Wild about the landscape
PUBLISHED: 09:15 03 March 2015 | UPDATED: 09:15 03 March 2015
From the lochs and mountains of her native Scotland to the flatlands and wide skies of Suffolk was quite a leap for artist Henrietta Jordan. But she's inspired by the landscape of her adopted county, as Georgie Russell discovers
Not much gets between Henrietta Jordan and an opportunity to paint a wild landscape.
She once accepted a commission to paint Shoe Bay on the Scottish island of Shona – even though it involved travelling by boat from the mainland each day, with only her easel, picnic and tent for company. Similarly, when her only means of transport to a desired rugged landscape in the depths of Cumbria was a quad bike, she simply strapped her canvas across her back and sped off – her seven-month baby-bump no more an obstacle than the rocks and roots in her path.
“Loose” and “spontaneous” is how this intrepid young artist from Aberdeenshire describes her painting style. She works directly from life and produces sculptured and textured canvasses, using a selection of brushes and palette knives. Her inspiration? The “ever-changing nature of landscapes”, she tells me, as we sit cradling freshly brewed mugs of coffee in her charming cottage in Bentley.
Henrietta’s eyes light up as she talks about the landscapes and billowing cloudscapes that lure her to her easel. The challenge, she says, is to capture the varying effects of light, seasons and the weather on the land. And she’s good at it. For a second year in a row one of her paintings was selected from a pool of thousands to feature in the New English Art Club’s annual exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London. NEAC committee member, Peter Brown, describes her oil painting of a Suffolk barn as a “painter’s painting”, that more than held its own in an “extremely strong open exhibition”.
When Henrietta moved to Suffolk nearly two years ago, she was unsure whether her new home would satisfy her landscape cravings. ‘Flat’ was the only way she’d ever heard Suffolk described, which didn’t bode well for a woman who likes to surround herself with lochs and mountains. Unperturbed, she jumped into her car and began to explore the county, kicking-off with the Stour Valley, Dedham Vale and the banks of the River Orwell. It wasn’t long before gentle hills, oak woods, poplars, water meadows, salt marshes and estuaries had Henrietta running for her brushes and palette.
Living and working in Constable Country is a daunting prospect for an artist – I presume. But Henrietta tells me that’s not the case at all. It’s exciting. In fact, her biggest canvas to date encapsulates a view of Flatford, along the River Stour, using a palette knife and bold, rapid strokes: a stylistic nod to another contemporary landscape artist, Oliver Akers Douglas, whom Henrietta admires hugely. Last June, Henrietta painted friesian cows by the bridge at Flatford Mill, with “great light” and a stream of school children and amblers for company. She also recalls a satisfying day painting boats moored along the shoreline at Pin Mill, on the Shotley Peninsula, in March. It was freezing cold and she had to keep diving into her car for bursts of heat and shots of coffee, but this 34-year-old is not one to let a mere slump in temperature faze her.
Like many artists, Henrietta enjoyed painting from a young age. She can remember completing her first watercolour with pride, while on holiday in Switzerland when she was 10 years old. Aged 12, she received her first box of oil paints and can recall many a day sitting by the River Dee, “dabbling”.
But despite adoring art during her school years in Berkshire, and hanging around the art block at weekends, she turned her back on her craft after a foundation course at Newcastle College of Art failed to connect. It was only after a degree in French and work in both travel and property in London that Henrietta began to suspect that she may have veered off course. Attending an open evening at Lavender Hill Studios in Battersea left her awash with feelings of excitement and relief. Evening classes followed and then a foundation course. It was instinctive. She was happy. But she throws her head back in laughter when I ask whether it was a good move, financially. On the contrary, it was “completely nuts!”
Following her honeymoon in 2008, Henrietta took herself off to the west coast of Scotland. Three weeks and 30 paintings later she returned to her new husband Nick Charteris and their new home in Leicestershire. Months of painting followed, out of the spare bedroom, with little distraction, a period Henrietta now recognises as the making of her. It gave her the courage to plan and stage her own show, which she did in the Lennox Gallery in London later that year. It was a near sell-out. Her career was launched and she was on the art map. National and international art fairs beckoned, along with galleries in Hampshire, Newmarket and Scotland.
Having put down roots in Suffolk, Henrietta wants to establish herself as a recognised artist in the county and build up to holding a group or solo show this spring.
Thanks to a charity art fair at St Peter’s Church in Sudbury last summer, in aid of Success After Stroke, she is well on her way. She sold three paintings through the exhibition, including a Brancaster seascape, and now works in partnership with Cobbold and Judd, based in Stoke-by-Nayland, who showcase the work of artists across East Anglia. Founder, Emma Judd, says: “Henrietta is a really interesting young talent. She has an exceptional eye for the Suffolk landscape, for the quality of its skies and light. She is committed to looking at her practice and is constantly evolving and pushing forward with respect to how she wants to represent the world around her.”
It is not only landscapes that this talented artist can turn her hand to. A still life of white peonies attracted much attention at a recent Cobbold and Judd exhibition and sold well. Henrietta also draws and paints portraits of children and dogs beautifully. In fact, her likenesses are so uncanny that during a tour of her garden studio, I instantly identified one of the faces on the wall as a bridesmaid at a recent family wedding. By coincidence she is the daughter of one of Henrietta’s friends.
Working out of her studio is not Henrietta’s favourite aspect of her craft. However, the winter, or ‘commission season’ as she calls it, at least gives her an opportunity to batten down the hatches and get on with commissions.
But I am in no doubt that as soon as the days get longer, come rain or shine, Henrietta Jordan and her easel will be back on the roadsides, riverbanks and coastal paths of Suffolk, chasing her beloved landscapes once again.