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Dolomites: Portrait of the Pale Mountains; an exhibition by Scottish artist Rowan Huntley opens at THE ALPINE CLUB in early November.
The exhibition portrays the uniquely sculpted peaks of this amazing landscape which have provided much for Rowan to work with over the last year. Views Include Sassolungo/Langkofel, Sella, Civetta, Pelmo, Tofana, Cristallo, Sorapis, Antaleo and Tre Cime di Lavaredo/Drei Zinnen. This is a extraordinary collection of work to stir memories and inspire future adventures.
Recently Rowan Huntley took time out of her very busy schedule to talk to The Armchair Mountaineer.
AM: Hi Rowan, thank you for your time. Can you tell me a little about your latest exhibition which starts at the Alpine Club in London on the 8th of November?
RH: I guess you could call it a visual study of some pretty impressive rock! The spectacular landscape of the Dolomites is all about the geology, the mountains are not particularly high but what they lack in stature they certainly make up for in design. Fantastical formations and chameleon-like qualities to the rock itself produce remarkable imagery when combined with sparkling light and the dramatic weather of the area. It is very ‘busy’ subject matter with lots going on both close up in the rock and in the wider landscape, so it proved joyful but challenging to paint. With the constant dilemma of what to include and what to leave out [for the benefit of the picture] it’s been a great exercise in simplification!
AM: Have you always painted mountains and wilderness as your subject and why did you come to focus on what is, at least I suspect from a commercial perspective, a somewhat restricted niche?
RH: I’ve always loved mountains, rock, snow and ice, the more bleak the better. The sea too is important to me. I grew up near the coast in south east Scotland and live in Wales and have an innate appreciation of rugged, open spaces.
Mountains and ice are my burning passion, I love nothing more than being wrapped up against an icy wind high on a remote snowy hillside with hardly another soul around. My work may be niche market but it’s from the heart and that’s all that concerns me.
AM: Your father Eric Huntley was a very accomplished painter, to what extent did you learn your craft from him? Did you paint as a child?
RH: My late father was indeed a very talented, accomplished painter and a proud elected member of the RSW (Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour). As a child I painted with him in the garden and watched him at work in his studio. Sadly he died just as I began painting full time so I’ve had to figure things out for myself.
But I treasure the snippets I did squirrel away, the encouragement he gave and the faith he showed in my ability to be the best I can be. 25 years on I know he’d be proud of my achievements and my resilience in what is, in many respects, a difficult arena to work in, here in the UK (Non-British mountain art).
AM: In this latest collection your work is once again evolving. There is a realistic quality to it from a distance, but not so much close up - how do you manage to achieve such a balance? What inspires you to paint like that?
RH: I seek to portray the landscape as it is but, within that, I adjust, adapt and move things around to suit the picture I am creating. Composition and light are the key elements to get right, with those in place there’s at least a chance of success! With training in Wildlife Illustration where precision and description took precedence, I strive instead to let the paint do more and to achieve recognisability through suggestion and impression rather than fine detail. I’m a work in progress but making advancements in the right direction and I continue to push myself outside my comfort zone. I paint mainly in acrylic on canvas or watercolour on paper.
AM: The authenticity of the light and the drama of the skies is what transports me to the mountains when looking at your work. Do you have a view in mind and wait for conditions to paint it or is your art more immediate - do you roam around looking for your next subject?
RH: Thank you! All of the above. Whether globe-trotting from my armchair or roaming locally I decide where I want to paint and go there. Painting excursions are all-important, they’re about direct observation and information gathering. These are fundamental to my work and enable the building of strong foundations from which creativity can grow.
AM: So, talk me through your creative process; the ever changing weather and extreme conditions may provide endless subject matter but I imagine it also provides challenges to getting the work done?
RH: I was a Girl Guide and learned to ‘be prepared’! Working outside can of course be challenging. The weather is uncontrollable but, with proper preparation, opportunity can be maximised. My most testing, inspiring painting experiences were among the sub-Antarctic Islands, alone on snow and ice in biting, howling wind with seals and penguins for company. Paintings produced were nothing more than sketchy fragments, but that time spent intently looking was invaluable.
Back in the studio, a painting will be based on accumulated material from several visits to any one place. As the setting sun or a passing storm are gone in minutes it’s a race to get crucial information down in paint. Revisiting the same spot in more settled or daytime conditions allows for longer studies of form and object placement. These combined, along with a peppering of wobbly video, questionable photos, scribbles and colour notes, provide the information I require to build a painting.
AM: As you have mentioned, you have painted in some pretty remote places such as Antarctica and South Georgia. Do you have a favourite region or mountain?
RH: South Georgia is an exceptional place and I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to go there. Greenland's ice is phenomenal. The mountainous Lofoten islands in arctic Norway are magical. All wild, open spaces, remote or not, have something unique and special to offer and what they all have in common is an ongoing need for protection and conservation. I have many more places yet to explore but next up, and long overdue, will be my homeland, Scotland, in particular the North West Highlands and Islands.
AM: And apart from being the artist’s muse how else do you “use” mountains. Do you climb, walk, ski?
RH: I’m a high-ish level hiker with poles, crampons and snowshoes and I unashamedly make full use of ski lifts!
AM: When you are not in the wilderness where are you based and where can people see your paintings on a daily basis?
RH: I can be found on the web at www.rowanhuntley.co.uk and home is the beautiful Gower Peninsula in South Wales where I have a garden studio and a gallery space - I’m very lucky! Visitors are always welcome but please be sure to call or email first to avoid interrupting painting or turning up when I’m not there - it’s only polite!
AM: I am interested to know who your favourite mountain & wilderness painters are (both contemporary and old) and who you would like to see interviewed by the Armchair Mountaineer?
RH: I have too many to list them all…. Norwegian artist Even Ulving (1863-1952) and British artist, alpinist & surgeon T.H. Somervell (1890-1975) rank highly, as does Canadian painter Robert Genn (1936-2014) along with obvious names such as Gabriel Loppé and Edward Theodore Compton. Significantly, they all painted in a representational manner with evident love and respect for their subject. But their individual ways of applying paint and depicting light vary enormously and I find that fascinating. Of artists working today, Canadian artist Randy Hayashi, for his super vibrant use of colour and his incredible painting talent - probably one to interview on The Armchair Mountaineer too.
The exhibition 'Dolomites: Portrait of the Pale Mountains' opens with a preview on Tuesday 8th November at 5pm, contact firstname.lastname@example.org for an invitation. The exhibition can be seen at The Alpine Club from Wednesday 9th of November - 23rd January, contact the Alpine Club on 020 7613 0755 for opening times or visit the Alpine Club website for more information on the exhibition here.
Find out more about Rowan Huntley at www.rowanhuntley.co.uk.
Copyright of all images ©Rowan Huntley