Chaceley Kernels – Oil on panel, 7 x 5 inches.
This painting is currently up for auction. Click here for more detail pics and the auction.
I didn’t know that apples could be an endangered species.
In fact, I realise now that I knew very little about apples before I met my friends the Brent-Smiths, who manage traditional English orchards at Day’s Cottage Farm.
In fact, I’m just beginning to realise how little I still know.
Because the apples we’re used to now are very different than they were even 50 years ago. They are best thought of as a product.
They all look the same. They are industrially grown for supermarkets and selected for uniformity of looks and shelf-life, not complexity and depth of flavour, health benefits and certainly not for character.
These apples are a different. They are a rare, traditional Gloucestershire variety called Chaceley Kernel.
And they are beautiful. A desert and cider apple, they are full of character, with the odd blemish and all of different sizes and shapes – despite a distinctive charater to the variety that they all share, still with a unique and distinct character – personality almost – to each individual one.
These are real apples. For a painter, they’re a dream.
Perhaps this is forcing a metaphor a little, but it’s in an artist’s nature to work in metaphors and connections, and in the same way that these apples (and so much of our natural flora and fauna) are threatened with extinction, it strikes me that painters who work realistically, with respect for, even devotion to their subjects are an endangered species too.
The knowledge needed to work this way is less rare than it was even ten years ago, thanks to the Internet and the recent explosion of interest in representational painting.
But that knowledge too was endangered and is still not common. It has to be dillgently sought out, fervently practised, struggled with sometimes – and above all nurtured.
That’s just what Helen and Dave Brent-Smith do with their orchards. They grow over a hundred varieties of traditional Gloucestershire apples, many of them on the brink of extinction.
They live for what they do, and perhaps that’s why I indentify with them so much.
And in fact Dave said to me recently that he sees his tree management as sculpting in four dimensions – time being the fourth.
I’m very lucky to have met them, and to have found these beautiful apples. We’re down to the last few now, until the season starts again in August.
So much of our world now is in danger of being lost forever – or indeed has already been lost. Helen and Dave’s orchards are traditionally managed and support a rich biodiversity. As long as people like them exist, I feel that there is still hope.
And I’ll still have incredibly beautiful apples to paint.
More and more, I begin to feel that painting these apples, too, is my way of saying with paint how important I feel it is to preserve what we can.
I streamed almost all of the making of this painting live on facebook. Here’s the start:
And here is the second session:
Best wishes and thanks for reading,
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