Lesley Slight, Land Sea & Trees
4 - 25 November, 2017
Lesley Slight’s paintings tell us that she loves remoteness and the countryside; she is fascinated by the far horizon and takes us there by unravelling the valleys, hills, bushes, spinney’s, the unfashionable small fields and fat hedges, from beneath our feet. We are lead on a whim or an ancient path pinned here and there by a brave, single tree. Is that dance of light or canopy of leaves a signal to rest, the city equivalent of a street lamp or covered doorway? Or is it a warning.
Her uncompromising use of opposites; the wilderness as sanctuary or menace, the calm with disquiet, the chance-like sitting comfortably with the more contrived, the burst of light and plunging darkness have all seduced us. We will have to think more about what we feel when we are out in nature. She gives us no choice because you can never look at Slight’s work and be totally at ease. The sharp line of the sea on the horizon can cut towards the land then stop, strangely mollified by the lightness of her brush, the soft light, the unearthly silence. The skies are never completely clear in Slight’s work.
I walk across the field, down a gentle slope to the stream in the south west corner of the pasture, and enter the woods. From light into mottled darkness, the sun glances off leaves and branches, and the wind moving through the trees constantly changes the kaleidoscope of tone and colour. There is a state of neglect, which has allowed some glorious, entangled profusion.
Footpaths have long since become invisible – few people venture in here now. Left alone, oak, ash, and beech, their huge trunks and branches so intertwined, wild cherry, sloe, hawthorn and blackthorn, all vie for space. In the earth below wild garlic, bluebells, primrose and celandine, wood sorrel and ferns make a valiant struggle for the meagre light that the thick canopy allows. Whatever the time of year, this is where I go to observe and record the ever changing drama of the seasons; it is a precious place.
Although I make drawings in the woods, these works are an end in themselves and are not developed into paintings. I work in the studio using oil on linen, covering the canvas with paint of different tones and hues, working back into it to see what emerges. Sometimes I take it forward, at other times the process is repeated, often several times. Everything I paint is imagined. There is never a plan or indeed any idea or expectations of what the outcome will be.
None of Lesley Slight’s paintings are of “real” places. Though she draws from observation in the landscape, her paintings are made exclusively in the studio from ‘a mixture of memory and invention, forming imagined constructs’. Slight’s process is intuitive, organic, each new canvas evolving from what she describes as a ‘chaos of painterly smudges, strokes and wipes pushed around on the surface’. Order gradually emerges from her manipulation of paint, colour and tone, forming a recognisable entity, one with dimension, scale and form. Central to the artist’s concerns is an exploration of light, and there is a notably dramatic chiaroscuro in her work. Slight states that she is ‘very aware of the “darker” side of our involvement in the natural world’, and there is a sense in her painting both of nature’s benign magnificence and of foreboding.
from ‘Nature describing Nature’, ‘Under the Greenwood: Picturing the British Tree’
My work is focused on the landscape of West Dorset, where I have lived and worked since 1973 in a remote and very rural situation. This landscape, with its sea cliffs, secret valleys, old woods and rounded hills, is the focus and catalyst for everything that I do and is absolutely central to my painting. It has an ancient and primordial being, and a timeless quality not quite of this century – so much of it seems relatively untouched by developments evident elsewhere.
For me it has ever changeable moods, sometimes welcoming, yet at times disturbing and forbidding. It is these very qualities which fascinate and intrigue, dependent as they are upon two crucial and interchangeable factors – light and weather. The time of day itself will present a different aspect according to the season, in rain or sun, mists or brightness, at dawn, dusk, or night - each capable of transforming a familiar view into a strange unknown world, a phenomenon evident when views of the sea appear, glimpsed between or beyond the hills, valleys and cliffs. It is the mystery that I constantly seek to investigate and explore in my work, and is pivotal to its continuation.