The large size of the canvas is significant. It offers you more space for your inner life.
There is a proclivity to turn inward when there is a global pandemic, but I want these paintings to remind the viewer of the spiritual release we receive when engaging with wide views of majestic nature.
The orientation is not just physical, it’s a psychological direction too. These are landscapes that inspire the sublime.
Kant’s philosophy of aesthetics involves the idea that a small human form as audience to a vast largeness will give us a sublime experience of nature. This is an almost spiritual release, like the gasp when you see a brilliant view.
Until recently I illustrated children’s books with big ideas, such as philosophy and theoretical mathematics, these were big in another sense. The title of this collection, Immensities, speaks to the broad horizons in these paintings, but it is also the far reaches of your mind. The Immensity of how your soul expands when you stand on these cliff tops or at the heart of these lush forests.
Choosing the Correct Outlook
Of course, one must choose angles of certain landscapes that first offer that sense of space. Only then a good initial sketch on location can provide the best possible opening of the shapes to make one feel the freedom of that sense of place. Travel memories and sketchbooks are brought back to the studio. In this case, my studio was my home during lockdown.
When you look at visual culture online you don’t think about the scale. Scale matters. If it encompasses you in real life, if it is bigger than real life, you enter the scene more deeply. You are smaller than the canvas. You are a child. In that way, your childlike wonder is more instantly stimulated.
I noticed the big ones made me afraid. Am I afraid to take up space? Am I afraid of bigger, more visible mistakes? Whatever the case, the larger canvases were necessary to achieve the goal: a nearly fish-eye lens viewpoint expressed on larger canvases is designed to provide a sense of perspective. These vistas are an offering for expansion, travel opportunities not lost, but to be found, again and again.
There are different walks you can take into these landscapes. In my last continuous line illustrated series I “took a line for a walk,” and in this one your eye can take a journey down different paths.
Although I visited these landscapes with my sketchbook in freer times, I painted this whole series, ironically, under the world’s first lockdown. It is the first time in the history of civilisation that all recreational activities were cancelled and we were prohibited to travel. As a family we were respecting the safety precautions and so it was with a sense of grief that I became an artist in residence in my own home and my art expressed the wider world. I painted with love the wild bluebells of Hallerbos forest during the time of year that those bluebells bloom. I recalled our joy in discovering that cool and shadowy woods with its bright points of violet where the bluebells carpeted the clearing and I painted it knowing I could not visit this year. So it was with a sense of longing and grief that I travelled those landscapes again in my heart and in my art, but they are intended as a gift to the flat walls of collector’s homes, deeply shapely and opening and widening the views you might or might not have from your windows, and allowing another scene to open up another view for you.
I hope the shapes appear spontaneous at first glance and give a gasping sense of space but then, if you’d like to look closer you might notice a thoughtful layering of light and carefully composed colours that builds up a sense of positivity and imbues warmth.
I was surprised: a North European art collector came to view the works of Belgium but ended up buying a very specific painting of Greece. It made me realise that although living between Greece and Belgium is my journey, the boundaries are not so present in this collection. There is a deeply personal journey of my encounter with these two nations’ presence in nature, as an aesthetic experience. However, they were explored in a shared global pandemic and so in each canvas there is the shared need for passing through a gateway, whether it be painted, or over the frame, or beyond the water, and onwards into an expanding space in front of us. This movement towards positive change is intentional: I hope you can sense the optimism I’m trying to plaster on our walls. This is my political act: to counter the negativity of the news with the colourful movement across canvases intended for regular positive uplift of your mood at home.