Sunday, 22 June 2014

Artist Uncovered: Carolyn Burchell

A sandy beach, rows of windows set against a colourful facade, these scenes could be teeming with life and yet most of Carolyn Burchell’s paintings are devoid of people with perhaps just a hint of human presence here and there. We search for clues that would make the view distinctive or unique. 
Camusdarach Beach 42x55cm, acrylic on board, 2005
AiH Collection

Far from being put off by this stillness and emptiness, we find ourselves instead drawn towards it, the universal features acting as an invitation, a signal for our imagination to step in and we start weaving stories of our own. We begin to fill the painting with people we know and with our own memories of playing on a beach or of exploring Mediterranean villages.
Bar (Zaragoza) 56x76cm, mixed media on paper,1990
AiH Collection

Carolyn Burchell is a quiet and private artist who has been much inspired by her travels throughout Europe, latterly Norway and Poland in particular. For her the landscape is not about the faithful depiction of nature or memorable buildings but a means of expressing internal emotions. Working from detailed sketches drawn in situ and from photographs, back in her studio she teases out metaphors by carefully editing the composition. This process of simplification instils a dreamlike feel to her paintings that reaches beyond the edges of her relatively small wood panels.
Beyond 26x29cm, acrylic on board, 2013
image courtesy of the artist

The added appeal of such symbolist landscapes for us viewers is that we can project our own mood onto them. Whether we are feeling sad or happy, the artist has provided us with the perfect setting for our own thoughts. 
Since she painted the works in the AiH Collection, Burchell went on to complete a Masters in Research at the Glasgow School of Art in 2010 where she chose to focus on the forest.  
Girl in Garden 23x30cm, watercolour, 2011
image courtesy of the artist

She became particularly interested in symbolism in landscape painting and read about Freud’s concept of the Uncanny and Jung’s theories of the unconscious, something she had not expected to do. She also spent much time drawing with charcoal exploring these ideas. 
Into the Unknown 49cm diameter on paper 84cm x 59cm, 2010
image courtesy of the artist

She found the experience challenging, inspiring and full of surprises. For instance she once did a series of twenty five drawings of a pathway through trees, each one copied from the one before forming a flickbook and short film. The subtle and gradual changes seemed to animate the whole sequence so much so that another student said it looked like a fire. 

Trees and woodlands occupy a special place in our psyche, they abound in folk and fairy tales and forests can be both places of refuge and danger. For Burchell who has been since childhood an avid reader of literature, often fiction and fantasy, woodlands are places of shelter where she can retreat among the trees. She sometimes puts herself in the picture as a small figure that stands alone.
Orange Blaze 28x28cm, acrylic on board, 2012
image courtesy of the artist

How did the Masters impact on her work? Burchell feels that the intensive period of drawing has livened up her brush strokes and given movement to her paintings. Looking at her more recent works, we can see how her favourite archetypes have been energized. The trees are now animated and more expressive of the artist’s emotions.
Fern Wings 20x23cm, acrylic on board, 2011
image courtesy of the artist

She describes her work as cathartic because she can lose herself and forget about life’s tribulations while painting and she encourages this healing process through community education among the adult classes she teaches including two recent series of workshops she led for Art in Healthcare in 2013 and early 2014.

Martine Foltier Pugh is a freelance writer and visual artist based in Edinburgh

With thanks to Carolyn Burchell

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And special thanks to Balfour Beatty Investments and Arts & Business Scotland for their financial support, which has enabled Art in Healthcare to produce 18 Artist Uncovered blog posts and accompanying video productions.