As the weather tentatively improves, we provide inspiration in the form of the Jackson’s Art Blog mini-series about painting out of doors.
Oliver Akers Douglas has been described by writer Matthew Dennison as being ‘the foremost landscapist of our generation’. Akers Douglas is a past master at depicting the very essence of a landscape in all its earthly splendour – huge sweeping clouds cast dark shadows over a lush valley; you can almost feel the breeze against your face and the smell of the dew. He is known to almost exclusively paint his landscapes out of doors, in front of the subject, connecting with his subject and telling us a story about it in a way that could not be done in any other medium. Oliver Akers Douglas is represented by The Portland Gallery in London – his next show there will be in November 2014.
Lisa: What are the ingredients for a good landscape composition?
Oliver: Finding, identifying and then working out the construction of a picture is a drawn out process. I am always on the search for scenes, and have always a number of types of picture that I want to attach a scene to. So sometimes the scene comes first and sometimes the idea of a picture has to be fitted to a scene. The elements which make up a good composition in a final picture are complex and subject to a lot of re-working! Above all there needs to be an immediately realisable dynamic to the whole image. The first few seconds in which a viewer confronts a picture are the most important. So there needs to be an imposing sense of something, and a flow and depth to the scene. I guess I am often looking for there to be enough foreground and middleground interest to a scene, and at least a glimpse of distance for the eye to journey towards. Landscape is often rather bland, a rather thin line below a wide flat sky. I am always looking for vertical accents, and distinct forms to add interest to the generally horizontal trend of land. There is no mistaking the importance of hills and trees to the formation of my compositions. Dramatic skies and the shadows they impart on the land are of course useful tools in the construction of a harmonious and tonally varied end composition. But as I said they undergo much working and reworking before I am happy with the whole effect.
Lisa: How do you prepare yourself for outdoor painting – can you tell us a bit about your Land Rover easel?!
Oliver: How I prepare for painting. Well, as previously mentioned, I will have scouted a scene well in advance. I will know what time of day suits the picture, the size canvas I am using and will hopefully have ideas about which palette of colours I am using and most importantly what I want the picture to be about – what I am trying, but in no sense fully expecting, to achieve!
If I’m working on a large scale I will need to get vehicular access to where I am working. Otherwise as is frequently the case I will have to carry all my stuff in a rucksack and under my arm to where I want to work from. Very exhausting at times – particularly when you use as much lead paint as I do. Occasionally if I am far off the beaten track I will hide my stuff under a tarpaulin overnight, but this has its problems. I know most of the farmers and landowners in my area so most people recognize me and my land rover, and are happy to let me drive to where I want – knowing that I will have to avoid upsetting livestock, gamebirds or trampling crops..
I have an easel that I can attach to the side of the landrover which makes painting that much easier in windy conditions where a freestanding easel can be the other side of a field in less than no time. And if it rains everything needs to be put away immediately!
Lisa: What do you get from painting out of doors that you don’t get from completing landscape paintings in the studio?
Oliver: I can’t paint with the necessary conviction without actually being there. It doesn’t mean I don’t depart from the literal truth, it’s just that I have the opportunity of really knowing for myself the ins and outs of the scene while I am working on it. There is a roughness and urgency that comes with painting directly from life which is sanitized by working indoors from secondary material. Also if you are a painter why make of copies of photographs?!
I do of course tinker with paintings after the event, but try to make those interventions as few as possible.
Lisa: What do you love about your palette knife?
Oliver: The Palette knife allows me to apply large quantities of paint to the canvas in one go. With a knife I can mix colours much more quickly than with a brush on the palette , and can apply the paint more slickly on to the picture surface. I can then work the paint on the canvas very easily, being able to scrape it off and clean the knife all with the minimum of fuss. It needn’t be unsubtle or imprecise working with a knife either.
Lisa: How important is your sketchbook/making preparatory sketches to you?
Oliver: I hardly sketch at all these days. It doesn’t exactly help me work out the finished pictures. I prefer to work everything out on the actual panel or canvas. I might draw on the surface and then having worked in a ground I might draw in paint into that ground before working up the scene with full colour. I might restart a picture on a different canvas, or indeed I might discard the finished work entirely, but it seems I can only ever really resolve things through the very act of painting them!
Lisa: Do you need emotional attachment to the landscape you paint in order to paint them?
Oliver: It helps. I do love the way a picture sometimes almost paints itself when you know and love a particular place. However, I can’t just set up in a favourite spot and expect to be able to produce a good picture every time. I am constantly trying to re-learn where I live. So far it hasn’t disappointed me.