Edward Hutchison’s paintings encourage us to deepen our connection with the natural environment. From the energy of complex root systems to the vigour of the dawn chorus, the life force of ancient oak trees to the harmony of wildflowers, artist Edward Hutchison works in watercolour to create evocative abstract images that shed light on intimate elements of nature.
Described by Hutchison as ‘conversation pieces to prompt the urban world to take nature seriously’, the artist’s practice has evolved through many years of close observation as he is also an acclaimed landscape architect. For Hutchison, spending time in the landscape is where it must start. “I find it essential to draw, paint and physically experience the landscape in order to form thoughts first hand,” he says, describing how this can be a “humbling experience”.
This leads to research which, for Hutchison, further inspires his practice. To develop a series of soil paintings, the artist carefully observed microbiological activity under a microscope, and the resulting pictures capture the extraordinary vivacity of this ordinarily unseen world. The ‘wood wide web’ – the discovery by Dr Suzanne Simards of a network of tree roots and fungi that allows trees ‘to talk to each other’ – is imagined as an intricate, linear form, a complex circuit in calm tones.
And in a wonderfully vibrant series entitled ‘The Dawn Chorus’, Hutchison proposes that the symbiotic relationship between birds and plant life extends to the possibility of bird song promoting plant growth – a theory suggested by research showing that the productivity of orange groves is increased if classical music is played in the early stages of growth.
The chorus becomes a “concert” when Hutchison describes an effusion of wildflowers, and the “delight and pleasure” they evoke is captured in paintings which, the artist says, are as much about the complex pattern of spaces between the rich mixture of plants as they are about the colours and shapes of the flowers. The powerful presence of veteran oak trees in Richmond Park – some of which are over 750 years old – inspires contemplation of their past, explored in paintings focusing on the swirls of their bark and heartwood, and in the ‘Spirit of the Woods’ series, Hutchison seeks to capture “a magical spirit that needs protecting” in the face of on-going deforestation.
It is this advocacy for the environment that underpins Edward Hutchison’s practice. ‘A war artist for environmental causes’ is how the artist has been described, creating paintings with purpose. Hutchison, who attended COP26, cites a lack of understanding amongst decision- makers as being detrimental to the environment, and intends his paintings to be both stimulating and thought-provoking.
‘Invisible Landscapes’ is an expression that he uses to draw our attention to the need to recognise the hidden energies and powers in landscape, enabling us to live more in harmony with the environment. These energies may be difficult for us to appreciate but with rapid advances in technology elsewhere, it may not be too long before we begin to better understand the intricate mysteries of the living world. These paintings attempt to suggest some of the interesting theories and ideas currently at the edge of common knowledge about landscape.
On painting in watercolour:
“At present 71% of the earth is covered in water and our own bodies are composed of over 60% water, so as a painter, it seems reasonable to express important ideas in this medium. I love the long process of understanding the fundamental rules of watercolour (pigment in water) – surface tension, drying qualities and edges but especially the unique depth of rich colours that can be obtained by applying up to eighteen layers of individual washes on top of each other. In order to maximise the voice of the medium and to minimise my own, I avoid ‘brushmarks’ but rely on applying the colour in a range of unorthodox ways.”
“The Scottish painter Arthur Melville, a magician with watercolour, said that a ‘mistake’ was the beginning of a painting. It is at this point that a tension exists between the paper and painter. If faced with a choice: “if I do this will I spoil the painting?”, I always continue as for me, this is the way to learn to produce new qualities hitherto undiscovered. The journey and process to make finished watercolours creates a lot of spoiled works. Some people describe watercolour as a ‘difficult medium’, but for me this its magical challenge.”