Friday, 6 March 2009

The beginning and the end

Two of the last paintings to be completed were the Hemlock Stone and Mam Tor, the largest paintings in the series, reflecting their importance as the designated extremities of the Portway.

Described in Henry Sutton's wonderfully Victorian poem, there is a legendary link between Castleton near Mam Tor and the Hemlock Stone:

'............What convulsion made
Thy red neck rear itself so haughtily
Above these fields? What tempest sculptured thee?
What demon hurled thee here, a lonely rock?'

Folklore tells that the Hemlock Stone was ripped and hurled from the mouth of Peak Cavern, Castleton, by the devil: an attractively neat tale to encompass the Portway.

Portway Review

Painters undertake journeys, as surely as the traders of old who ventured along the Derbyshire Portway; galvanic force behind Hambleton’s recent works. In facility and established genre her journey may well be approaching the sunny uplands; a rewarding stage of achievement and experience.

Synthesis of landscape, upon and by the Portway, is the artist’s preoccupation. The use of the large brush, and painting from the shoulder, assist that facility which nevertheless must retain an edge of feeling against the lull of fluency. Dark Lane has something of that edginess, as does the brittle graphicacy of the splendid pencil and crayon study Cratcliff.

Hambleton is at her most persuasive in transposition; that curious mental absorption of elements of perceived phenomena that are processed and rendered through a transforming pictorial language to become something else. Such is Dale Hermitage. A delightful work of glancing reference, but not craven before the subject.

There are hints of probable influences ; Derain, Hitchens, Paul Nash? But nowhere is this overt. Hambleton is simply of her time; open to the profligate cascades of images of art that technical replication now provides. Her on-the-spot confrontation of place and its uniqueness is key to ensuring varied responses and to each painting being itself a singular object.

John Fineran
March 2009

Wednesday, 18 February 2009


During early winter, I longed for snow, and the way it transposes the landscape. So much snow fell early this month that remnants still underline the walls. In paintings that come together quickly, I often leave negative white spaces of primed canvas, letting the composition breathe. Snow is a positive white, and quite different to paint. Ascending from the shadowed Lathkill at Alport, Dark Lane is a fragment of walled trackway. The stalks of last summer's maize, Naple's Yellow amongst the snow created an unexpected composition:

A 1960s booklet 'The Law of Footpaths' provided very apt collage:

Thursday, 12 February 2009

All Saints Church, Dale

Thank you to Cannon Ian Gooding for allowing me to spend an afternoon in the fascinating church at Dale. I have always been intrigued by church interiors, not crowded with worshippers, but empty spaces of contemplation, angled with daylight and thronged with definitive objects. Unlocking the door of All Saints with the weighty key revealed a cramped interior, oak enclosed, awkward box pews, pulpit wood twisting. I made several sketches: timber framed compositions, focussing on the simple windows. Below is the resulting studio painting, which utilises an old street map of Derby in the window:

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Art of England

I'm very excited to be featured in Art of England this month. It's a great article about the project, with plenty of images:

The magazine is available from WH Smith, Borders, art shops and galleries.....

Wednesday, 28 January 2009


A trip to the intriguing Scriveners Books in Buxton has instigated a new strand of work. Foraging through 5 floors of old books uncovered various Derbyshire guides and atlases. Carefully selected text and black and white images have been woven into this painting of Wirksworth:

Foraging at Black Rocks uncovered the red earth used in much of this work. Other walkers were fascinated by the sudden emergence of this vivid ochre in the woodland path:

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Natural Pigments

Historical research on the Portway has led me to information on natural pigments found close to the route, including ochres of such high quality that they were the basis for the colour works in the Cromford area.

In the past, many minerals have been mined and processed in the Peak District, often to make pigments. Lead compounds, all toxic, were used to make red, white and yellow. Zinc oxide was used for white and copper (from Ecton in the western Peak) to make blues and greens. Iron oxides (ochre and 'raddle') mined around Brassington, Cromford and Crich was used for yellows, oranges, browns and reds. Manganese compounds ('wads') from Hopton, Middleton, Cromford and Griffe Grange produced reddish purple, black and rich brown. Sooty types of coal were made into black paint. British Geological Survey

Last weekend, I set out with the Elk to Hopton - I had read that umber can be found in Doglow Wood. As we scaled the hillside, dodging mineshafts, I decided this was our most absurd adventure so far: what were my chances of finding brown umber in a large very brown woodland? Skirting the woodland, we discovered a large overgrown mine 'crater', recently excavated by badgers. In the huge piles of soil were lumps of black/brown material, clearly not soil.... At home that evening my precious finds were met with amused expressions, and mutterings about badger droppings. Finely ground and mixed with linseed oil, the colour is identical to Rowney Raw Umber, but suspended in my paint is adventure and satisfaction.

Careful heating has produced Burnt Umber, and added to the Portway Pigment range are a yellow sandstone from Black Rocks, ground and heated to a red shade; and a red clay from Aleck Low.

I am expecting a call from Longcliffe Quarry to let me know my ochre is ready for collection, so more paints to be made...... Here are a couple of drawings produced with the umber, sandstone, clay, and a black made from charcoal:

Top: Church of the Holy Trinity, Ashford in the Water, Below: Wardlow

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Portway churches

There are several intriguing churches on the Portway: the humble semi-detached chapel of All Saints at Dale; the elegant spired landmark of St. Matthew's, Morley; the imposing St. Mary's, Wirksworth, where Saxon stones enrich the medieval walls; and the 13th Century Church of Holy Trinity at Ashford in the Water.

Since Christmas I have been concentrating on the churches, sketching interiors and exteriors. The warm toned study of St. Mary's, Wirksworth reflects the welcome shelter from the freezing fog outside. The larger painting of Morley takes an unusual viewpoint, with flat areas of paint scored, crosshatched and patterned.