A decade ago I came to Hill End on an artist residency at Haefliger’s Cottage. This was the beginning of my search for a visual language that speaks of this culturally rich historical place and where I began to learn a particular resilience required to live and work in a relatively remote town.
Last year, being a year like no other, much time was spent looking out of windows and observing the subtle changes in the landscape. Noticing a light on here and there brought humanity closer, comfort and a feeling of connection.
I work from perception, either in the landscape en plein air or from one of the many windows inside the house looking out onto the garden. We came to Bowman’s cottage in December 2017 when the drought had hit hard and have spent 3 years rebuilding the historic garden that was decimated by lack of rain. Every surface in Hill End is marked by the patina and footprint of generations of people that have been here, whether it’s the recycled tin, the weathered doors, or the dry-stone walls – they all have been touched by human hands, reused, repurposed and re-loved. I think this is what makes Hill End so intriguing and comforting at the same time.
In these recent paintings, Where the light falls, I am sharing my observations from Bowman’s Cottage about the landscape and light that sustains and inspires my work. The colours in my paintings are a direct response to the seasons and are often revisited months later, when I am drawn to rework with new insights around palette, composition and shapes. Since first coming to Hill End I have been in search of a universal language that spans time and place, with light being a constant thread. A lifeforce that brings hope and renewal to each day.
My painting process, which usually begins with a drawn wash of the structure of the work, is followed by a building up of layers or atmospheres. It is my hope that these visual layers parallel the surfaces seen and unseen that I have learnt to read over time. Working outside in the elements is a necessary part of this process which is steeped in my feelings and connection to place. I use large thin brushes to collect washes of colour and draw in with the edge of the brush, whilst referring to larger shapes of more solid colour applied with a palate knife or big scrapper. It can take months of working on an intimate scale to start to see a narrative that I am drawn to.
The layers in my paintings represent time passing, a swift change in light or elements that present themselves to me during making a work. These elements are often scrapped back, and the echo of their presence represents a kind of map of the human condition. I was once told, where you see a fruit tree there would have been a house, these trees hold the histories and memories of past generations.
Through my observations, I hope to tell an unfolding narrative of my time spent here at Bowman’s Cottage and to preserve and record the layers that make Hill End such an enduring landscape.
Susan Baird March 2021