in conversation with Polly Pentreath
Which landscapes are you painting in these pictures and what is it about these landscapes that inspires you?
HM: These paintings are of Counties Mayo and Donegal. They mark a time in my life when I was trying to remind myself of what had initially driven me to paint. They were made before I moved permanently back to Ireland in October 2020. In the seascapes I am trying to capture the feeling of being beside the coast with a subtle suggestion of seaweed and light on rocks. I enjoyed expressing it in a loose way; allowing a turpentine wash to capture the opaque and murky turquoise colour of the Irish sea on an overcast day. I took pleasure in portraying the movement of waves in a nonchalant and painterly way.
Is it important to keep returning to the same places to paint?
HM: It was difficult over the pandemic period to return to particular locations. During this time, from my studio in Glasgow I had to rely on past drawings, paintings and photography for creative direction and inspiration. Lough Swilly has allowed me to explore different times of day, moods, colour palettes and methods of handling paint which has helped me pursue new subject matter now. Since these works were created my approach to painting has developed. I have become more open-minded as I wish for my work to progress. I draw more and I have also begun using photography as a means of helping me to record my experience of these places and invoke my initial response at a later date. Living in the countryside has been beneficial for countless reasons. I go outside everyday and observe changes in light and atmosphere. I draw outside which helps my concentration and
handling. This time enables me to return to the studio with fresh eyes and ideas anew.
What is the relationship with memory and landscape in your practice?
HM: The more time I spend in countryside the more observant I become. Certain lights and experiences of place stay in my mind. I suppose every competent painter should be able to paint from memory, create ideas about their subject and express it in an imaginative way.
Can you describe your process?
HM: I work on several pieces at a time in the studio. Glazes allow me to correct tonal values, suggestions of light and ultimately achieve mood, atmosphere and depth. I sand pieces down, work on different scales and gesso grounds. Palette knives have always been important as they enable me to apply structure to the natural organic forms in my paintings.
My process has changed in the last year. I now frequently refer to back to basic observational drawing in order to bring more structure to future compositions. I use photography in order to explore new subject matter which I hope will help me to produce larger, more assured works. In evenings I sometimes set up a still life and draw from life as a way of testing my eyes and concentration.
What does a day in the studio look like?
HM: Recently I have been bringing still life subjects into the studio more. I feel the need to step back from painting, observe more and return with more knowledge about my subject. Drawing is enabling me to do this now. I am trying to bring more information into my paintings which I hope will ultimately help me grow more assured in my vision and generate marks and ideas in a natural way.
We spoke briefly about Corot, Constable and the Irish arts catalogues on the phone, and I remember before speaking about Joan Eardley and Paul Henry- it would be interesting to hear about artists that have influenced your practice?
HM: These artists are inspirational for countless reasons. They each explored landscape in very diverse, unique ways; which is perhaps what makes their work so significant and memorable. I admire Corot for multiple reasons; his variety of touch, effortless handling and limited palette. He painted from life but like most great painters he altered his landscapes and moved trees around his compositions. Nevertheless his landscapes are credible because he can recreate the feeling of his subject wonderfully. I dont know if their are many artists that can capture the feeling of a common branch wavering in the wind as poetically and sensitively as he did.
John Constable was adept at capturing the universal qualities of landscape. It is diffiicult not to relate to his paintings which explore moods and atmospheres that most have us experienced. Constables paintings are as much about weather as much as they are about place. His handling of paint and expression of light is direct, masterful and driven by emotion.
Joan Eardley is a great role model for any painter. She found beauty in an otherwise ordinary Scottish coastal town and coastline. Eardley lived away from the city where she could perhaps have become misled by artistic fads or trends. Although she was plagued by doubt and deeply questioned what she did, Eardley remained devoted to painting and enjoyed experimentation throughout her life. She spent years drawing by the sea and Catterline before she captured it intuitively on an ambitious scale.
Paul Henry – I remember the first time I saw Paul Henry paintings at the Ulster Museum in Belfast. He captures the golden light of a large a cummulus cloud in perhaps stylised, but harmonious way. His early oil sketches have an innocent charm that is simply timeless.
All of these artists interpreted the landscape in a new, fresh way which perhaps why their work is still celebrated and loved by so many today. [Also the] Irish Arts Review catalogue – I used to look at this daily. It is interesting to observe how different artists have interpreted the Irish landscape, how this has changed over the years and why certain works stand out regardless of the time that they were created in.
We are showing your still lives here for the first time – can you describe your process with painting still lives?
HM: It has been a year since these still lives were painted. I see strengths and weaknesses in them that I could not before which is perhaps a positive thing and an unavoidable part of any artists growth. I am surrounded by flowers and natural habitat in Mayo. Everyday I wake up and feel there is so much to learn and take in. I yearn to grow more observant and be able to capture the natural beauty around me. These still life paintings were painted during a time when I was working from my own paintings a lot in Glasgow. My flower paintings were becoming very minimal and subdued. Drawing still life subjects now is reminding me of what initially led me to paint; the process of observation and desire to invoke the interesting visual qualities of my subject.