In December 2020 and December 2021, John Martin Gallery presented Alone with Trees Parts 1 & 2 by Andrew Gifford at Cromwell Place in South Kensington. The exhibitions focussed on a series of woodlands the artist had first begun to paint in 2018 and which then developed further after a period of intense activity during lockdown. The paintings which emerged were not formal studies of individual trees, but recorded the arbitrary tangle of woodland where branches, brambles, nettles and ground cover compete for sunlight: “I wanted to make paintings that immersed you in the woods, where your senses could be overwhelmed by the confusion of branches…I had to find compositions that could work as paintings, but still felt arbitrary”. Gifford’s paintings had a remarkable impact on an audience who had found similar sanctuary in woods during their lockdown year.
This December Andrew Gifford returns to Cromwell Place with paintings made during 2022. The stimulus for this new series of paintings was the ancient Caledonian forests of Aberdeenshire. He began in the bitter January and February months, painting the lichen covered, fog-wrapped, forests as well as moments of sunlight viewed through the canopy of the largest pines. From here he went to Ireland, to paint the solitary, wind-swept trees of the Kerry Coast, before returning back to the South Coast working in the New Forest and near Pevensey. Early in the summer he followed the flowering of Hawthorn and Elder with a series of acutely observed studies made on the South Downs.
Alongside these observational paintings made on location, the artist continued to work in the studio on a series of ambitious, large-scale canvases made in the studio. Working from his studies, the canvases became ever more dramatic and complex, characterised by intensely exuberant flourishes of paint, dramatic compositions and a desire to push colour and mark-making to its fullest extent.
“The painting is an attempt to show the power of these ancient trees. The bark is covered in scales that reflect a myriad of colours, it involves such a build up of colours that it has been quite mentally exhausting to paint. The boughs of the tree have such warmth of colour that they seem to glow with light.” – Andrew Gifford
Image credit: Andrew Gifford, Ancient Scots Pine Canopy I, Glen Tanar Estate, 2022. Courtesy of John Martin Gallery