Busy painting busy roads

Towards London on A27  (detail)   2016 acrylic on card, 18 x 28 cm

Towards London on A27 (detail) 2016 acrylic on card, 18 x 28 cm

A roads, dual carriageways and motorways are ubiquitous across our landscape... a necessity for getting from area to area. They are places between places, a no-mans land where countless journeys are made each day. At first glance they appear functional in fashion and devoid of charm. It is the combination of these things - the basic human need to get from A to B and the artificial physicality of the highway itself - that I find captivating as a subject for painting. The aesthetic often includes qualities such as the simple but succinctly informative road signage,artificial lighting, familiar and unfamiliar place names, the perpetual movement of vehicles passing clumps of trees planted on the roadside and in the central reservation which help to break up the monotony of drab grey concrete.

Shell Station  1996 acrylic on paper, 22 x 15 cm

Shell Station 1996 acrylic on paper, 22 x 15 cm

The North Circular Road (A406) at Colney Hatch Lane in north London provides a convenient location for me to paint these scenes. It offers several easily accessible vantage points to set up and paint unimpeded and I have focused on working there in recent years. I have, however, produced images featuring the realm of the motor-vehicle in the past, including one occasion in 2011 where I painted whilst sitting in the front passenger seat of a travelling car at night. Another artwork, titled 'Shell Station', made in 1996, was painted inside a service station in Crouch End. The lighting reflecting off the shiny enamel of a petrol pump and cars made this evening motoring scene both intriguing and vague. I applied the paint using predominantly downward brush strokes (inspired by Edgar Degas' pastel drawings) to help break up the recognisable forms into abstract shapes of colour, light and texture.

Painting plein-air alongside busy highways often gives me a sense of adventure. In 'Homeward Bound Traffic on North Circular Road', for example, I was able to get as close to the speeding traffic without encroaching onto authority land. The scene featured those clumps of trees sitting on a grassy cutting, with speeding vehicles passing behind, appearing like Scalextric toys with headlamps shining warmly into a dusky grey sky, accompanied by pink lights of sodium lamps lighting up with the onset of night.

Homeward Bound on North Circular Road  2014 acrylic on board, 18 x 30 cm

Homeward Bound on North Circular Road 2014 acrylic on board, 18 x 30 cm

When out and about painting I sometimes wonder what people might think of the idea of an artist setting up an easel roadside and painting such supposedly mundane views. It is true to say that I have occasionally received the odd puzzled look or comment from beguiled motorists and passers by: "Look... he's painting the road!" 

Tailback on A406 (North Circular Road)  2015 acrylic on board, 30 x 40 cm

Tailback on A406 (North Circular Road) 2015 acrylic on board, 30 x 40 cm

In the painting 'Tailback on A406 (North Circular Road)', a slow moving line of vehicles (no doubt a curse for poor rush-hour motorists but a blessing for me) becomes an opportunity to capture a high volume of traffic. The bend in the distance gives a hint of mystery, as if the vehicles are stretching off into eternity. After I finished the painting I decided to follow the route upwards and see exactly where that bend led. I will always enjoy painting the ever-changing landscape of the motor-vehicle. It is, quite literally, a road of discovery where dynamic artistic possibilities can be found.