Its been a great privilege to follow ‘en plein air’ landscape painter, Nick Botting, on his Cape Town Art Safari over the month of January 2018.
Nick has been sketching and painting from life since he was a child. You can find him capturing the transient beauty of everyday life from street corners, tucked quietly away in the corner of city cafes, or painting out in the vast unpredictable landscape.
Nick says “ There is something about tackling a scene from life that is uniquely exhilarating and challenging, there is simply no time to overthink, no place to hide, you are bought thoroughly into the moment. All at once you are immersed in and at odds with the environment.” Nick is one of a rare breed of artists that combines adventure travel with the rigorous discipline of landscape painting from life. He reminds me of the great South African pioneer landscape painters, such as Thomas Bowler, Frans Oerder, Jacob Piernief and Hugo Naude. “There is something so special about the light in Africa”, Nick say’s as he explains that this will be his 4th painting Safari in Cape Town. “I come out every 3 years or so and spend 5 weeks creating the works for a large exhibition, I try to do a painting every day, weather and strength permitting. It really doesn’t surprise me that Cape Town has been nominated as the most beautiful city in the world!” Nick creates the paintings on site in Cape Town and then has them sent back to his London Studio for the final touch ups. “Its really interesting to see these pieces back in my basement studio, which has no windows, it will be cold in the studio and quiet, such a radical contrast to the gusting wind – blowing sand- frothing sea and blazing heat in which the paintings where created. One’s got to be very disciplined not to smother the innate spirt of each piece, to let these places, moments, experiences live on in the paintings.”
Once Nick is satisfied with the works they will be shipped back to Cape Town and exhibited at the Everard Read Gallery later this year.
We asked Nick about some of his most interesting experiences painting from life around the world …
Tell us about some your most exciting painting safaris around the world?
My first big painting adventure was to the Australian Outback. I loved the vast, wonderfully deserted spaces. You could go for days without seeing another human, I painted my B.P self portrait out in the wilderness surrounding Broken Hill, an old mining town. The canvas stretcher broke and I had to peg the wet canvas down on the ground to dry. I came back to collect the large canvas a day later and it had a delicate dusting of red earth and beautiful ant trails running across it. Some of the bright blue ants had been caught in the paint. It was a very special trans-formative painting that… sort of embodying my transition into a full time Plain Air painter. I also loved my painting safari to St Petersburg in the former USSR, I met some amazing painters who had spent there life painting for the communist state. They where unbelievable painters, but had been forced to paint factories and symbols of Communism their whole lives. I went out onto the vast expanse of the Russian Steppe to paint in the freezing subzero temperatures. Way off in the distance I saw a family carrying there belongings walking to who knows where, across this dwarfing hostile landscape. The sight was incredibly humbling. Another high light was accompanying the English Cricket team to Pakistan as their official painter. I developed such a bond with the team and their coaches and a deep respect for the sport. I’ve done quite a few projects around sports. I also documented the opening football game at Wembley Stadium. Its quite something painting while there are massive crowds going crazy around you, some how that energy finds its way into the paintings.
Who are your favourite landscape painters and why?
I have a great reverence for late 18th Century French landscape painters. I especially love Courbet and Corot, they embody a bold, honest, simple way of seeing the world. I really admire simplicity of means in paintings, ingenious mark that describes things effortlessly, discernment of colour that can describe a whole sky with a simple few tones. Strangely enough I’m also a big fan of abstract expressionism, De Kooning is a favourite of mine. I also admire the works of Edward Hopper, Richard Diebenkorn and Erik Fischl from the American School. I am passionate about the “ordinary” being presented really well, sort of the everyday sacred.
Whats on your Bucket list for next Art Safaris and Why?
I’d really love to explore South America, its been a thought for a few years now. I’ve visited Havana and found that amazing. I’m not sure where I would start, but I’d love to just throw myself in and start painting. I think that there is such a beautiful richness of cultures in South America and incredible natural Beauty.
During the years I visited Cape Town, my time in the Cedarberg was really a highlight, It reminded me of Australia in some ways -those wonderfully deserted spaces. Perhaps I’ll discover more of these in Patagonia or the Andes.
Nick has been painting scenes of life in London for the last 20 years, capturing the shifting moods of the city and the people, landmarks and historical sights that give this great city its soul. We asked Nick about his exciting new book, Living with London, that will be published by Methuen in autumn:
It is a book of 100 views of the city from a Londoner’s perspective, with pictures from Brixton Market, to the arrivals lounge at Heathrow. For each painting there is a facing page of text about that place, it’s history and people. For Westminster Bridge at dawn, we included Wordsworth’s sonnet inspired by that view as seen by him 200 years earlier than the day I created the painting. The text is being written by Suni Aden, my wife, who has pick out the jewels from the vast body of research we’ve conducted over the last 10 years.
The painting that will grace the cover is called: The Pool of London, and was a painting of The Queen’s Jubilee Flotilla as it arrived in the pool of London. It was a nightmare to do this painting, because I was painting it during a party. When the boats came by everyone was jostling me for a better view! I recreated another bigger version for Lord Salisbury, who organised the event, and that painting now hangs in the Lords’s residence, at Hatfield House.
Nick Botting is represented by Portland Gallery in London and has exhibited extensively internationally. He has works in numerous prestigious collections such as Lord’s Museum at MCC.
Interview written by Tamlyn Martin