The Way over the Bog ©John O’Grady
10″ x 10″ oil on deep edge panel, ready to hang
The title here describes the path into a painting through a two dimensional space and works also as a metaphor for the ‘way’ this piece evolved.
I tend to steer clear of using photographs as reference. It leads to a painting with an overworked quality that becomes tighter and tighter almost as if I can’t avoid becoming a slave to the photo.
Also, my response to old photos can be so strong that I sometimes feel emotionally overwhelmed.
During the week, I came across an image from many years back, so long ago I can’t remember where it was taken even though it was somewhere in the West.
Although I couldn’t place the location, I was drawn to the image of a path running over the hill and past an abandoned farmhouse high above the distant bog and mountains. Tempted to make a painting from it, with my past experience I was wary.
I decided to take a few minutes to articulate what drew me to the image.
The faded off white colour of the farmhouse and peeling paint; the feeling that the farmhouse was gradually being submerged by vegetation; the quality of muted light in the sky and also the thought of the people who once lived there and what happened to them.
Then, I put the photo away for good.
The following day, I started work. The original photo had lots of greens in it but somehow, my painting came out with a sepia quality as if it had been filtered through time. This result wasn’t a conscious decision, more a natural evolution.
The sepia look, the subdued palette suggest the passing of time with a touch of melancholy. Yet, like when you rediscover some cherished yellowing old photo, it brings back strong emotions.
This experience taught me to believe in the power of how I can hold onto and capture the charge felt when first looking at a photo. I see possibilities for working in a similar manner without feeling stymied.
I’d love to hear what you think.
A feeling of age, certainly. I’d love to walk that path, over and through the bog…perhaps lingering by the farmhouse in order to inhale its age and feel the life it has and is living…thanks, John!!
Thank you very much for commenting and you are very welcome. Yes that feeling of age and the past comes through in the painting I feel.
This is a stunning piece and I love the sepia colour with the whites. The light in it is beautiful and evokes a lovely feeling for me of nature walks in the countryside with the odd old cottage nestling in among nature, taking over and reclaiming its space. I would love to be there walking through that picture! I could look at this over and over again and again and never tire of it, its really beautiful. Well done! 🙂
I agree with you that the white and sepia work in strong contrast with each other. I am glad to hear that it reminds you of your walks in the Irish countryside, I couldn’t ask for more. Thank you very much.
For me this lovely painting is infused with a sense of the past; it has a poignancy and a sadness about it. This may be due to to the abandoned cottage but I think it is also because of the choice of colours. It may sound strange but it feels very Irish with the beauty of the landscape, nostalgia for the past and delicate sentiment all captured with great skill. The low viewpoint gives it an upward feeling of striving to what lies beyond – that gorgeous hilly distance and delicate sky. Congratulations!
I think you hit the nail on the head regarding the colour and poignancy. I do appreciate your thoughts on the ‘low viewpoint’ and ‘striving for what lies beyond’ I am seeing the painting in another way. I like that it had such a strong connection for you. thank you very much for your insights
This is a very powerful piece, John. (My first thought was that it seemed like a looser, more emotional Constable landscape.) As you do with your imagined places, you have captured an atmosphere and your response to it, filtered, as you say, through time. I have watched artists work from photographs, and I agree with your assessment of that process. But you seem to have hit on a solution. Just as you often paint landscapes from a mix of memory and interpretation, here you are using the *memory* of the photo to initiate, but not dictate, your painting. The eye moves from the dark path to the tranquil distance. The palette gives it a somber dignity, and the image feels freighted with history — of a cultural, natural, and very personal kind. It is profoundly moving.
Yes the fraught use of photographs, has caused me many a headache.
The ‘memory of the photo’ that you mention and the act of taking it out of the process was a release. The initial idea which perhaps I should have mentioned in the post was coming across the Japanese notan https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Notan, to create designs from photos and to use the notan as the basis for the painting, so once again separating the photo from the painting. I am glad to hear that it transmits a powerful presence. Thank you very much for your thoughtful comment