When paintings came to life… A visit to Constable Country

Every place that I have travelled to has been memorable for different reasons. Some of the places have had a mythological significance attached to them, others have had historical reasons and still others have been memorable for literary reasons. Each of these visits have been memorable as they saw my imagination of the written word I had read or the oral narratives heard about these places come alive. Then there have been places that have made an impact on me visually through photographs, paintings and movies. And again, seeing them come to life when I visited some of the places has been memorable. But none have been as memorable as a visit to Constable Country, the place that inspired one of the greatest painters of English landscapes—John Constable.

John Constable (1776-1837) was born in East Bergholt in the Suffolk region of England. He was brought up in the countryside and his deep love for the local landscape led him to record its beauty, its light, its atmosphere, its colours and its textures in his paintings. Though Constable’s genius is acknowledged throughout the world today, in his own lifetime he struggled for recognition as landscape painting was considered unfashionable. He was more acclaimed in France and sold more paintings there than in England, whose rural landscape he loved so much. Indeed, he had this to say to a friend:

I should paint my own places best, painting is but another word for feeling.

He received recognition in England only about 8 years before his death and the countryside that he made so famous through his paintings came to be known as Constable Country.  Every stile, every tree, the fields, the river Stour, the watermills, the cornfields… found an expression in his paintings.

The Hay Wain (1821) by John Constable

I saw a John Constable painting for the first time on the cover of a book on the life and times of the artist. The painting was a detail from The Hay Wain (see picture on the left), which is considered to be Constable’s masterpiece. What attracted me to painting was the detail and the different textures visible in spite of the scaled down size of the painting in the book. I bought the book, read it from cover to cover, feasted on the paintings and added Constable Country to the list of places I wanted to visit. This was in 1994 and I had to wait for 15 years for that wish to realise.

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From B&W to 3D colour

This post won an IndiSurprize at the HP Take Flight with Colour Contest

Source: Microsoft Cliparts

Imagination is such a wonderful thing isn’t it? We all use it in our own unique ways. I use most of mine to give colour, form and shape to characters, places, and scenes described in books.

I was very fortunate to be smothered surrounded by all sorts of books growing up (and I still am—that is, both growing up and surrounded by books ;-)), which gave ample scope for my imagination. Even today, whenever I read something—even something as dry as a research paper that I am copy-editing—the B&W words on the paper immediately transform into an image matching the description, but shaped my imagination. This whole process is so instinctive and automatic that all I have to do is to pick up something and start reading for the B&W words to coalesce in my mind to form 3D images in full colour. This image could be static or moving; as I continue reading, the images flicker, change, or transform keeping pace with the narrative.

I find it easier to conjure up images of some words and narratives than others. Predictably, familiar contexts and settings, particularly those that I have experienced, are easy to imagine and visualise, but unfamiliar ones present a challenge. But, hey, that’s what a colourful imagination is for, right?

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