Perhaps up to the present day, the first port of call for aspiring English landscape painters is still John Constable, whose drawings of the gentle, pretty, rolling Suffolk landscape offered no majesty or grandiose sights. To describe the barges and canal scenes in superlatives would not be fitting.
Constable said what made him a painter was something like the muddy, messy, mossy things found on the riverbank where the willows grow, where oak, elm and beech woods thrive amidst plenty of varied flora, leading one’s eye to, say, a cornfield or a distant panorama topped with an interesting sky.
In my book The Glorious Trees of Great Britain, my remit was to accentuate the magnificence of trees like the propped-up Major Oak in Sherwood Forest. But like Constable, my true inspiration was the wracked woodland base with its new vegetation poking through brambles or leaves, and the tangled mass of ancient wood left to rot like black pillars under the canopy of veteran trees.
It is enough beauty for anyone today if they study textures, shapes, and formand if they focus on something to which these can lead the eye.
Spaniards have always seemingly been keen on great tonal contrast in pictures – and bravado statement or act – as a result of being a strong sunlit country causing all-absorbing darkness among very light items. So, who would want Paco’s photographs in colour when there it is: shape and texture, at full throttle, the easier to see pure form?
That Barbara’s usefully detailed, breathing and well-set prose is anything but inviting and beneficial is a forgone conclusion for me. Her thoughtful poetry is clear cut, pure of any ‘flowery’ attributes, a pleasure to digest.
If left alone by humans, Nature’s cycles of growth and decay offer much beauty in their continuity and give us an abundance of material for reflection. The woodlands of Can Coll and Shaw Gill are beautiful and all the better for being such contrasting types.
In Can Coll Wood, however, unlike in Shaw Gill Wood in ‘my’ National Park Pennine area, humans can do much damage: the threat of fires, fly-tipping, house building and so on are a three-pronged attack possible on that wonderful, varied and peaceful area which would ‘make’ many a landscape painter nowadays.
It would be marvellous if people studying the prose and pictures in this very elegant and excellent dissertation could start a petition for Can Coll’s preservation. We, and flora, fauna, birds and insects have never more than now needed quiet, gentle places to thrive – so does our shrinking planet.
We need authors like these to draw our attention to places like these, so that herein in a book and exhibition we can take an undamaging trip there, or we can seek out places such as these – and tread carefully with our feet within them.
Piers Browne, author of The Glorious Trees of Great Britain