Rembrandt’s self-portraits, Monet’s haystacks, Warhol’s soup cans. Anything becomes more interesting the more often it’s painted. Viewing it each new time is different. Andrew Barrowman’s Views from the Studio Window represents 120 oil on paper sketches of the same landscape. Each measures c.29 x 20 cm and was painted in twenty minutes over a year from 13th February 2020 to 17th February 2021. That takes a moment to sink in. A dozen rapid oil sketches a month from their window sounds like something a lot of artists must do. But do they? Views from the Studio Window is actually quite rare. Maybe new. Collectively – and one thinks of these 120 sketches as a single work – Views from the Studio Window lovingly documents the life of a landscape and the experience of the painter who studies it.
Barrowman began his project a month before the first total lockdown in March 2020 and during that time he couldn’t return to the studio until mid-June, so the project was not intended as a response to lockdown. But coincidentally his Views speak loudly to the collective self-isolation, when most of us only experienced the outside world through a window. And – like all of us ‘really noticing’ birdsong during lockdown – his experience has a similar effect. The strict form of the project – viewing a landscape from a single viewpoint over a long period of time – causes Barrowman to discover new depths and qualities in a familiar subject.
Andrew Barrowman, Views from the Studio Window, 13th – 25th February 2020.
Barrowman’s accompanying book Views from the Studio Window (Basil Boy Productions 2021) illustrating all the sketches and some photos by Gav Goulder of the view and Barrowman at work is beautifully produced. His introduction gives a superb account of the history of the project and of his process. Artists are practical people and see work as the solution to practical questions.
From my top floor window of the Percy Williams Building at Krowji in Redruth, I am fortunate enough to have an amazing view towards St Agnes Beacon on the North Coast of Cornwall. The Beacon overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and is a very prominent feature for anyone travelling into our part of Cornwall along the A30.
For a landscape painter like myself it made perfect sense to try and paint it from the comfort of the studio. It meant I didn’t have to carry all my plain air painting equipment to locations on cliff tops or in muddy fields (I do like muddy fields though!), I could permanently set up an easel near the window with a table and glass palette loaded ready to go with oil paint. I could also wait for an exciting cloud formation or paint the fading light at dusk without a walk home in the dark!
I always had Fabriano paper gessoed and tacked to a large drawing board and ready on the easel. I could move straight from my gallery painting to the oil studies if the light was good or something was happening in the sky or landscape. When a sheet of 6 or 8 studies had filled the paper I tacked them to my studio wall next to the previous ones and enjoyed looking at them.
When I first began this project it was to be used as quick 20 minute sketches looking through the studio window. Often just after lunch to wake me up and get me going again for the afternoon’s painting session.
Each sketch is dated and timed, including a note about the prevailing weather and mood of the day.
From its beginnings as a technical exercise, the equivalent of stretching before going on a run, Barrowman’s project acquired a life of its own. The earlier views concentrate on the distant prospect of St Agnes Beacon and the far effects of sky and light. As time progressed, Barrowman’s view began to take in the immediate foreground and middle-ground. As a formal element, the houses in a line climbing up the side of the view to the right of the green tree in the foreground begin to claim more of a place in the landscape. In later views as the days shorten, Barrowman makes evening studies including the red taillights of vehicles on the A30 in the middle distance and along the street of houses to the right.
Tailbacks don’t often find their way into landscape painting, but they should. They’re part of the landscape, and our experience of it. Barrowman’s daylight studies are timeless, comparable with sketches by John Constable, or the eighteenth century Welsh landscape painter Thomas Jones, who made similar ‘life portraits’ of the landscape around his home in Pencerrig. The winter evening sketches remind us of the contemporary elements in the landscape, and the people who live there. Instead of focusing on a single narrative each painting has a hundred stories in it. By introducing the taillights of the drive home into landscape painting – the sketch for 23rd November notes ‘Tractors on the A30 in the Fog’ – these dusk sketches are comparable with the fireworks and lanterns of Whistler’s ‘Nocturnes’.