Laurence O'Toole

Objects & Paintings

Forays into Nature  —  1983-88


En pleine air and all that.

By 1983 I felt it was time for a change. I was interested to explore different themes rather than the conceptual work in which I had been so absorbed. By this time I was married with children and we had taken as a family to visiting friends who lived in the Cotswolds, some 40 miles or so from Birmingham. Stimulated by the idyllic beauty of the Cotswolds on these visits, I decided to undertake my first landscape painting and where better that outside, in Nature itself, just as the impressionists had done some hundred or so years before.

I set out on a warm summers day whilst clouds high above rode the wind. I carried with me all that I would need; one primed canvas, an easel and a rucksack with a palette, brushes, paint and mediums. I wove my way down an undulating field of nonchalant sheep and over a barbed wire fence to the place I had previously reconnoitered. I did not however reckon on the slope of the land so setting up my studio easel was the first of many challenges that day.

My first foray into Nature produced the work Peace Bottom (1983), the local name given to that particular location. My experiences from that first expedition dispelled any romantic notions about painting en pleine air. Some of the things I learnt that day I have never forgotten. Firstly and foremost, the landscape is not static, it is ever changing, shadows move and lengthen as the sun arcs the sky. That day as clouds played with the sun, light changed and shadow danced in response, so also did a thousand little flying creatures, many of which seemed to end up in the paint. Importantly, I have always remembered subsequently to take a bottle of water, the throat dries quicker than oil paint on a warm summers day.

The Cotswolds remained the inspiration for the landscape works created during this period. From sketches and painting en pleine air I turned more towards studio based landscape work. Having purchased my first SLR camera towards the end of 1983 I turned to this as a way of recording potential compositions. It was a lot quicker than sketching. It was during this period that I discovered the delights of working with chalk pastels. As a result the majority of the Cotwolds works from this period were executed in this medium.


From my experience of en pleine air painting it was understandable why the impressionist movement manifested in the way that it did. I was particularly drawn to the works of Gauguin, Monet, and my troubled friend Vincent. The colour and vitality of the work I found then, as now, fascinating and stimulating. At the time I never set out to paint in a particular way. My painting simply followed a natural personal progression. The series of pastel “dotty pictures” have been referred to by some people as pointillistic after the systemic working processes employed by Seurat using points of colour. Beyond that they have little in common.


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