I have been reading Carry Ackroyd’s book about the Fens and the influence it has on her work as a printmaker. The subtitle of the book ‘Landscape Change John Clare and Me’ bears testament to the hold that this unique landscape has had on artists and writers down through the years. John Clare, often referred to as the peasant poet, documented the loss of ancient countryside to the changes he saw in farming practices. Working as a farm labourer, he was connected with the land in a way that other poets writing on natural history could never be; this shows through in his detailed observations and closeness to the subjects of his lines.
A key element of Carry’s work is the natural history that sits within her fenland landscapes. She is not just documenting the land but also the creatures that are an integral part of it. In this way, her work is refreshingly different from a traditional view of ‘wildlife art’, with its simple presentation of animals and birds divorced from their surroundings. In fact, Carry is part of a wider movement away from the tired images of lions, elephants and eagles that were once the mainstay of wildlife art. For me, art should stimulate an emotional response from the viewer and wildlife art should be no different. Whether it is the sense of space that comes from Carry’s fenland views or the tension of Andrew Haslen’s Brown Hares, crouched low within their Norfolk forms, good wildlife art connects you with the landscape or creature that you are viewing.
I have always been influenced by the tones of nature, be they the purples of the autumn heathland where I grew up or the olive-green of hares within a winter field. It is these qualities that reach out to me from prints and paintings, along with subtle shapes that bring life to birds or animals captured in two or three dimensions, shapes that echo my own recollections of seeing these creatures in the field.
Art is very much about personal taste; being able to view a group show in a gallery provides the opportunity to discover what it is that you most connect with. As well as the grand opportunities provided by the art marquee at the BirdFair in August or the SWLA show in London in September, there are local galleries – notably at Cley, Glandford and Lavenham – where you can see a wide range of art by wildlife artists.
The Natural Eye, the 47th exhibition of the Society of Wildlife Artists, is being held at the Mall Galleries, London from Wednesday 22nd September until Saturday 2nd October. For more information, visit www.swla.co.uk