Louise Balaam: Seizing the Light

Overview

'My work is always centred around capturing the light of the landscape, which gives the painting its expressive and emotional charge' Louise Balaam

As Constable (one of my heroes) knew, the sky is the source of light, and in any landscape painting is the main way of communicating feeling. I want my brushstrokes to show the sense of materiality and the sensuous nature of the paint, but also, paradoxically, to suggest the weightless air and atmosphere. I’m continually fascinated by how paint, particularly oil paint, can work in this way, evoking light and space. The art writer and painter James Elkins put it beautifully: this muddy substance, essentially made from oil and powdered rock, becomes ‘the painter’s life blood - a substance… utterly entrancing, infuriating, and ravishingly beautiful’ which is somehow able to mysteriously express very subtle and intangible feelings to the viewer. 

 

Nick Usherwood has written about the dynamic balancing act in my work between the expressive intensity of the brushstrokes and my own observations, through repeated walking and drawing, of precisely how I experience the landscape at a particular time. I like to soak myself in the sights, sounds and experience of being in the landscape, then paint intuitively and gesturally in the studio, so that imagination, memory and my emotional response become embedded in the painting. The paint marks may be almost abstract in nature but I also want them to communicate something about, for example, the damp marshiness of high moorland, or the salt breeze and wheeling seagulls on the coast.

 

The places I find inspiring are often the wilder parts of the country - moorlands, marshes, ancient sites such as hill forts and barrows, and the rocky coasts of Cornwall, Pembrokeshire or North-West Scotland. I love the drama and feeling of mystery in these places. The main focus for me is usually the sky - I’m aiming to tread a narrow line between lively, gestural paint marks and the suggestion of huge cloud masses, the soaring flight of birds, or the outrageous gold and purple colours of sunset. I’m also drawn to lakes and bodies of water, and have become obsessed by the way the way water mirrors the sky and also has its own colour and transparency. There’s something magical about that doubling of the sky, flooding the landscape with light, so that water and air seem interchangeable, and every part of the space is suffused with the same light.

 

For me there is nothing better than sitting in the corner of a field with my sketchbook, scribbling down marks and areas of colour in an attempt to capture the feeling of that particular place. Later, in the studio, I mix up paint, hoping to somehow recreate that light and air on the canvas…


Louise Balaam 2021

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