This dynamic new collection of paintings by Jonathan Shearer present the viewer with the opportunity to be lead into a new and invigorating experience of landscape. The timeless elemental power of nature is expressed by these works, not shrouded in a veil of Romanticism but as direct engagement by the artist with both medium and subject. The dialogue created between works of varying scale illuminate the nature of our relationship with the environment and our human scale within it. Working rapidly on site in direct response to the natural world, oil sketches and drawings form the basis of larger scale works created in the studio.
The physical movement, energy and light in the landscape are inextricably linked to the artist’s creative process, what he describes as the “the ebb and flow” of the paint itself. Shearer’s passion for texture and the unique qualities of his chosen medium of oil paint are as much an inspiration as his physical journeys into the landscape. Both the artist’s technique and subject are revealed as living, continuously evolving elements in his work. The ever changing landscape is elusive and compelling, providing the stimulus for Shearer’s characteristic approach of working with rapid intensity on several large canvases at once. The freshness of the artist’s first response through drawing or oil sketch is captured beautifully in this latest series of large scale works. Great sweeps of shifting sky are achieved through a lightness of touch and an expeditious hand. They are also reflective of a significant investment of time; a long process of getting to know the landscape personally and intimately, coupled with commitment to full exploration of the language and art of painting.
There is a feeling of freedom and dynamism in the artist’s confident handling of paint, from areas of untouched canvas to saturation of earth and sky in finely layered drips and splatters that make us feel the cold rain on our faces. The viewer’s response is as immediate as the rain hitting the page of the artist’s sketchbook to leave its indelible mark. Wide gestural brush marks and select impasto enable us to stand upon the sodden earth or shoreline in awe of the tumultuous sky above. Use of brushes, rags and fingers explore texture and surface conveying the very essence of the subject. Variety of colour, light and texture present in nature and revealed through the artist’s technique lead the eye into the work and invite us to explore the open spaces within. Application of paint and excavation of surface texture combine with the artist’s palette to reveal a mindscape within a landscape. Deep olive greens and burnt umber are contrasted with flashes of vivid blue or purple all the more joyous when they appear in the brooding scene. Between “desolation and elation” Shearer’s art is not about capturing a particular view but with perception and emotional response. His interest in the works of poets such as Sorely Maclean form part of the artist’s essential approach to both art and landscape. In visual terms Shearer’s work is also part of a reassessment of the genre of landscape painting in Scotland, the poetry of landscape and its essential meaning to the artist. It is landscape not simply as geography but as land, people, history and memory or seen in spiritual terms, the soul’s journey into the wilderness.
Shearer’s working life exists not only in the physical shadow of Glencoe but in the tradition of artists such as J.M.W Turner, Horatio McCulloch and William McTaggart. McTaggart’s particular treatment of landscape, it’s highly charged and emotive paint handling is also evident in Shearer’s contemporary emotive realism. Shearer’s style is as equally rooted in an understanding and development of visual language through abstraction as it is in 19th Century influences such as Sir Edwin Landseer or the cloud studies of John Constable. His approach to landscape and the art of composition reveal a range of diverse influences including the bold gestural brushwork of Frank Auerbach and Howard Hodgkin’s investigation of emotion and memory, representation and abstraction.
Shearer’s investment in creative process, where exploration of paint and subject carry equal weight bears a direct relationship to Abstract Expressionism. Traditional draughtsmanship as a foundation for composition is also richly evident in the artist’s on site drawings. “New Paintings” encourages us to explore in our mind’s eye a landscape of transcendent physical beauty and creative potency. We can journey into landscapes of the artist’s memory, a powerful reminder of our own connection to the earth. The artist’s process and evolution to date affirms the relevance of painting in contemporary practice and leads us to a deeper understanding of these “wild places”. Shearer’s art does not seek to literally define geography using optical effects but stimulates freedom of the imagination through the artist’s mark. This is the measure of his strength as an artist, part of a captivating vision of landscape that expands the parameters of the genre.