To quote Gustav Flaubert - 'There is a part of everything which is unexplored, because we are accustomed to using our eyes only in association with the memory of what people before us have thought we were looking at. Even in the smallest thing there is something which is unknown. We must find it'. Mary Anne invites us to explore for ourselves, leading us into the primal places of imagination and longing. She helps us to see in new ways.

We observe layers of paint and painting. Mary Anne works and reworks a single image, the corner of a painting or even a whole painting, often 'obliterating' (her own term) studies, elements of works or entire works along the way, in order to rediscover them from memory and paint them again. We encounter layers of feeling, recalling other paintings that might touch on or resonate with this one. We find memories and re-enactments. There are frequent suggestions in the paint texture itself of acts of covering and uncovering, vision and revision. The artist's process seems to mirror the way that human memory works, the way that life works.

Whilst quite different from one another in mood, both of the very large paintings, 'Lady Day - A Sussex Wood' and 'Michaelmas Journey - A Sussex Hedge' demonstrate an extraordinary marriage between Mary Anne's gift for treating detail and her ability to render 'glances' at a subject. In these intricately worked paintings, she is a thoughtful and sympathetic guide. Her sharp eye and virtuoso technique allow for varying intensities in different parts of the vision, the painting. The detail is never photographic, never hyper-realistic. Balance and rhythm predominate, providing more and more surprises and serendipitous minutiae. The artist pays respectful attention to the botanical and the scientific, yet never with a slavish adherence to perceived accuracy. For instance, she imported an oak sapling to grow alongside the bluebells in 'Lady Day - A Sussex Wood', in order to heighten symbolic and imaginative effect. This combination of documentary and emotional truth is indeed powerful.

The physically smaller, yet sometimes more spacious paintings, such as 'Late Winter' and 'Morning', act as counterpoints to the intensity of the large close-up paintings previously mentioned. They invite the viewer into the image in a quite different way. We must enter these paintings fully with our imagination - they require us to draw on our own memories, dreams and associations. In these works, painted not from nature but from re-membering nature, images develop into symbols. Lob is the archetypal man in nature, striding out; deer become mythical guardian creatures. Buildings that appear to be natural features in the landscape (are they barns, cathedrals?) make significant and suggestively spiritual appearances.

Mary Anne has the ability to see human nature and the rest of nature as being integrated in some vital way - compatible and co-operative. But this is no nostalgic pastoral dream. Through her work, she lets us share in a perception that confronts and strives to understand its subject, just as she herself sits in nature and paints for hours at a time. Her draughtsmanship and brushwork witness to a deep and unselfconscious honouring of landscape and human history and imagination - a leaf unfurling, the minute drop of water on a stem, the bird's open beak, the range of textures in a single feather. Each detail contributes to the story.

Clare Best, January 2012

 

 

© Mary Anne Aytoun-Ellis, 2010