A Wilder Side - Elaine Jones’ latest work rides a swell of emotion on a European road trip
There’s nothing like a large body of water to capture the light and encourage unique reflections. And for Elaine Jones, an artist so skilled at capturing the ethereal qualities of water against the land, the views of Lac de Carcans on the west coast of France proved restorative and inspiring. ‘It was just me on my own, sketching before everyone else was up. My time for a bit of peace.’ Yet there was an inherent sense of danger even in such a tranquil place. Elaine and her family chose to camp in the forest, in part to feel more connected to and immersed in the landscape. But the drought that impacted Europe over the summer meant the earth was parched and cracked. ‘It was a bit scary, being surrounded by trees,’ she said. ‘We were quite near where some of the wildfires had been. The contrast between light and dark elements proved to be an enduring feature of their five-week road trip, which saw them travel from Cornwall to northern Spain and down through southwestern France. Her sketches from the lake, and other locations on the trip, are fuelling her latest work.
The journey itself was driven by concerns about climate change and Elaine’s decision, taken with her partner, fellow artist Andrew Hood, not to fly. Far from being a hardship, however, the family found the train journey only enhanced their experience. ‘Leaving Paris in the early evening, travelling along the Seine, was such an enjoyable way to travel. It was a beautiful and exciting journey,’ said Elaine.
The family’s starting point, Bosahan Cove in Cornwall, set the tone for the rest of their adventure. It’s a lesser-visited inlet on the Helford River, hidden away. ‘We were out on the boat a lot, enjoying lots of views of the wild Lizard landscape from the sea.’ From there they travelled by ferry to Santander, Spain, drawn to the dramatic mountains and abundance of green in the Basque Country. Elaine was particularly moved by the trees in Spain, and her studies are alive with reaching branches and bright foliage. But the water always beckoned. ‘There were two beaches, one really wild and squally,’ explained Elaine, ‘and then another right next to it that was really shallow. It looked calm and beautiful but it had a strong undercurrent.’ Afterwards, Elaine and her family canoed and paddle-boarded down the Dordogne, near Sainte Foy. Being surrounded by water, she said, offered up fresh perspectives on both land and sky. It’s the changeable nature of it that captivates her, how it can be calm and relaxing one minute and then strong and stormy, even terrifying, the next.
She returned from the trip with a large collection of sketches, having found working in a different medium liberating and relaxing. As well as water and beach scenes, trees feature prominently, ‘individual trees, and pines and hydrangeas and bits of the forest that are quite figurative.’ She found herself drawn to them, she thinks, because of their magnificent endurance, how much longer many of them have been around than us. As she translates these sketches into paintings, there are notable departures from previous work. Firstly, the size of the works themselves has grown, possibly in response to her strong feelings related to the urgency of the climate crisis.
‘I just feel this energy that needs to come out, and I’m really enjoying these explosions of colour. I’ve got paintings that are evolving and becoming a bit more abstract and, not angry, but more spontaneous and bigger. They’re a bit wilder, with a lot more splatters. Is it rage? I don’t know. I feel the importance of looking after our planet but I also really want to capture the natural beauty of our surroundings and portray this in my paintings.’
Coupled with this is a new intensity, which she puts down in part to balancing her work as an artist with motherhood. ‘I think maybe it’s having children and appreciating and knowing that time you have is really precious. As soon as I finish, I've got to get one kid to football and drop the other somewhere else and it’s full-on.’ But having to seek out these condensed periods to work in is something she’s embracing for the focused excitement and momentum it brings. ‘I’m a lot more into my work at the moment than I have been for a long time and it’s going well, it’s flowing.’ She also finds having to step away makes her more productive when she goes back to it, she can more easily see what the painting needs. And then there’s the colour palette. While she is still creating her soothing signature blue paintings, she has noticed more deep greens and burnt colours emerging. For instance, she’s just completed a series of rich, red landscapes.
Because of the spontaneity of her process, however, she can’t predict what the outcome of further sketches will be. ‘It’s tricky talking about it, because things just lead. Drawings become something totally different, and then I'll make another from that one which is different again. But I do feel I want to go a little more abstract.’
Wherever this next series of works takes her, Elaine is keen to return to northern Spain. ‘The culture was different to other parts of Spain, more rural and rustic. And there’s the majestic mountains and forests, framed by the Atlantic Ocean backdrop - we didn’t realise it would be quite that stunning.’
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