Twigs Moss Mud - A Visit to Sussex Artist Linda Felcey

Linda Felcey is a fine artist whose paintings and prints explore an intimate and shifting connection with environment, nature and the impact of the seasons on a rural Sussex landscape. Linda’s exhibition ‘Deluge’ will be showing in the A.S.APOTHECARY shop in Lewes from 30th November until 28th February.  Tara Gould visited Linda in her studio, a shepherd’s hut in an ancient orchard at the foot of the South Down, to find out more about her work process.

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Linda’s shepherd’s hut studio is a box of curiosities. Every wall is covered with sketches, prints, paintings, postcards and snippets of text. Surfaces and shelves host eggshells, drawings, feathers, pieces of wood, and birds nests while drawers and pots are filled with well used brushes and tools.  There is even space for a wood burner, which keeps the hut cosy and sweet smelling in winter, and her manual printing press. 

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Her intimate and nuanced relationship with nature is immediately evident in her work. The paintings tangibly evoke that familiar yet mysterious quality of a British rural terrain and its unpredictable weather, the drama and the solitude. You can almost smell the damp earth in these wild outside spaces wet with rain: a dark wooded clearing, a tangle of branches, foliage animated by squalls of wind and lit by gloomy, molten skies.

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Linda enjoys working outside, taking an easel and stool, she paints or sketches what is around her, influenced by the mood, the sounds, the smells. The paintings are then developed indoors and the sketches are used to create mezzotints and dry point prints.

I’m impressed by the tonal depths in Linda’s paintings, they seem to lead you into spaces, tunnel like, with a natural light that appears to glow from inside them. These paintings blend the figurative with the abstract and suggest emotional and atmospheric qualities that exist alongside the subjects represented. Linda tells me she works on fine grain Italian linen and aluminium, and builds up layers and layers of brush strokes and colour with oil paint.

Linda’s observational sketches of British birds and their nests, and solitary, windswept trees show her love of drawing. She uses these pieces to produce simple yet powerful prints. Some nature art is sentimentalised or caricatured, but what I like about these prints is their honesty, how Linda captures not just the beauty but also the dispassion and dignity of wildlife.

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As I look through her work, Linda explains how the titles of pieces inform not only her creative process but also provide another layer of meaning, and a way into the work for the viewer. Her bird prints of a crow, a wren and a blackbird are named Hroc, Wroenna and Ousel, their Anglo Saxon translations. Linda describes how she is inspired by the sounds that words make and onomatopoeia. She draws from Latin or Middle English, as well as phrases from literature and poetry to evoke a sense of lyricism and timelessness. Pinned to the wall on scraps of paper I find hand written excerpts of nature poems by Edward Thomas.

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 ‘I like to play with words,’ she says, ‘I might be inspired by a phrase from Shakespeare or imagery from Rudyard Kipling prose.’

Phrases like ‘Tar Black’, ‘Cumulus Fraxinux’, ‘Milder and Richer than the Meadow’, ‘Like Coal his Coat’, and ‘Methinks the Woods Began to Move’, make their way into her process. Linda is also influenced by the books she reads on natural history and environment. For example, in ornithology birds’ nests are identified by what they are made from, and she names her nest prints likewise: ‘Wild Clematis, Meadowgrass, Clay’ and ‘Twigs Moss Mud’.

 

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Linda gave me a demonstration of the fascinating traditional process that produces her mezzotints and drypoint prints.  With a thin sheet of copper plate, using tools to scrape and scratch, she works away at the surface of the copper to make a negative relief image of her sketch that the ink will sink into. It’s a painstakingly slow, back to front process, which is almost sculptural.
Layers of the copper surface are taken away in infinitesimal degrees, to make marks of varying depths.  The copper plate is then warmed, and ink is pushed, rubbed and worried into the plate. It is then wiped away with a muslin cloth, or a cardboard cotton bud for the areas that require more precise ink removal.  With each print run there are a limited number of editions and each one is unique. Linda told me that she finds this experimental aspect of the work really exciting;

“The drawings are precise but when I’m burnishing the surface like this I’m working blind to a certain extent. There is something special that occurs, an element of chance, an element of surprise.”

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Once the pressure on the printer is set and the copper plate is laid onto the print bed, a sheet of dampened paper is placed on top with a layer of tissue, then a layer of thick felt.  The copper plate is pushed through the printer by rolling the big wheel of the press back and forth.  It’s thrilling to see the finished piece revealed as the paper is peeled back. 

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There is an unhurried and meditative quality to this kind of work, especially in such a tranquil setting, it feels timeless, an unchanged antique craft, and a welcome break from tech devises and interruptions. But I wonder how Linda manages to find the time to work with a household to run, as well as the demands of three children, (two who have been home schooled).

Linda describes how it’s only been the last 5 or 6 years she has been able to return to making art, when the children were younger it was very difficult to find the time. Now that her children are a little older the time slots have extended and she is able to squirrel herself away in the hut until lunchtime on weekend mornings, working around the interruptions and demands of everyday life.

 Next, Linda plans to paint the winter landscape. I really can’t wait to see the paintings she creates.

Deluge, Linda’s Felcey’s private view will be at the A.S.APOTHECARY shop on Friday November 30th from 7p.m.  You can reserve your free ticket here.

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