Friday 19 January 2018

What Lies Beneath: August Moorland

August Moorland, near Hathersage by Rex Preston Oil on canvas, courtesy of the artist

August Moors near Hathersage by Rex Preston
August Moors near Hathersage by Rex Preston

Niall MacMonagle

'One has no great hopes of Birmingham. I always say there is something direful in the sound." So says the dreadful vulgarian Mrs Elton in Jane Austen's Emma, but Birmingham-born artist Rex Preston is proof that wonderful things originate there. Preston, painting all his life, remembers sketchbook paintings he did of Trentham Gardens, Staffordshire, at age 14.

"My family kept a pub and I was selling paintings from the pub walls since 1963, when I was 15," Rex revealed. After Art School he worked as a print designer. "That gave me a work ethic but I realised that I much preferred to draw or paint my own choice of subject," he says - so he quit and became a full-time artist at 21. He never accepted commissions, saying: "I see myself as a free spirit".

His choice of subject is empty, wild and wide landscapes. Never people? "I used to paint more traditional paintings and regularly included figures but, more recently, my work is slightly more abstract or impressionist and figures tend to invade the space and spoil the mystery and mood," he says. "Hopefully, anyone looking at my paintings can disappear into the canvas. Working figures are less invasive and I do sometimes paint someone working on a boat, etc." He has painted in England, Scotland and France; Turner and Constable inspire him.

August Moorland, near Hathersage is one to disappear into. From the suggestive, impressionist foreground ablaze with heather and the downward sweep of the valley, the feeling is one of release. Capturing "fleeting light effects and atmosphere", it was painted "en plein air in 2011, on a really windy day with my son, Mark, on the Derbyshire moors.

"We found a dip in the moor to shelter, to allow us paint out of the wind." Father and son, both artists, both love "wild open spaces", their subject "texture, colour, mood and light, and we both see slightly different things in the landscape; we help each other by giving honest opinions of each other's work."

August Moorland, near Hathersage, in the Peak District, sold some years ago, its whereabouts now unknown. And though Paul Simon tells us that "August, die she must, the autumn winds blow chilly and cold", Preston's life-filled painting will live on in every season.

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