Pillars of Light

The work you see here results from many hours spent on the coast, making meticulous line drawings, studying weather conditions at first hand and painting en plein air. This is followed by many further hours in the studio, recollecting the moods and emotions felt in each place, translating them into colours, textures and shapes, layering and excavating the surface of each panel, shifting the elements in the composition until the result satisfies the eye. Jeremy has studied the histories of each lighthouse and spent time inside them, talking to their custodians, examining the optics and engineering.

His approach to the landscapes in which they stand is underpinned by a strong sense of what lies beneath. He is interested in the rocks and the mineshafts that lie physically beneath the surface, but also their history in deep time: the processes of erosion and upheaval that have shaped the coast as we see it today. He describes his work in the studio as “trying to locate a memory”; and just as his paintings are layered, so too are his memories, going back to his childhood on the Dorset coast and his first experience of the lighthouse at Anvil Point. Personal, cultural and geological memories come together in these evocative paintings.

The lighthouses themselves are extremely useful compositional devices. A vertical accent against a predominantly horizontal landscape, a flash of white against the darker land, sea and sky, a mathematically regular, precise form against the amorphous qualities of rocks and hills. Even when they are tiny forms, seen from a great distance, they draw the landscape together, gathering up the lines of perspective and structure in a single point of focus. Many artists have painted lighthouses, but few have been as successful as Jeremy Gardiner in communicating a sense of the uncompromising landscapes within which many of them sit.

The process starts with a very precise line drawing. This provides the essential scaffolding of the final painting. Over time, sections are overlaid, excavated, stripped down and built up, but the lines remain. Some of the lines correspond to the essential features of the landscape – the shape of the hill, the line of a path – and, of course, to the lighthouse itself, and its associated buildings. Layering is an essential part of the painting process. Areas are built up, then sanded down, mimicking the action of weather on the landscape, and the accretion and erosion of surfaces over time. Jeremy is constantly aware of differences in time. Compared to the great age of the coastal rocks, the lighthouses represent a very recent human intervention in the landscape.

These paintings can be appreciated on several levels. From a distance, they are attractive and varied in their compositions and colour schemes, reflecting the mood of a place and of particular effects of weather and light. A closer scrutiny reveals satisfying contrasts of texture and relief. But beyond these initial appearances there are further layers of artistic tradition, recent human history and deep geological time. The paintings are the product of a prolonged engagement with lighthouses and their histories, and with some of the most evocative of Britain’s coastal landscapes.

Professor Christiana Payne