John Cowen

Artist & designer

Blog

Rewilding

23 July 2020

I’ve been fighting the past few months, trying to find a way to transition my drawings into paintings.

I wanted the paintings to have the same focus as the drawings: being concerned with the Anthropocene and mankind’s impact on the planet. I see this is a huge, existential, crisis. We are facing a climate breakdown that is bringing an end to life as we know it and it is not being acknowledged with the urgency it needs. I thought, because of this, the work should be stern, apocalyptic and oppressive. Yet quite the opposite was happening in the paintings. The colours kept getting brighter, the marks more energetic and vibrant. The rhythm of the work picked up. They felt to me: beautiful, positive, joyful paintings. Hardly capturing the spirit of an imminent global catastrophe.

What I love about making art is the unlimited creative freedom. The ability for ideas to develop slowly and the scope to simply follow a gut instinct. So I let the paintings lead me. My discomfort with the beauty of the paintings pushed me to keep reworking them, scraping back, overpainting and obliterating layers.

Ultimately the beauty remained but as a layer on top of a heavily worked and distressed surface. They became representative of the fine balance between manmade and natural environments. Both can be beautiful, both can be destructive. Each has the power to overwhelm and destroy the other. Each also has the ability to adapt and thrive in a symbiotic relationship with the other.

Rather than being paintings about the effects of climate breakdown, they’re paintings about the alternative. About regaining the balance between modern life and nature. They’re paintings about rewilding - about recognising the incredible things we’ve created and seeking to preserve them within a sustainable, symbiotic relationship with the natural world.

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