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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Ashley Jackson: Staying True to Your Muse

Looking out on a brooding, wet landscape
from the comfort of our tour bus.

Ashley Jackson is not the most commercially popular or critically hailed artist.  Whereas his contemporaries seek out bright, sunny days, he opts to paint on cold, cloudy days between September and March.  “Other artists go for color,” he says.  “It’s atmosphere I’m after.”  A casual mention on the “Last of the Summer Wine” tour led us to his studio in Holmfirth, England.  There we received a brochure showing some of his favorite, nearby painting sites.  We followed the suggested route, and enjoyed our day walking the environs of this adorable town tucked in the hills of southern Yorkshire.  By all rights, that should have been the end of our interest in Ashley Jackson. 

Instead, my wife opted to follow him on Twitter, and she occasionally emails me links to stories about him.  One such story, for which I’ve provided the link at the bottom of this post, resonated so strongly with me that it inspired this entry.  Our growing interest in Ashley Jackson and his work cannot be logically explained.  Yet something keeps drawing us back to him, making us want to know more, and enjoying what we learn.

I think one of the reasons we appreciate Ashley Jackson is because he has stayed true to his initial vision.  Early in his career, people urged him to adopt a more conventional approach.  Yet he has stuck with his distinctive style and unique color palette.  He finds worth in capturing weather most of us would describe as terrible.  On days when we’re tucked up inside our houses or workplaces, with the heaters switched on, and grateful for the walls and roofs that protect us from the elements, he’s painting out on the moors somewhere.  On days most of us would find depressing, he’s working hard to immortalize the angry clouds, the rain pummeling houses or barns, and the windswept grasses and heather. 

Conventional wisdom for watercolor artists says to keep your paintings small.  Yet instead of going with small canvases, such as seven by twelve inches, his landscapes extend much larger, some as big as thirty-six by forty-eight.  Working at such sizes requires an extraordinary emphasis on the details of his subjects.  In this way, he again goes against popular demand and critical expectations.  But that doesn’t bother him.  He’s followed his muse all his life.  He may have had to forego arts council grants, and brave the scorn of the intellectuals in England’s arts establishment, but an audience has gradually coalesced around his work, and has allowed him to continue following his muse.

A view captured on one of our walks around Holmfirth.

Perhaps what piqued our curiosity about the man, and feeds our growing interest in his work, is how he tries to capture the very soul of the land he loves.  Anyone can paint cheerful scenes of bright, sunny days, but weather enhances a landscape just like clothing and scars add reality to a fictional character.  And he appears to think in literary terms, likening his work to that of the Bronte sisters, three authors whose characters and stories attract readers to visit those Yorkshire villages where the three sisters wrote and lived.  The TV show “Last of the Summer Wine” drew us to Holmfirth.  The James Herriot novels, and the TV series “All Creatures Great and Small,” led us to Thirsk.  Having driven through Yorkshire, and visited these towns, we’ve taken time to linger.  To just see, listen, and feel.  In Ashley Jackson, we’ve discovered someone whose work reminds us of why we came to love Yorkshire, even if, all the time, or even most of the time, the weather isn’t cheerful and carefree.  Thank you, Ashley, for staying true to your vision.

Fascinated by a true artist,
Dragon Dave

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