Featured Artist: Maggie Robinson

Image: The melodious Silence of the soul Opus 489, Mixed Media on Wood.

Maggie Robinson is currently preparing for a solo exhibition entitled ‘The Music of the Landscape’ at The Smithy Gallery in Blanefield, Scotland which will open on 5 June 2022. She has spent the last 6 months creating a new body of work for this exhibition which is on display until 5 July 2022. She kindly spent a few hours speaking to MAFA about this new exhibition and the inspiration behind her work.

Why does music feature so strongly in your artwork?

I was fortunate to have grown up in a very musical family. I was one of five children, the only girl, and we lived in a vicarage in North Yorkshire. We had a very free childhood enjoying and exploring the countryside on our doorstep and as we didn’t have a television for many years we would often entertain ourselves by making music together. We all played different musical instruments, I played the piano and later also learnt to play the viola, eventually playing in a string quartet. After leaving school I went on to train as a teacher of physical education and music and I graduated with a Bachelor of Education Degree in London. I remained in the South of England for the next four decades.

In 2010 I moved back to Yorkshire with my husband, who is also an artist. We planned to rediscover the area and went on many walks within the Northern National Parks. These rambles brought back a lot of happy childhood memories of daytrips and holidays as a family. Sadly, by the time I was in my early thirties, married with three children both my parents and my eldest brother had died and I found myself with a deep sense of purpose which was to preserve all those things that as a family we had held dear. It occurred to me that if I took the idea of our music played in these glorious surroundings I could possibly produce a body of work entitled ‘The Music of the Landscape’.

You will notice that the titles of my paintings all have a musical reference and an Opus number. The paintings shown above ‘The Melodious Silence of the Soul’ Opus 489 and ‘Ardent Winds of Harmony’ Opus 480 are examples of how they are all recorded. I felt that if I approached every landscape through the eyes of a musician, this would give me a consistent voice and a unique interpretation. I was never going to be satisfied just going out and painting what was in front of me, I needed to create works that were rich in personal experience and emotion.

My artwork is based on three core musical elements – melody, harmony and rhythm. These elements I seek out in the landscape by looking at the structure, the patterns and the flow of the land as well as trying to create a mood or emotion connected to that place. I find that just concentrating on these three elements brings continuity to my work and enables me to capture something of the actual view and also a personal energy to the scene.

I have spent the last twelve years developing this project and have now produced over 520 paintings in the series.

What artists have influenced your practice?

One of my main influences has to be Kandinsky, particularly the blocks of colour that you see in his early work. In June 2006 I visited the Tate Modern exhibition of his paintings; seeing his artworks in person and up close had a huge impact on me. Over the years I have studied many artists work but particularly love the work of the Fauves such as Andre Derain, Vlaminck and Matisse. Their free use of colour created such joyful scenes I still look at their work and smile!

With regard to my still life paintings, much of my inspiration comes from studying the Cubists. Artists such as Georges Braque, Juan Gris, and of course Picasso filled my life for many years as I loved their way of analysing objects, breaking them up and reassembling them in an abstracted form and seeing things from multiple viewpoints. I prefer not to paint the subject entirely as it is but to create paintings from the subject with a freedom to explore abstracted qualities and make up patterns and marks that create energy within the composition. I therefore do not set up typical still life arrangements, I just gather a collection of objects and explore the possibilities.

The use of colour within your paintings is very distinctive. Can you explain how you work with colour?

I have always had an eye for colour. When I was a young girl, my Mum would ask me to remember a colour, say of curtains, to match with other items. I would go shopping with her and she would rely on me to help her choose the cushions or whatever it was she needed.

It was when I began teaching art groups and tutoring on painting holidays that I realised that although I was quite happy with the colours I chose I needed to understand for myself the theory of how it works. It was important that I could help others also to understand and to achieve so I set about studying everything I could in relation to this. I read many books about the use of colour for artists but found that much of the theory wasn’t fully explained in relation to actually painting a picture. I’d been aware of the artist’s colour wheel for many years but like many others I had never really used it as a practical way of helping me select and work out the colour palettes for each work. I gradually realised that by following the choices available on the wheel it gave me some very exciting and unusual results which I loved. After many years of working in this way I feel I have now developed my own style having built up the confidence to use colour boldly and I thoroughly enjoy the process!

It always amused me when teaching artists when I asked participants on a course if they had a colour wheel and how many actually used it. It was the same answer each time – everyone had them but they were stuffed redundantly in a drawer never having seen the light of day because they didn’t understand the relevance of them. My advice is to read and absorb all the small print, it is invaluable!

For myself, I choose a palette before I start painting and then my first step is to fill my canvas or board with abstract blocks of the selected colours. That immediately gives me a creative base upon which to start building rather than a clean white surface. I nearly always use pure colour and create depth and tone by adding black, white or the complimentary colour so that I keep the colours true to the colour wheel. Using acrylic is brillant as it dries so quickly and I can wipe out layers and add paint over the top. I sometimes use charcoal to create movement and line. I will rework and re-layer paintings many times until I find the energy in the piece and am happy with it.

Tell us a little more about your forthcoming exhibition and what you hope to achieve in the next few years?

I am busy preparing my solo exhibition at The Smithy Gallery which is in Blanefield, Scotland. It is a beautiful gallery space situated in what was an old blacksmith’s cottage. The gallery is run with ever changing exhibitions throughout the year. I was fortunate enough to take part in one of their group exhibitions before Christmas in 2021. Shortly after that opportunity, I was invited by the gallery owner to hold a solo exhibition this June to which I responded with enthusiasm! Since then I have created 36 new paintings of various sizes and prices and am now ready to deliver them at the end of May.

My artwork seems to sell particularly well in the North of England, where I think buyers see the love of the North and it’s countryside in my paintings. I would like to be known as an artist who represents Northern landscapes and shouts about the place I love. In Yorkshire, the name of Peter Hicks is almost synonymous with paintings of the North York Moors. His sweeping landscapes of the moors in all seasons and weathers describe and explore the fall of light and cloud-shadow over immense rolling distances. I was lucky enough to get some advice from him several years ago which I carry with me now. Years ago he was at the end of preparing for a large solo exhibition to be held in London. Once he had completed the works he looked at it all and said to himself:

‘Well, I don’t know if it is good , I don’t know if it is bad, but what I do know, is that it is me’.

This mind-set and his words have stuck with me. You can learn good and bad composition, how to use colour and make marks but only you can find the essence of what makes your artwork reflect you as an individual. For me it is summed up in the wonderful quote by Reginald Holmes:

‘The earth has music for those who listen’

Category: Featured Artist