Commissions often provide an opportunity for me to create something different, such as an unusual theme, location or viewpoint. One project, in particular, presented me a challenge of producing four paintings, overlooking a large pond in Kew Green, south east London, with each piece depicting the same view but during a different season.
With an impressionistic eye, I focused primarily on capturing the typical qualities associated with a particular season such as the changing colour of foliage, the local weather and the cycle of life. I was intrigued, however, by the height and strength of the sun, the length and positions of shadows and how these changed over the months. More than just an exercise in plain-air painting, the project got me contemplating the bigger ‘astronomical’ picture of the landscape in front of me.
Many years earlier I read a dusty old hardback book at home titled Larousse Encyclopaedia of Astronomy, which featured a chapter called ‘Our observatory, the Earth’. It was illustrated with charmingly quaint black and white photographs, diagrams of the earth, moon and sun, which elegantly explained the celestial motions. It mentioned the differing apparent heights and positions of the sun over the course of the year, caused primarily by the earth's tilted axis and, hence, why we experience seasons. The book gave me an appreciation of the scale of the solar system and how I could observe the celestial clockwork myself, without the need of a telescope or computer, simply by reading the landscapes and skies around me. The local area around Kew Green is stooped in natural science history, especially with the famous Kew Gardens, situated close by. A sundial is situated there and harnesses the mechanics of the celestial realm in a charming and practical way.
When painting the Kew Green series, my mind contemplated the seasonal changes in the scenery on both a localised level and an astronomical one... from lengthening shadows perpendicular with an almost due-westerly sunset in late summer, to a low winter sun setting close to due south in the mid-afternoon. It made me think of the proper motion of the earth, tilted on its axis, moving around the sun, which are responsible for natural cycle of the seasons and changing colours. The project allowed me to document this expererience in paint.