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A Flemish Idyll

West Flanders is not an easy landscape to love, this is imagined to be in the West Hoek, an area that is more rural than the rest and where the people speak a dialect that is typical of all people from western regions. Think Kerry or Cornwall. More northern Femings and Dutchmen cal the area "Behind the chicken run" the implication being that it is backward and the people are dullards. However this is the only part of Flanders that has a coast and the language spoken retains elements of Anglo Saxon, the language spoken across the North Sea until the Normans, who also came from this area, introduced their version of French to England at a time when the rest of Flanders and Holland was a waterlogged marsh.


Maybe because it has beeb settled for so long it is very built up with buildings in view wherever you look, so that it can seem a continuous uninterrupted conurbation. As a child an I had to work at looking, concentrating on the margins of the canals and ditches for details to enjoy and looking up at the big skies that provide a difference in scale. There are no hills except near Iper and the density of settlement means there is always building in sight. Take a look at Constant Permeke's views of the fields around his village of Jabbeke.


It lacks the hypnotic charm of "miles and miles of bloody Africa", that other landscape of my childhood, or the Great Plains where the same features seem to repeat endlessly and the distant features never grow any closer. So you have to learn to look differently, almost adopting a sort of eighteenth century picturesque view framing mind set, closing down on some strong feature and ignoring the wider context.


As a child you are not aware of perspective and I have found it useful to forego the conventions of vanishing points which I learned to use when constructing views of buildings as an architectural student. I deliberately stack planes vertically within the frame of the canvas. Here I have introduced a series of diagonals in the slope of the gables, the angle s of the tress and the break between ploughed and unploughed ground.


This picture concentrates on the farm buildings which you will encounter very soon if you turn north when you cross the channel. Regardless of the political and language differences this is all part of Flanders, as the EU trans border regional economic strategy recognises. When I see the buildings I know I am home and my mind starts working in Flemish rather than English.


Big farms like this are often surrounded by a block of trees to break the wind. The local brick is a combination of pink and purple but I decided to make this a white washed farm because I like the way the brick colour grins through the white wash when it has not bee refreshed recently. So I laid a base coat of browns and pink in the buildings and then dragged white and grey over them, letting it catch as it might on the brick courses and develop into patches depending on how it weathered. The cart shed to the left I kept as brick for the sake of contrast with the trees.


The soil is sandy so the dark brown of the ploughed ground is license on my part because I wanted the contrast with the unploughed ground behind the tractor. Has I chosen to paint this in summer mode I expect that the field would have been covered by maize and the trees dark green. Given the season, I decided to make this Autumn soI could play with the outbreak of the turning leaves echoing the colour of the roof tiles.The tractor is a pure invention, not a current model but a mix between a Ferguson and a Ford which might have been used on this farm in the 50s. Again that seems to be the eye of childhood at work.


I had Permeke very much in mind when I painted this picture. I toyed with incorporating a burly farmed dressed in blue coveralls but decided that this painting wa snot about people but the impact of man made artefacts on the land, contrasting and combining the soil, the farm buildings and the tractor.






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