Still Life and Pembrokeshire landscapes: new paintings by Georgina Allen at Piers Feetham Gallery, London, from March 26 2014, By James Brewer
One of London’s most sensitive painters, Georgina Allen, derives her themes from the spectacularly varied coastal scenery she enjoys on her visits to the often windswept shores of Pembrokeshire. In addition to its layered geology, the location presents her with a wealth of materials on which to model her pictures – a potpourri of animal, vegetable and mineral objects washed up by the moody Irish Sea.
The scenes of her painting expeditions are but a short distance from the deepwater jetties and energy terminals of the UK’s third largest port, Milford Haven, but there is rarely a hint of that proximity in all her output.
Georgina is a great collector of what artists call ‘found objects, ’ and brings them back from Wales to her London home and studio, where they engender the mental seeds for yet more works. She sets them out at floor level together with items found in her suburban neighbourhood, in almost a talismanic manner. Much of the miscellany is the gift of the beaches of Pembrokeshire, a county where she has family connections and where her grandfather was an admired painter.
The assortment of material – “I like a fresh supply” – to which she can point currently includes ruby-hued berries of a neighbour’s sumac tree, dried weed and roots, shells, feathers, twigs, seabird eggshell, skull of a bird, teeth (“some of them mine collected from when I was a child, and some of a cow or horse”), a butterfly wing and dried leaves, and “here are some extraordinary stones, looking like fossilised mud.”
Her enthusiasm for this abundance of articles translates into a compelling subtlety of expression in her characteristic compositions, in the medium of oil on board.
Georgina keeps the array displayed in front of her, and out of the juxtapositions develops an aura of the abstract, because “it is the tensions between the objects which I feel are making the pictures say something.” In a way, these objects have a life. “You can play on the border line between abstract, realism, and narrative, and I find that quite fun. It is something I have done for most of my painting life in different ways.”
Georgina says that the tensions created in this manner are endlessly exciting. While there is a certain amount of texture present in the objects, “I don’t go in for texture for the sake of it.”
In the finished works, the objects appear arranged on a sandy or otherwise natural background, always with soft colours. Georgina says: “Because I like the objects I want to paint them realistically: I can do that and yet make an abstract picture. You know roughly what they are, but they are not something you can classify.”
Nicholas Usherwood, features editor of Galleries Magazine, recently summed up the impression given by Georgina’s abstract works when he wrote of them inducing “a sense of wonder and awe at the sheer incorrigible variousness of things.”
Her works only occasionally betray a hint of the blustery conditions in which she frequently works in southwest Wales. Tides and winds change constantly – “sometimes it takes all my strength to hold the board on which I paint” –and any minute she might have to run for shelter, as a big cloud looms, “but I like that because it means that you concentrate very hard. There are certain pictures that you want to do but you cannot until the tide and weather are right. When they combine in a way you like, you rush down there and get it done as fast as you can.”
She says that this uncertainty “makes it more exciting. You do see all the changes in the weather, and this is the thrill of painting out of doors. I try to get there very early in the morning, when it is more beautiful. Very often when it is cloudy over the cottage where I stay in the Preseli hills, on the coast the weather is clear.”
Half of the 60 works on show are landscapes and half are still life of the type that might be described as “halfway between figurative and abstract.” Her depictions of the rugged cliffs above bays such as St Govans, St Brides and Nolton Haven hint at the menace that the sea and sky hold in reserve for the unwary.
Still Life and Pembrokeshire landscapes: new paintings by Georgina Allen, is at Piers Feetham Gallery, March 26-April 26 2014. www.piersfeethamgallery.com