British artist Daniel Ablitt's work has a special place in my heart. I find every painting of his beautiful and inviting, reminiscent of a photographic memory that has fades away. The landscapes he paints feel like places I've visited in my dreams, full of ephemeral beauty. The stillness in his recent quarantine paintings compelled me to write to him.
Excerpts from our email exchange:
What prompts you to start a new painting? Does the imagery come to you in a dream, or is it a flashback of a memory, perhaps a photograph that takes you back?
All three play a part but I guess memory plays the biggest role. It can be a part remembered event or place from my childhood but it can also be from a recent visit to a place that made a strong or particular impression. A few years I went on holiday with family to Sri Lanka and I'm just recently starting to draw on that experience as inspiration.
There is a deep reverence for nature, which comes across in how you capture landscapes. How would you define your relationship with the natural world?
I think we all have a deep rooted connection to nature. We've just become very good at cancelling it out with concrete and noise! The recent lockdown in the UK has for me, enhanced the connection with the natural world. With no restaurants, theatres, nightlife etc. to be distracted by, I feel like I'm seeing green for the first time again.
Speaking of nature, I feel a sense of magic realism in your work, brought out by the strokes, the inky blues and the gentle glow. How did you arrive at this style and aesthetic?
When I was a child, we were lucky enough to spend a couple of summers in a camper van travelling through Europe. It was in Italy (or maybe Greece...a long time ago!) that I first saw fireflies. The feeling of wonder and other worldliness that I experienced has never left me. I think I'm always looking to recreate that moment.
Do you talk to your paintings? How do you know when a piece is complete?
I can't say I talk to them but I have been known to throw things at them when they're not going well!
Knowing when a piece is finished is probably one of the hardest parts of painting. It's very easy to overwork something. For that reason, I make sure I'm working on several pieces at any given time. This gives the work a chance to settle and gives me the opportunity to reflect on it.
I notice the solitary figure in your paintings. Is that you?
A figure in the landscape is quite often me but it also can allow the viewer to place themselves within the narrative of the painting. It's something I'm starting to move away from as I'm finding the absence of a human form can say a great deal in itself about the human condition.
Right. You've been exhibiting your work since the early 2000s, and you've seen the art world change and evolve. How would you describe the arch of your career so far? I am happy with where I'm at but as an artist you can't afford to get comfortable. If that happens (and it's happened to me a couple of times), you become creatively stale and it begins to show in the work. When your challenging yourself and absolutely nothing seems to be going right, you know your on the right track!
How are you holding up right now, and how has this pandemic changed the way you work?
Like everyone, the pandemic has had an effect on me and my work. It's given me time to develop my practice, as the galleries I supply have been closed and exhibitions postponed. As I mentioned above, I'm seeing the natural world with fresh eyes and it's magnificent!
What has been the most valuable lesson you've learnt this year?
With regards to my practice; to be more in the present and not to overcommit to exhibitions, galleries, fairs etc etc. Giving each painting the time and space it needs to be finished in it's own time. With regards to everything else (family, friends, the beauty around us); take nothing for granted and make sure to enjoy the moment.
Thank you, Daniel! :) It was a pleasure speaking to you.