A Walk in the Park: The Landscape Artist
Those of you interested in Sky Arts programmes may recognise the name Benji Thomas. He had great success in Landscape Artist of the Year 2017, in particular reaching the semi-finals by winning heat five despite incredibly challenging weather conditions! He is also a final year student in fine art at Loughborough University, and had never been to Bradgate Park before. I was interested in his response to a landscape that was new to him, and how the eye of a landscape artist would see the location differently from how a poet might respond.
On his website (https://benjithomas.com) Benji claims that he was born with 7B sketching pencil in his hand. That’s a coincidence, because I was born with a 2H pencil in mine, for writing down ideas for poems. On a scorching hot day, we left my car at the Hallgates car park and spent a couple of hours exploring the different landscapes that Bradgate Park has to offer.
As we walked among some of the oldest oak trees on the Park, Benji was immediately drawing comparisons between their shapes and images from painting and sculpture: one old tree, with a lightning-struck branch held defiantly up to the sky, looked like a centuries-old Statue of Liberty. The old trees held up by metal braces reminded him of a motif from Dali’s ‘Sleep’, in long metal strands hold up an undulating form. Whilst I was thinking about words to deal with the contrast between the rough, aged bark and the industrial metal, Benji was seeing the landscape in terms of physical forms, likening a group of three trees to old men hunkered down together.
Benji has an interesting technique for creating his work, involving ink and bleach. The bleach makes the work sometimes unstable; its effect on the ink cannot be completely controlled, which is an element of the process that Benji enjoys. Whilst I often start a poem with some raw material that is the product of random processes, I don’t consider it finished until I think that all the right words are in all the right places. Perhaps I should learn to let the words slip from line to line, or fade into the background a bit more often….
As we wandered down to the Lin, Benji was reminded of Seurat’s painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte; a mix of people, bustling activities, and the search for shade under the trees. Seurat’s colours are toned down, however, and the bright greens and blues of Bradgate Park were more like what Benji described as William Turner’s ‘blistering tonal palette’. As in my poem Sunday Afternoon At Bradgate Park, posted on this blog a while ago, I’m interested in human voices, and the range of conversations that I overhear at the Park. Visual art can’t reflect this as easily; in Benji’s case it’s not easy to work en plein air at all because of the bleach process: he takes hundreds of photos, with the intention of coming back to them as the basis for a new painting. Much like the endless notes that I have for the start of poems – I wonder if his completion rate is better than mine…
Benji continued to see the landscape in terms of shapes and objects, saying that the scattered detritus and abandoned items (the isolated twig, the lone log lying in the grass) are nature’s answer to Marcel Duchamps ‘Readymades’; odd and out of place, and seemingly telling a story that we’re not privy to. I was reminded of Sue Graham, the ornithologist who featured in my last blog post: attention to detail, as well as seeing the big picture of the landscape, is rewarding and fascinating.
We left the Park eventually, wishing that more Loughborough students – writers or artists – knew about what an amazing range of landscapes it includes. Thanks to Benji for taking time out to visit the Park, and allowing me to share some of his images. Visit https://benjithomas.com, or follow him on Instagram @benjithomasart.