One spring morning I had set up my easel to continue a canvas on which I had been
working for some days. This particular spot had become a favourite of mine and I
was unaware that I was trespassing, a fact that was to be pointed out to me that
morning by the local gamekeeper. In an effort to meet me he travelled across a great
area of heather and bracken in his Land Rover to inform me that my presence was “disturbing
the birds”, by which he meant the game birds that were to be blasted to death in
the autumn. I wondered how much wildlife he had flattened in the process of giving
me this information.
On another occasion a farmer came to observe my work. Included in the painting were
the poppies growing in his fields. In our talk I asked him how long he would allow
the poppies to remain since they were an important part of my painting and beautiful
to look at too. He expressed his surprise that they could be considered things of
beauty and could inspire artists. He explained he had lived on the land all his life
and he had always regarded poppies as a pest to be removed by herbicides.
These incidents do not show a deliberate malice towards the natural world. Rather
they display an insensitive lack of awareness and insight. The gamekeeper and the
farmer had not thought through the consequence of their actions nor accepted their
full responsibility as custodians in caring for the small area of land that is their
temporary domain. However much of the destruction of the natural world we are currently
witnessing is deliberateand malicious and presents a far greater problem to conservationists.
We are experiencing, I believe, the rape of the countryside, the sea around us and
the air we breathe. No other word adequately describes the destruction of the natural
world on an unprecedented scale. In the act of rape there is a callous disregard
for the feelings of the victim personal gain being the only objective. In the exploitation
and consequent destruction of the natural world by humankind there is a similar disregard
for the victims: the soil, the air, the sea, the trees, plants and animals. It is
not difficult to find examples of this exploitation in Suffolk.
The trees and hedgerows are dying. Many are being uprooted to make way for larger
fields and property development. Others are dying from overdoses of herbicides. When
will action be taken to ban the latest piece of farm management, the flaying machine,
a rotary mower on an extended highly manoeuvrable arm.This rips hedges and smaller
trees into “shape”, tearing the life out of them and leaving branches broken and
One September day I had set up my easel to work on a canvas of wild flowers. The
sound of a tractor grew louder in the next field. Within minutes the sickly-sweet
smell of herbicides reached my working area. They were being used to remove a plant
sown in the field two years earlier, rape seed now germinating in the wild in Suffolk.
A crop sown earlier was now being removed by herbicides which in the process would
destroy much else. The irony of the situation was worthy of note: in one field the
flowers were the subject of a painting in the next they were being destroyed by poisons
which would remain in the soil for years to come.
If all living creatures could scream the noise would be deafening. Nature cannot
scream in a manner audible to man. It is dying quietly and humankind is causing its
death. No other living creature has the power or will to do such a thing.
The act of painting pictures of the landscape places the artist on the battle-front
of the struggle to conserve what remains of the natural world. An increasing number
of visitors to my exhibitions and studio point to the likelihood of my paintings
becoming a monument to a Suffolk that no longer exists. Of course I have a vested
interest. Painting the landscape of Suffolk has been the life-blood of my art since
my childhood. Here there is quiet and dignified landscape swept by ever-changing
skies and bathed in a magical light often diffused by soft-coloured mists. If this
landscape dies my art dies with it.
The role of the landscape painter in the conservation debate has exercised my mind
for some time. How can paintings of the natural world – landscape, seascape, plants,
animals and birds – contribute to this debate and throw light on these problems?
As a landscape painter I see a clear task before me. Visual art has always been a
direct and powerful means of expressing feeling and emotion. Often the arts have
championed struggle, underlined injustice and directed individual and social conscience.
Now, for me, art is at the forefront of perhaps the most important struggle of all
– the conservation of what remains of the natural world and of the precious earth
that sustains us all. Through painting, exhibitions, studio visits and discussion
I hope to contribute to the enlightenment of others to the beauty of the Suffolk
landscape. Gone are the days when a landscape painter can happily paint trees and
skies pretending nothing is wrong.
Summer meadow Oil on
Since writing this article things are changing in Suffolk as elsewhere on the planet.
Humankind is beginning to wake up. The practise of spraying poisons on the earth
is easing, hedges and trees are being replaced, and organic farming is being recognised
as the way forward in food production. The result is a return of threatened species
of butterflies, birds and flowers…….but there is no room for complacency. Much remains
to be done and we all have a part to play…………