Enclosing the wide open

Michael Chase is a landscape painter who has an unashamedly romantic spirit. Like Paul Nash, whose work he admires, his romance is lyrical but not sugary. He never strays far from his quest for genius loci.m With his water-colours, inks , pencils and chalks he has searched the open hills and skies and the closed valleys and thickets. The spirits of these are his daemons.

He uses drawing from observation only as a starting point, preferring to make paintings in his studio where he can distill his observations and use his colours freely. His present medium, watercolour, is sadly underused by contemporary painters. Michael enjoys its unexptectedness and the challenge of making use of the impluses of the paint itself.

His pencil lines are obedient and controlled, but when watercolours are used along with house painter's brushes and rags he enjoys the fickleness of the medium as occasional unsteerable streams of paint decide their own passages. He does not try to control his medium when it expresses its own characteristic vigour, knowing well that to cage it in curt lines is to remove its soul and make it as sad, confined and inexpressive as a caged lion.

In Cumbria, where Michael Chase has spent some of his working time, the fells swell like a heavy sea under the hyperborean light. The land is pockmarked with the scars of ancient industry and erosion. The slopes are patterned with the ryhthmic calligraphy of old plough lines, ditches and dells, all long since stitched over by generations of grasses.

In his more emollient home county of Suffolk he has worked on the hedges, spinneys and clumps that subdivide the land into woods, pastures and hills. Sentinel clumps of trees crown the slopes, and undergrowth screens their dark insides. In these deep woods lichens, mosses and ivy hang. Dead snaking twigs beckon us into the bedizened interiors.

It was Michael's friend, Winifred Nicholson, who said that painters need polarities. She chose the contrast betwen near and far; Ben Nicholson chose the circle and the rectangle and L.S. Lowry painted hurrying crowds of human ants against rigid factory buildings. In his turn, Michael Chase is exploring the contrast between the enclosed areas of landscape and its wide open spaces. It is this contrast between the hearts of woods and hedges countered by the far- flung skies painted in single strokes of a large brush that he finds his most inspiring. His tendency toward a decorative calligraphy is explored within the hedges and on the fellsides, and these hieroglyphic patterns create busy dances that make the vast skies even more spacious.

In the well-trodden path of landscape painting he is a rare, perceptive and inventive artist.

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