My phase of painting large epic landscapes in oils happened to coincide with a period in my life when I spent most summers in Israel. From around 1978 until about 1986 I went there every year, partly out of idealism and partly because I just loved making paintings of the place.
Looking back on that time now I can see that the two motivations were part of the same “condition” and fed an inner yearning to find expression for my youthful optimism and romanticism.
As I think I’ve said before on these pages, Israel, although geographically a tiny country, can often feel vast to the naked eye. Among the hills and valleys of the “pan-handle” of the northern Galilee, and especially in the arid canyons of southern Judea and the Negev Desert, the landscape creates an illusion of almost infinite enormity.
My initial efforts were okay as paintings but they failed to transmit the epic quality of the scenes I was depicting. But then I remembered a device often used by my favourite painters of “sublime” landscape, such as Claude Lorraine, William Turner and John Martin, which was to offset the vista against a peopled foreground. This not only gave scale to the views beyond, but also created a feeling of depth and a sense of “moment” with the human figures caught in time.
So, from about 1981 I began to inhabit my Israeli landscapes with people, normally young people like me, walking away, down a track or road toward some distant horizon. And for me, then, it did the trick, seeming to offer a message of future hope into the bargain.
Sadly (or perhaps fortunately) I failed to record most of the “Walking Away” series (I think I did around ten of them over the course of that year) on camera. In fact, I have very little photographic record of any of my people-in-landscape pictures from that phase of my career.
However, I have managed to cobble together what you see here, including two from the Walking Away series (one complete and a detail from another) and the rest, mostly details and sections from other pictures.
Despite the incompleteness presented, I still think one can sense the romance, and the optimism of the mostly-unseen whole paintings.
(∗ All sizes refer to the full canvases)
2 thoughts on “WALKING AWAY INTO “LITTLE BIG LAND” – Israel painted through the romantic eyes of youth”
I chatted with a very talented landscape painter in Moab, Utah two nights ago. I liked his work but did not say to him that it lacked anything distinctive from all the other U.S. Western landscapes I had seen. I wonder how he would have done if he had added some people.
On the other hand, your landscapes I have seen on this site are very distinctive as are your people, so perhaps it isn’t the composition, it is the artist. Yours are great.
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Thanks so much Ray! For me the secret with people in landscape is to add just a fleck of colour or light (titanium white with a hint of chrome yellow normally), on the edge of a shoulder, or the side of a jaw. It’s a trick really, but it’s as effective as fine spotlight picking out a person on a stage. I found it mostly drudgery making these paintings, but then, applying that fleck of paint, normally at the end of the work, was always a thrill, and kept me sufficiently interested for the next picture…