Summertime in Cantabria

July 2012 – Acrylic on canvas, 60 x 80cm

El verano en la costa de Cantabria

L’été sur la côte de Cantabrie

The exuberance of the wild flowers growing alongside  the cliffs & that uplifting feeling you can get from the timelessness of certain places is what inspired me to paint this. When painting is going well I can even get those same trancelike moments that are similar to those of the initial experience despite no longer actually being there. I suppose that’s one of the reasons I want to paint – it’s a bit like being in another place that I’m revisiting in my imagination.

When I was painting this it also even  made me remember some of those scenes in the wildflowers books of the “Ladybird” series – millions of British children between maybe the 1940s & the 1970s must have been influenced by them – they seem to have been in just about all schools & libraries as far as I remember. Even by the time I was looking at them though, the pictures seemed to be speaking of a past that no longer quite existed. Which is why I suppose it still amazes me when I experience what feels to be an almost nostalgic  scene.  Yet the stretch of coast that this is inspired by is NOT  just something of the past – it exists in the here & now & like many places, needs to be valued,  especially given that it’s not far from others  where everything has become obliterated by a  sprawl of concrete  urban developement.

Natural spaces need to be seen by more people in the light of being a contemporary issue.  When they are not totally disregarded in the sense of not even being noticed or else seen as empty space that is being wasted for not being “developed”, they are at best  often regarded as simply  something that really belongs to the past, where perhaps certain priveleged places are allowed a certain protection. If we only see nature in a box & as some sort of nostalgia trip then we’ve given up on our future ( we humans are also “nature” after all!)- which is why I think “nature” also needs to be more present in contemporary art. Urban art  is not  necessarily any more real or valid  than non urban, it just so happens that more of us lead urban lives & that’s what we experience or relate to more readily.  In the meantime, there is a whole world of biodiversity out there  that we can’t live without even if we don’t get to see it too often (or never in some peoples’ cases.)


6 thoughts on “Summertime in Cantabria

  1. Love the movement in this and where the eye is drawn: it’s a really immersive image, wind and water and air…

    I’m a Ladybird child of the 70s! There was a shelf of Ladybird books handed down from my brothers at my bedside, which covered everything under the sun. You’ve prompted me to a history post I’ve been meaning to do for ages. The Ladybird illustrations were so strong – vivid and always of something ‘happening’. I know what you mean about the air of nostalgia, even then.

    And the urban v non-urban art issue – that really nails the attitude that seems to prevail, that undeveloped and natural spaces are somehow ‘not real’, like protected pandas. (Interesting to see the reaction to the Olympics ceremony where the ‘bucolic’ scenes were talked of as a fantasy ‘Hobbit land’ or ‘Teletubby’ land, as if something that doesn’t exist – granted it had shire horses and maypoles, but we do have fields and trees and hills still! The urban experience was the ‘authentic’ one.) But so much of our natural landscape is not something witnessed in a holiday cottage brochure – it’s practical, unremarkable and miles away from the obsessions of our high streets. It’s anything but a pretty ‘fantasy’.

    Great post, thanks!

  2. That’s great that you are going to do a post on Ladybird books – I look forward to it . I seem to have quite a collection of them too – I remember that they were affordable enough to buy without having to save up too much pocket money. I seem to have focused on the ones to do with plants, birds & animals, but I do remember that there was a range which included jobs, history & even learning to read – all very biased, but interesting historical documents in a way now.

    Your anecdote on the Olympics has reminded me of something similar someone said to me in the very first exhibition I had. In response to some of my paintings of trees they made her think of “Le seigneur des anneaux/Lord of the rings” & “you expected to see fairies or pixies”. Yet you don’t have to go that far from the town here to find exactly this sort of landscape of shadows & light, velvety mosses, delicate ferns & the quiet of the forest. I have had similar comments on my paintings looking almost surreal – which is interesting because I think that sometimes when you can allow yourself the time to enter into a way of being & looking, then reality does actually look almost surreal if that makes sense!
    But yes, the natural landscape is still here (thank goodness) & although of course fantasy can be wonderful, there’s a fine line perhaps between when something that might originally have been full of a fresh creativity is then somehow repackaged & sold to people & then everything becomes interpreted in that light; Which is what we’re all doing I know. I suppose it’s a question of to what extent we question & continue to develop the ideas or memes that are constantly coming at us.

  3. Beautiful composition and yes, I too remember those Lady Bird books. A very well written post of which my reply hasn’t done no justice. Once the children are in bed, I will return for more reflection.

    • That’s very kind of you – I appreciate the comment on the writing as well because I don’t consider myself too good on that aspect of things – sometimes I get all tangled up & that’s even in my own language!

  4. Hello Sonya – I’m just catching up after having to break away from blogging for a while, and have loved reading this lovely post; so full of thoughtful reflections that really resonate for me.

    I very much recognise that ‘trancelike’ state you describe experiencing when you encounter the timeless essence of a place – and when you revisit it in your imagination to capture its spirit in paint. I feel like that too when I write.

    I love the Ladybird books too! During my childhood, they were for sale in our village newsagents, and could be added to shopping now and then as a treat when other books were beyond our budget (and when proper bookshops seemed like faraway places). That “small” treat felt like something huge and momentous when I opened their pages, and could pore over the wonderfully rich and detailed illustrations (like you, I still have my Ladybird trees, seashore etc books – as well as some fairy tale ones). Those illustrations really came alive for me (and still do) – so real, and identifiable – and yet, as you say, already tinged with that hint of nostalgia that, even as children, we could feel permeate through the pages… I’m sure that the countryside themed Ladybird books I owned as a child were very influential in sealing my enduring love of nature…

    I love your point about urban and natural spaces in art. I think you’ve hit on something very important and profound there.

    And, as ever, I love all your paintings in your recent posts – they draw me into the landscape and out to the velvet folds of blue sea. The colours are so rich and vivid and capture the summer light with such immediacy, I can feel the salt-breeze on my face, just by looking at them. Truly beautiful – and so filled with that essence of ‘timelessness’ that makes these places so special. Thank you.


    • Hello Melanie

      Thank-you so much for your long & thoughtful comment. It takes time to reflect on what someone has said & then put into words one’s own thoughts – & you do that so well.

      I think it could be an interesting study to see to what extent these nature books have influenced us. Not easy though I suppose, because there would be so many other factors to take into account. Not something I’m about to approach that’s for sure – maybe somebody else out there is doing a PhD on it!

      Sorry, this is a far less interesting reply than you deserve but I have to go out now!

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