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Star Gazing, Portland Gallery, London, 2006 - Introduction

Having watched Mary Anne's progress over nearly fifteen years and admired her total dedication, the most recent paintings are a joy to behold. Mary Anne is that rare artist who is able to convey through paint the sense of wonder she experiences in nature.

In this major exhibition, the result of three years' hard work, the paintings move from poetic landscapes of haunting stillness to the physicality and mystery of the Iceland landscapes. Mary Anne was initially drawn to Iceland by its myths and sagas, fascinated by the way in which the landscape is interwoven with folklore. Yet over the course of her visits she found an equally profound enchantment in the seemingly magical process of the landscape's formation and destruction - the power of nature which can pulverise rock and destroy mountains is evident everywhere and so is human fragility in the face of such elemental forces. Staying with a fishing family on Grimsey, a tiny island straddling the arctic circle, showed her at first hand how the rawness of nature's extreme conditions can forge a landscape and the people who live there.


Many of the images in this exhibition were painted in egg tempera using gull and tern eggs collected for her from the vertical cliff faces of Grimsey and carefully brought home to her studio in Sussex. The evolution of Mary Anne's technique can be plotted through the exhibition as she responds to a changing landscape. Whether painting in her studio or perched on a cliff edge she uses the medium of tempera with a freedom which pushes it far beyond its usual boundaries, building up the paintings layer by layer to hide and reveal detail as the landscape itself evolves and changes over time.

These qualities place Mary Anne in the tradition of the great visionary landscape painters such as Samuel Palmer. 'Star Gazing' is a good title for a journey which 'takes place on foot and in the mind in a place both real and imaginary' and reveals a vision refreshed.

Felicity Owen 2006


© Mary Anne Aytoun-Ellis, 2010