Charles Harris Loch Tay Square

Classical painting in rural Scotland – the trials and delights of painting en plein air

THIS IS another tale of working and of traditional painting from Life. It does not have a fancy title, for I wish to make clear the error of assuming that painting is literal like speaking and words. It is not. For too long we have had to listen to spin and nonsense about the subject and some literal content message, with somebody’s sad and modern interpretation of the meaning of paintings. Whereas painting is actual a visual experience and accordingly a visual language. It is not a spoken one. Thus in all great Traditional painting the subject chosen, which you can see first is the content, and that is naturally the intended visual message.

The subject choice is first before all else. It is the visual intent of the work, and visually obvious. While its success as a work of art, is therefore dependent upon the quality of the workmanship shown to display this, and the skills used to describe properly this choice. And we can still live with the wonder and the fabulous magic of those giants of the past whose fantastic skills and intellect portrayed life for us all to still see visually today. Although throughout Britain every attempt is continuously now made to introduce modernism first and send this past proven wonderful Art into modern oblivion.  

THE PAINTING ABOVE is from Loch Tay. It was painted live at the former water Sports Centre at Croft Na’ Caber, in Kenmore. It is a view of the sun setting on the shoulders of Ben Lawes and casting long beams of light down the loch making the clear water sparkle.

The scene is one of ‘Winter’ showing a view in mid-February, as for many years I have regularly painted the ‘four seasons’ in Perthshire. February can be a wonderful month, with glorious days of mild autumn-like weather on Loch Tay. Having its own microclimate, on certain days in the month you can surprisingly sail up a sunbeam for seventeen miles besides Ben Lawes and is a pleasure a group of enthusiasts and I have shared.

The painting too had its own special moments. It was completed at the end of the former pier that reached out a short distance into the loch. At the very end of this was positioned a large wooden seated bench table and my heavy easel was tied each day against this and the picture tied into place accordingly. A precaution, for on many days the wind blew fiercely there.

It was on a day like this, when suddenly with a large bang, the rope securing the picture at the top of the easel broke, and the large canvas took off rising upwards, and out over the loch. It had gone some distance up and out, when another swirling gust changed the direction, and it came gliding back over the waves to hit the side of the pier. Standing right there, I reached out and grabbed it intuitively. Seconds later Alister, the Water Sports Centre manager came rushing out of his office and shouted, “Did you see that?”

I stood rather shocked by all this, with the painting still firmly held in my hand. Had Alister not appeared, I think I may have believed I had imagined the whole event. For, after many long cold weeks of hard work on this painting, its loss would have been very difficult. Happily, however, such misfortune never occurred, and I finished the painting several days later.

I subsequently displayed this painting here in Scotland with some pride for a while until it was eventually exhibited at a large exhibition in New York, and a year later it was sold to a collector in the USA, where it now resides. For myself, I am very fond of Kenmore, Loch Tay, and the mountain, so that every time I visit, still remember that moment my painting was nearly lost, and smile quietly to myself.

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