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Light on the Land

Success has come suddenly to Stewart Edmondson. Like a child suddenly given spending money in a sweet shop, he can’t believe his luck. He’s all smiles and laughter. “As a painter,” he tells me, “I’m in my infancy. Come back in five years’ time when I might have some- thing interesting to say.”

I n f a n c y o r n o t , S t e w a r t c a n o n l y j u s t k e e p u p w i t h t h e d e m a n d f o r h i s w o r k , a n d l a s t s u m m e r h e w o n A r t i n D e v o n s p r i z e a t t h e S o u t h West Academy Show. His main subject is the Dartmoor landscape, he p a i n t s o n l o c a t i o n a n d h i s a p p r o a c h i s d y n a m i c . I t e n d t o p a i n t w h e r e t h e r e s s o m e t h i n g v e r y a l i v e , v e r y p o t e n t , h e says. “In the autumn, for example, or at the point where a river disap- p e a r s r o u n d a b e n d w i t h a n i n t e n s i t y o f l i g h t a g a i n s t n i g h t - b l a c k t r e e s . I l o v e t h e w h o l e m o o r , e s p e c i a l l y o n a r a i n y , m i s t y d a y w h e r e t h e r e s a l i n e o f l i g h t j u s t w h e r e t h e l a n d m e e t s t h e h o r i z o n o r w h e r e t h e r e s b l a c k a g a i n s t d e e p r e d b r a c k e n . I v e n o t c a u g h t i t y e t . S t e w a r t s w i n n i n g p i c t u r e s h o w s t h e r i v e r b e l o w h i s h o u s e , d a r k l i k e i t s s u r r o u n d i n g w o o d s , w i t h w h i t e n e d s w i r l s i n d i c a t i n g i t s p o w e r . T h e w o r d s c o l o u r a n d c h a o s a r e f r e q u e n t l y o n h i s l i p s . R a i n c a n b e c o m e a c o m p o n e n t o f h i s p a i n t i n g ( t h o u g h h e e r e c t s a t i n y fi s h e r - m a n s s h e l t e r w h e n t h e w e a t h e r s r e a l l y r o u g h ) a n d s o m e t h i n g h a p - p e n s t o t h e p a i n t w h i c h i s b e y o n d m y c o n t r o l . H e l l w o r k t o c a p t u r e “great sweeps of storm powering down to earth.”

He uses a watercolour base together with acrylic ink, producing a richness of colour, frequently scratching off paint with his fingernails or a sharp knife to achieve a particular tone. “I like the messy bit,” he s a y s , w h e n t h e p a i n t i n g h a s a l i f e o f i t s o w n . S t e w a r t s a i m i s t o b e c o m e e m o t i o n a l l y i n v o l v e d w i t h a p l a c e , a l l o w - ing the resultant energy to fire his work. This may involve splatter- ing the paint. He admires the landscape-inspired action painter, Kurt Jackson, who paints outdoors, often working on cliff tops, and Odilon Redon, the symbolist painter “whose slightly out of focus flowers demonstrate an emotional element in his work.”

Stewart trained, however, not as a painter, but as a landscape ar- chitect. “I’ve always painted or drawn” he says, “and as a child I’d wanted to be an artist.” But he was channelled into a less problem- atic career. For four years, he worked for the Urban Wildlife Trust in Birmingham, setting up, and finally managing, the Centre of the Earth Project, a forum for environmental education. He was eventually of- fered a job with Devon Wildlife Trust where he again worked in educa- tion.

This was followed by three years’ travel in Central America, Mexico and, finally, Australia where he underwent the kind of life-changing

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