Friday, 15 January 2016


CHURCH BOATS, 137 x 122 cm,Fluorescent egg tempera; lead white, iron oxide, raw sienna, Spanish glazing ochre, red lead, French ultramarine in oils; birch leaf lake in pine resin on board


I love the Saatchi Gallery: spacious, free, an illustrated b/w mini catalogue on sale for £1, lots of young people around. All that and a space outside the front portico which looks to all intents and purposes like a village green. But its art is sometimes dark,'challenging, even grim. So as I went through the entrance to Gallery 2, my spirits rose at the blast of colour.

Colour - and the past - are the keys to Holmwood's work.  Up-to-the-minute handmade psychedelic paints nuzzle up to each other, clash and dance in this glimpse of a gentle, ordered, traditional Swedish life, long vanished.  Church Boats shows an enactment of a midsummer festival from Rättvik, in the region of Dalarna. Villagers are crossing a lake to attend church in boats decorated with wreaths made from birch trees. The yellow paint is made from the leaves of the trees. 

The painting's style and hues are reminiscent of Impressionism 'I am interested in 19th century themes', says Sigrid Holmwood  'That’s the period when (people) started to feel rural culture was being lost, and artists made a real political gesture against the city. Van Gogh went to Provence to live with peasants, and likened the act of painting to the peasants ploughing their fields. I like the idea that there is a history of artists doing that, artists trying to rough it. The psychedelic colours refer to the hippie movement, going back to the land, living in communes, which is a similar sentiment... I think these ‘hippie ideas’ are having a resurgence today with people growing their own vegetables in allotments and the ‘slow food movement’... 

...I think of my work as being a ‘slow painting movement’.

THE LAST PEASANT-PAINTERS PEELING POTATOES (Old Woman Mill)    Fluorescent orange egg tempera; lead white, Prussian blue, Chrome yellow light, lead antimonate, Bohemian green earth, Spanish glazing ochre; iron oxide in soured milk; birch leaf lake in pine resin on board,  122 x 142 cm
Here Holmwood is inspired by the 19th-century peasant painters of the Darlarna province, whose folk art is a national symbol of Sweden. The figures of the two women are based on an archive photo of the last peasant-painters and they sit in front of a typical Dalecarlian composition. The artist teases out the ways in which the hand-making of materials generates meaning and confronts the alienation of industrialised life. 'I use things made by hand by other people', she says, 'such as paint brushes, reproduction period pottery, wooden bowls, hand blown glass, all mixed in with modern things. I like the idea that I’m partaking in other peoples’ crafts and skills'.  

To get a psychedelic effect the artist has  painted the woodwork to look like mahogany, using a technique the women used: paint  glazed with sour milk and pigment mixture. and sealed with oil. The image on the wall, by the way, is worth a second look.  At least it has a happy ending. It's based on a folk legend of old women who are ground up in a mill and emerge rejuvenated.

The Saatchi Gallery is off Kings Road Chelsea, an expensive shopping area. But nearby is a florist's stall. I bought a bunch of yellow daffodil buds, another of purple Iris spears and a pot with 5 narcissus bulbs yet to flower. All neatly wrapped and handed over for a mere £6.00. A good way to end the afternoon.

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