Still life and Pembrokeshire landscapes: Georgina Allen’s new paintings
By James Brewer
A new stage in the oeuvre of London painter Georgina Allen took shape – almost by chance – on one of her frequent trips to the Pembrokeshire coast.
As she sheltered in her car which she had stopped at a scenic point, the gusty weather imbued the view with a superb aspect. Stirred into action, she grabbed a piece of wood she happened to have with her – many of her works are painted on wood – and took up her brushes to lay the basis for a landscape work.
Not just one such panorama, but many. From that day, Georgina has frequently used the same slim, rectangular format, so that in her new solo exhibition a total of 18 paintings take this shape. Including pieces of a more familiar scale, there are 77 of her works at the Piers Feetham Gallery in Chelsea, until March 25.
The show, entitled Still Life and Pembrokeshire Landscapes, hangs evocations of the geography and geology of the southwest Wales shores alongside still life studies based on her variegated collection of found objects.
She says that the slimline style “came about because I was waiting for the rain to stop, sitting in my car, watching the clouds blowing in from the west and I had some long, thin pieces of wood which suited the passage of the weather. I enjoyed painting the sky so much that I started painting a series of pictures which focused on where the land meets the sky, without any foreground.”
To the first visitors to the show, the pictures in their elegant, elongated frames were an instant hit. Such wide-angled views seem to be how the eye perceives landscapes, even though there is a limit to how much we can take in. What this approach does is enhance Georgina’s much-lauded transformation of simple topography into a romantic feeling of spirit and place, in this case the land at the edge of the Irish Sea.
To put it mathematically, the 75 mm by 480 mm representations measure up beyond expectations. The technique allows deeper appreciation of the “empty spaces” of land and sea, which become awesome as the viewer is mesmerised.
Georgina offers a substantial survey of the localities that she loves, and one that resonates especially with those who share her enthusiasm for the rugged environment. One person attending the private view was a geography teacher who had led excursions to Pembrokeshire, and who found Georgina’s interpretations captured the essence of the terrain, prompting fond recollections of time spent in the area.
Among the rectangular scenes is one of The Nab Head. Excavations have revealed that Mesolithic (or Middle Stone Age) peoples occupied that promontory 10,500 years ago, perhaps as a seasonal campsite. The site would have been 6km inland, with good views over the coastal plain. It is uncertain whether there was a permanent settlement, but shale beads and thousands of stone tools have been discovered.
Georgina applied her treatment in the 75 mm by 480 mm dimension to views from Garn Fawr. These provided six works for the current show. The National Trust recommends a short walk at Garn Fawr: “Climb this rocky volcanic outcrop for magnificent views of the North Pembrokeshire coast. It contains one of the most spectacular Iron Age forts in Pembrokeshire. Three thousand years later it was a First World War lookout point.”
Another favourite spot is Mynachlog-ddu which is 200 m above sea level in the Preseli Hills, and again known for prehistoric remains. Before the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the parish belonged to St Dogmaels Abbey and its name means “black monastic grange.” It may have been the source of building stones used in the inner circle of Stonehenge.
Georgina is not the only one to be captivated by Freshwater West beach, part of Pembrokeshire National Park. Freshwater West has featured in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood and in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows where it was the backdrop for Dobby’s Shell Cottage, which was built on site down to the smallest detail including the seaweed, and later dismantled. In the film Their Finest starring Gemma Arterton and Sam Claflin, the beach was used for Dunkirk scenes.
The Visit Pembrokeshire site boasts: “This sand and rocky beach is the hunting ground of the surfer always on the lookout for that perfect wave; a surfer’s paradise. This southwesterly facing beach has the best waves in the county BUT it’s only for the experienced and strong swimming surfer.”
Georgina has roamed throughout the county in her search for enticing painting locations. Her destinations include Fishguard, noted for its ferry service to Ireland, and a village 10 km from there called Castlebythe, which was once a Roman encampment. A century ago parts of the country were entirely Welsh-speaking, and today’s population has a strong adherence to the language.
Other locations featured by Georgina include Abercastle, which harbours small boats on a picturesque inlet.
In the London show, there are three oil paintings on board, of the dramatic scenery of Marloes peninsula, seven miles west of Milford Haven. The National Trust speaks of “a hidden gem nestled on the very western edge of Pembrokeshire” and refers to its “stunning seascapes and a wealth of wildlife.”
Much of the artist’s life is London-orientated, but she is proud of her family connections with Pembrokeshire, where her grandfather was a noted painter. The county gives her something more tangible than inspiration, in the shape of flotsam washed up on its beaches providing models for her still life compositions, alongside odds and ends gathered from elsewhere. The latest still life selection, variously oil on linen and oil on board, is more focused than was her earlier work, on individual objects, some mysteriously indistinct.
This is her fifth solo exhibition at the Piers Feetham Gallery. She has previously exhibited among other venues at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, Mall Galleries (Lynn Painter-Stainers Exhibition, Threadneedle Prize Exhibition, New English Art Club Open and Discerning Eye), Denise Yapp Contemporary Art, Monmouthshire, and the West Wales Arts Centre, Pembrokeshire.
Nicholas Usherwood of Galleries magazine, in a note accompanying the exhibition, writes of Georgina’s trajectory: “The forms of the Pembrokeshire landscape that she has been painting so intently for nearly a decade now are unmistakably taking on the depths and resonances of abstraction, in which the inflections and variations of colours, tones, textures, lines and forms become an essential element in these intense meditations on conscious experience.”
Still Life and Pembrokeshire Landscapes, new paintings by Georgina Allen, is at Piers Feetham Gallery, 475 Fulham Road, London SW6, until March 25 2017. www.piersfeethamgallery.com