Light and the colors in light fascinate me. In my memories, colors sing loudly, and often my memories are of these colors and patterns as the main object. The glowing red fabric shade over a wall light, in my childhood home in the 1970s; the dress made of brown synthetic fabric with cream circles on it that hung in my mother’s wardrobe; the dim dusty yellow glow as the sun set through the curtains in the back bedroom that were closed like silence; the rectangular light that moved across the ceiling at night, as a car drove along the road in front of our house, and then flickered into blackness.
Light is rarely constant; it changes, brightens and dims, and it is as emotive a component of perception as smell or music. The lights in a home can transform our experience of it, and we can play with dark and light, reform the contours, add depth.
Equally, natural outdoor light changes. I have many memories of brightness growing up, such as the lemon sunlight through the colored sheets as they wetly flapped on the washing line in our backyard; the gaps between those sheets that showed slivers of sky, squares of walls, and brick sheds; the emerald green of the field opposite my house and the sharp white lines painted across it; the bright orange of a toy bat in the noon sunlight; the light and shadow moving on the floor as I stand stock still in the woods surrounded by shimmering bluebells; the purple masses of the heather on the top of the Pennines stroked with green and grey, threaded through by brown, glinting streams. The light was modulated, grey, translucently blue, the yellows were lemon at noon, and orange in the evening.
In my travels through Europe as a young adult, I had come to take for granted this delicate light, as in the painted light of southern France, for example. Here, the breath of the sky more gently and with subtlety wraps around the environment, adding to the already rich palette of tones new and endlessly fascinating mixes. The very air seems to be an artist, as laden with color as with scent and warmth.
Since moving to Texas, I have encountered an entirely new kind of natural light, an intense white-tinted light that insistently covers colors with white, sharp and bright. On a summer day like today in the Texas heat, once the sun has risen beyond early morning the sunlight is incredibly white and blinding. Trying to paint outdoors is hard not just because of the heat, but because your eyes become dazzled. However, under the shade of trees, the colors are made more intense, dancing with vibrancy. I find this so moving that I feel compelled to express it in my work. Later, as the sun descends for the evening, intense reds, and oranges are laid over the natural greens and grays of the countryside, over the stubbornly twisted and flexed trees that twine together along the creeks, the overlay of orange-red bringing an emotive reminder of passion and beauty.
This has greatly influenced my work. My colors are vibrant, intense, glowing, delineated by these hot branches, in high-contrast compositions. The shapes and planes of the leaves and trees become massed together as the light eradicates much of the natural modulations, and I often express them as geometric shapes. In them, I am free to use color to tell stories with emotions that connect either to my memories or to emotions and sensations of experiences. Our emotions are deeply affected by the quality of light that surrounds us; in countries with long dark winters, this can lead to depression, for which light therapy is often prescribed. My works are the opposite of that, with intense color that can spark intense reactions, intense emotions, and often are immersive to the viewer. The sun and the light heals me everyday and floods me with profound joy – an old-fashioned word, but one I want to reclaim – and I have to say I can’t get enough of the Texas heat.
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Alison, I really enjoyed reading about your observations of the different types and qualities of light. Your way with words is as fetching as your way with paint.