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Culture, Art

The Tiny Details in the Great Outdoors

Esther Lafferty Meets: Sarah Smith


In a new collection, artist Sarah Smith’s quietly work speaks volumes about the countryside. Inspired by the shapes, patterns, and spaces you find as you look across the local countryside; her imagination honing the views and feeling of the landscape around us with ink, stencils, and collage. From a simple colour palette of indigo, yellow ochre and white, the pieces are alive with honied gold and midnight blues – reflecting, perhaps, bright days and moonlit nights.

These pictures may evoke the past with their unpopulated peace, and yet there’s a life and a dynamism in each painting too; birds fly, dried seedheads swirl in the breeze, and morning mist descends or dissipates. It’s a winning combination.

“The Oxfordshire landscape has abundance of beautiful views that have inspired me in this new series,” explains Sarah. “You miss so much of the detail when you drive through but if you stroll amongst nature, down the paths next to a stream or a river, you see and feel so much more. It’s invigorating yet calming, too, which is a perfect mix, and reflects the emotions I aim to conjure up with my paintings.

The patchwork of fields with their many colours, shades, and textures intrigues me, and I wanted to translate this into my art using a limited palette to imbue that tranquillity, that timelessness. To capture that mood, that moment without distracting the eye with too many colours. They may not be regular and repeated,” continues Sarah, “but nature shows us shapes in every view. As you look across a landscape of fields, trees, and hedgerows you’ll see them if you look: the different shaped fields with the crops growing or laying fallow for the winter; the lines of a road or pathway; or the silhouettes of birds sitting in the branches of a tree, seemingly waiting. I’ve placed these random shapes and lines on to panels to describe these views that we see every day without noticing.”

Working intuitively from both her sketchbook and memory, each of Sarah’s paintings includes multiple aspects of a view. Looking at each you can almost feel the gentle passing of time as trees cast their shadows beyond the fields. There’s the march of moss along the edges of a stream that twists and turns, and the way water carves its path slowly and steadily around the land. Look carefully and you might see evidence of a living creature having passed this way previously.

“I’ve often honed a view taken from afar or above that shows these shapes and patterns, as a bird would see it or a bee, flying over the running water,” explains Sarah.

“When you look down into a stream, brook or river, there are enormous number of different shapes, patterns, and colours there too,” smiles Sarah. “In my ‘Riverbed’ series, I have taken the essence of these placed randomly over a panel to describe the riverbed, portraying the water running over pebbles and stones. And, there is a wealth of tiny life in these waters that are missed at first glance. But if you stop awhile and watch, you will see amazing patterns and buzzing bugs in each tiny space amongst the flow. You can see, for example, the bumble bee hovering over the water with the spiralling water whizzing past. My riverbed paintings replicate the effect they have on the eye. These changing views and the minutiae within them are, for me, part of the timeless magic of the natural world and I am grateful to be part of it, here in Oxfordshire.”


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