“Always try to keep a patch of sky above your life.”
and Pete Gilbert's paintings
share three essential elements: the importance of light, a deep sense of place and an emotional response to memory. Their artwork transports us to a setting that we long to return to, even if we've never actually been there or allows us to anticipate finding it for ourselves in the future. Their compositions record and distil an expression of a particular moment in time; 'bottling it' for us all to enjoy over and over again every time we step into it with them and view it through their eyes.
Mike Hall's airy landscapes are full of light; dappled through leaves, strongly contrasted between deep shadow and bright sunlight or scintillating off water. His paintings take us back to family holidays and hot summer days or show us a window on a world; somewhere we may have never been, yet seem to know.
Mike spends much of the year in France, sketching and painting the landscape and culture that he loves in clear layers of acrylic on board which gives a vibrant freshness to his palette. Mike trained at the Manchester College of Art and the Royal College of Arts in London. His work is full of local atmosphere; caught at a specific moment in time and often framed by a window. The viewer is placed in an interior setting or seated at a table, looking out on hot sunshine or a rural square lined with cafes and shaded by trees.
The pleasure of experiencing his artwork is like the anticipation of the first sip of wine or of resting under a shady umbrella after a long walk on dusty roads. There is a deep sense of relaxation which appeals to a deep need to sit and look at the sky; for time spent in the sunshine watching the world go by or the shifting patterns of light on a green lawn is never wasted. Hanging a Mike Hall painting on your wall not only evokes happy memories of warm days in the garden or by the sea but also encourages you to unwind and slip into the composition.
'The moving sun-shapes on the spray,
The sparkles where the brook was flowing,
Pink faces, plightings, moonlit May,
These were the things we wished would stay;
But they were going'
- Thomas Hardy
By contrast, Pete Gilbert's work, inspired by his home in the New Forest, invites us to walk in cool dells, shady bluebell woods and under softly layered foliage. Pete's style is impressionistic, organic and authentic and he was voted one of the Top 50 UK artists in the 'National 50 over 50 Exhibition'. He captures the essence of ancient woodland; the unchanging wildness and natural beauty of a timeless landscape. His mark making is quick and energetic and full of his passion for the subject matter and the movement of water and leaves in the breeze. If Mike's paintings evoke the smell of lavender and fresh bread, then Pete's suggest the tang of wild garlic and aroma of damp soil underfoot.
Pete uses handmade, textured papers which give a subtle life and movement to his compositions. Light is filtered through branches and dappled across pathways which lead the eye into the work and invite the viewer to take a walk in the wild.
There is a feeling of freedom and connection in Pete's work. The freedom of nature, left to her own devices and a connection with the rhythms of the seasons and our relationship to the natural world. The creative process allows us to see their unique and individual interpretations of a particular place and what it means to them and to experience it with them through their artwork.
Both artists have also produced books which provide further context for their collections. Mike's book 'Choosing the Light'
illustrates the evolution of his style and subject matter and includes many examples of his work - not only of French scenes but also Dorset, Cornwall and Scotland. He also talks about the influence of painters like Bonnard, Vuillard and Matisse on his approach to creating dream-like compositions with soft light and interest in pattern and creating a narrative. The viewer feels that someone may have just left the composition for a moment and that there is a story behind the scene.
Pete's book 'On the River Test'
, which is co-authored with Hugh Lohan, takes the reader on a journey along the river Test in Hampshire and provides a visual journal of his experiences of the waterway and surrounding landscape which is full of the life and movement of water and the landscape he observes along the way.
and feature in our current Spring Exhibition
at the gallery which continues until Sunday, 30 May 2021.
Blog post by Katherine Newman