The artist who prompts us to ask: what are we missing?

Art in Focus: Hannah Brown’s Washford Pyne, 11

Washford Pyne 11 is a landscape painting by  English artist Hannah Brown.  A grass trail leads into the darkness of a tree line.

Washford Pyne 11 is a landscape painting by English artist Hannah Brown. A grass trail leads into the darkness of a tree line.

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What is it?
Washford Pyne 11 is a landscape painting by the English artist Hannah Brown. It represents a location in a small village in central Devon. A grass trail leads into the darkness of a tree line. But it is not really a creepy picture. It is calm, quiet and rural. At the same time, there is an underlying air of expectation, even mild apprehension, about it.

It was painted in 2016, but there is no sign of the modern world, just grass, wildflowers and trees. It looks like a place where people are likely to walk, but there is nobody in sight. In Michelangelo Antonio’s film Blow-Up, the photographer protagonist takes photographs in a park one day, then begins to suspect that the images include significant details that he did not notice, details that may point to a crime. Brown’s paintings invite a similar kind of examination; they prompt us to ask what we are missing. As it turns out, that is exactly the right question.

How was it done?
Brown uses oil paint on linen: traditional means employed towards traditional ends. But, for all their realism, her paintings are not simply studies of what is there in front of her. At Washford Pyne, she made photographic studies using a day-for-night technique, and then digitally altered the colour. When she made her series of Victoria Park paintings, her subject was a park she walked through every day in London. But she edited out all traces of people, birds, park furniture and fittings, and anything like a landmark that might identify the site. In fact, she even got rid of the clouds, so the drama of the weather is absent. The skies are a neutral blank. All this is true of the Washford Pine paintings as well. The result of all these adjustments is a slightly strange, hushed atmosphere.

Where can I see it?
It is one of just three paintings – plus a preparatory study – that make up Brown’s exhibition Nocturnes at the Cross Gallery, Francis Street, Dublin, until December 6th.

Is it a typical work by the artist?
It is typical and untypical. It is untypical because it, and the other two paintings at the Cross, measure 1.5m by 2m, making them by far the largest Brown has made to date. On the other hand, it is typical because she is invariably drawn to quiet, ordinary, overgrown patches of land “that are easily overlooked”. Another recent series, for example, is titled The Field Next to Tesco that is Soon to be Built On.

She was born in Salisbury, though her family then moved to Devon. She completed an art and design foundation course at Exeter College and went on to study sculpture in London, qualifying as a teacher before taking her MA, again in sculpture, at the Royal College of Art. She continues to make sculpture (in plaster and clay, with fabric additions, quite different from her paintings), but, as she put it, she fell in love with the language of painting, and she established her reputation with her paintings.

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