Sanctuary in the city

The mosquitoes are becoming a serious problem. I’ve used deet sprays and roll ons, tucked my socks into my trousers, sworn and cursed, but still they come. Painting at dusk in a well treed area was always going to cause problems. The woman in the chemist who dispensed the antihistamine cream asked if I’d been holidaying in a tropical country. I don’t think: "East Dulwich" was quite the reply she was expecting. But here I am again at dusk, painting…and scratching.

The scene I’ve chosen is very close to my house. I’ve been running here after work roughly once a week for the last six weeks, but it’s becoming harder to catch the light as the nights draw in. I’ve arrived tonight in time, whilst everything is still illuminated and there is a good contrast between light and shade. This small park is a sanctuary, complete with rose garden, and from the other side, a perfect view of London. However, I’ve chosen this less obvious view of neither, as the composition with the houses behind and the beech trees strong in the foreground appealed to me. I’ve been building up the scene, back to front, over the previous sessions, starting with the houses and then covering them partially with branches and leaves, moving towards the foreground. Even as I do so the scene is changing: colours evolving into autumn and leaves falling to the ground. The painting spans a dimension of time but also moves with it, as I tweak the colours as I go to reflect how the scene looks today, right now. I love the richness and depth that working up a painting in this way achieves. The light comes out from behind a cloud and briefly everything is illuminated and the intense bright zingyness of the greens and the just-forming autumnal orangeness takes my breath away. It is quiet here – I go totally undisturbed as I observe this retreat, this pocket of quiet in the middle of one of the busiest cities on earth.

I get in all the highlights I can whilst the sun is out, the fiercely delineated outlines of twigs, leaves and branches. I can hear the traffic but I am concentrating so hard that time seems strangely suspended. Then the sun goes down behind the buildings, and I know I have done enough. I am pleased with this painting; it speaks to me of a feeling of quietness, of retreat. I hope I have transferred some of this feeling into it. And I think, as I pack up and walk back onto the main road, into the traffic of a London evening, pausing every few steps to scratch my itchy legs, that some things…some things are worth being bitten for.

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