Art in the Forest – Clare Woods and Sir Jacob Epstein invite us to wander into Epping Forest; to be seen as part of Waltham Forest Borough of Culture 2019.

Grim’s Ditch by Clare Woods

© Clare Woods

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Nature has long been a source of inspiration for artists, as is the case with Clare Woods’ Grim’s Ditch (2007) and Sir Jacob Epstein’s Epping Forest (1933). Produced more than seventy years apart, these paintings are currently on display at The View, Chingford – Epping Forest’s visitor centre which stands next to the Tudor-period Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge.

About the Works
Clare Woods’ Grim’s Ditch is based on an existing earthwork (an artificial bank of soil) dating back to the Iron Age (c. 300 BC), which runs across three counties in Southern England. Woods produced this painting after working closely with a series of photographs she had taken of the area. She says: ‘I am interested in the layered history of Britain and the green lanes and drovers’ roads … The movement of people and livestock from one end of the country to the other is fascinating and the path of these roads was totally dependent on the original landscape so they are for me a link to an earlier time when the UK looked very different’.

The muddy brown ditch draws our eye forward, taking us into unknown territory. Wild nature is transformed here into beautiful enamelled patches of colour. For Woods, the act of painting is as important as the subject matter itself. She concentrates on the precise orchestration of colour, texture, balance and scale, so that: ‘… when they are painted the image becomes broken down and slightly distorted forming almost a portrait style painting with the road taking on the loose form of a head.’

It is worth looking at this painting in relation to the rich genre of English landscape painting notably the work of earlier British artists such as John Piper, Paul Nash and Samuel Palmer. This is an artistic tradition that Woods herself openly acknowledges in her work.

Meanwhile, sunlight falls through a canopy of trees in Sir Jacob Epstein’s Epping Forest. The artist put touches of blue on the undersides of branches to create a sense of the shadowy glades in the forest. Epstein wrote about the summer of 1933 during which he painted almost 100 watercolours of Epping Forest. He rented a cottage and went out each day with his daughter Peggy Jean to paint. He remembered: ‘As usual with me, what I started as a mere diversion became in the end a passion, and I could think of nothing else but painting. I arose to paint, and painted until sundown…’

Painted directly outdoors, this watercolour is similar in that sense to paintings by the French Impressionists of the 19th century many of whom took their easels and brushes outdoors to work in the landscape. Watercolour is an unusual medium for Epstein, who is mostly known as a sculptor.

About the artists
Clare Woods (born 1972) was born in Southampton, and studied in the 1990s at Bath College in Bath and Goldsmiths College in London. She has exhibited widely in the UK and abroad since then. Woods has also produced several public artworks, including two large-scale permanent works, Carpenter’s Curve and Brick Field, which were commissioned by the Contemporary Art Society for the London 2012 Olympic Park.

Sir Jacob Epstein (1880–1959), an American-British sculptor, was born in New York to Russian and Polish parents. He left America for Paris, where he studied until 1904. In 1905, he settled in London, becoming a British citizen two years later. He worked in Paris in 1911–12, where he mixed with figures of the avant-garde including Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani and Constantin Brancusi. Epstein was knighted in 1954. He exercised great authority in the British art world but remained a highly controversial figure to the day of his death.

Ways of Seeing: Government Art Collection in Waltham Forest Borough of Culture
These artworks are on loan as part of Ways of Seeing, a partnership between Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019 and the Government Art Collection. This ambitious collaboration turns the borough into a gallery with 33 internationally renowned artists displayed in 28 unexpected locations.