If you’ve ever been in Africa on a hot afternoon when the smouldering sun is intent on roasting anything which is stupid enough to be found exposed on the dry cracked hot plate of soil, then you will know what the intense heat of such an afternoon can do to an artist’s imagination. One of my favourite things to do on days when all sane individuals have retired to the cool shade of veranda’s and trees, is to brave the scorching heat and to walk into the veld. Once alone I locate a small hill which will afford me an open view of a valley. From such a vantage point I can see miles across the swimming and dancing landscapes as the afternoon heat brings mirages and illusions of cool water flowing across the thirsty scene.
Once out of the stinging view of the sun, the hot shade of a Mimosa tree allows me to relax and enjoy the silence of the African bush. It is a silence like no other and at first one could be excused for thinking that you have lost your hearing in the thick silence. It is like having a pillow over your head and just as you are about to click your fingers to reassure yourself that you have not lost your hearing suddenly some flying insect races past. Its sound passes, in stereo, first from one ear, then past your face and onto the next, punctuating the silence with its buzz. As you sit and wait, slowly your ears become accustomed to the soundtrack which accompanies the scene and you begin to hear the bush as if for the first time, the scene ushered in on an overture of sound from screeching cicadabeetles.
To those who are familiar with the bush this will not be a new experience and will be one which is almost taken for granted. For me who has had his ears anaesthetised by the white noise of the city however this is like regaining consciousness after surgery. The sounds of the hot afternoon begin to penetrate my memory banks of sounds deposited from the years I was raised in Africa.
I have never found it easy to paint in the outdoors; perhaps it’s the uncertain and disorderly nature of painting away from the familiar and ordered character of my studio that I find hard. Painting with watercolour under these conditions is difficult as the heat dries out the paper and pigment very fast, adding another layer of complexity to the process. On these occasions I rely on my camera, lenses and an ability to compile a scene which I will enjoy painting on my return to my little studio. During the long cold and damp months of an English winter, painting scenes like these will bring with them the warm memories and sounds of a hot afternoon in the veld. The contrast of colours are inspiring; from the vermillion orange of the aloe flowers to the duck-egg blue of the sky and from the rich browns and khaki shades of the grass to the deep greens of the mimosa trees.
The memory of this view and the small outcrop of iron stone boulders and shady mimosa trees will serve as the canvas on which I will paint the narrative of an afternoon spent in the company of these five lovely ladies the “red heads” of Harrison Farm.
Below is the finished oil for which the watercolour acted as prelim work and study.