Higher Ground - Bilsdale, by Janine Baldwin

Wild Nature: Janine Baldwin At Watermark Gallery

“I think at the heart of this exhibition is just a celebration of the landscape"
September 14, 2023

Harrogate’s Watermark Gallery is welcoming the autumn this week, with a new solo exhibition from Janine Baldwin.

The East Coast artist is staging her largest show to date – and doing it at the very special art space on Queen’s Parade seems entirely right.

Janine has exhibited across the UK and internationally, including with the Royal Academy of Arts and the Society of Women Artists - and her captivating work is included in numerous private collections worldwide - but this new body of work, exploring the often stark and rugged North Yorkshire upland and coastal landscapes, has been eagerly anticipated by Watermark devotees – who will have a special chance to meet the artist at the show’s PV on Thursday 14 September (6 to 8pm).

Janie Baldwin Sketching On Fylingdales Moor
Janine Sketching On Fylingdales Moor

We spoke to the enigmatic artist recently - and learned more about her creative journey, her inspirations - and her commitment to the environment.

Janine explains: “This new body of work explores the wild ruggedness of our North Yorkshire landscape, from my hometown of Scarborough on the coast, to the moors and higher ground, in which fast-changing weather conditions bring about interesting combinations of light and mood. The beauty of overgrown places quietly reclaimed by nature is also central to these new pieces.”

Although the artist’s work is inspired by the Yorkshire landscape, she regularly receives feedback from art lovers across the UK pointing out her pieces remind them of their own special places.

“Because my work and the titles are quite ambiguous - they’re not always of places locally - people can put their own interpretation on it. It's quite interesting hearing what people can see - and  how they interpret my work.”

Janine readily admits that our Northern heritage and landscape is in her blood: “I was born in Leeds and grew up in the blackened building sort of era of Leeds - that post-industrial era. I’m drawn to the grittiness of the North’s landscapes.

“I struggle to paint nice blue skies and sunshine. I like the grey skies of this area, and I like the wild elements. I like the weather constantly changing, and I love the coast.”

'Out On The Moors II', Janine Baldwin, Acrylic, Pastel And Graphite Collage, 11 x 29cm
'Out On The Moors II', Janine Baldwin, Acrylic, Pastel And Graphite Collage, 11 x 29cm

Janine Baldwin is a mixed media artist par excellence. The award-winning Pastel Society member produces incredibly emotive works, encompassing drawing, acrylic, oil, collage, pastel, charcoal and graphite to explore mark-making.

“Each one has its own strengths and weaknesses and you have to treat it differently. But there are some techniques that I find cross over from different mediums. I really like layering. You can do that with pastel to a certain extent, but not as much as with oils.

“When I first started out as an artist, I worked predominantly in oils and I was heavily influenced by the abstract expressionists. I worked with layering of charcoal with oil and scraping back and then reapplying the paint. And everything that you do, every layer becomes part of the finished piece. And I really, really like that.

“I carried this through into pastel with thin layer after thin layer of pigment, together with numerous erasures and reapplications, to form the final image. In this way there can never be a ‘mistake’ – every exploration on the paper or canvas becomes another layer of the finished piece - and I feel it’s all the richer for it. Of course if I really don’t like something I will take it out but normally I can use it in some way.

“And again, combining the same method with charcoal and graphite, it allows lots of different possibilities of the finished piece. Recently I've been starting with an acrylic underpainting and then painting oils on top. I quite like combining those two. My collage work again is a different beast.

“With the collage, I start off with large pieces of paper. I really go to town with all the mark making and splashing of paint. It's considered but it's gestural - it's quite instinctive, it's a visceral kind of process.

“And then once you have those big sheets of paper, then you start to cut them down into smaller pieces. I like to use the kind of juxtaposition of the torn edge with the cut edge, because in the landscape you do get hard lines. You might have a railway track running through a soft landscape, so that provides a different kind of line."

'Pine', Janine Baldwin, Pastel, Charcoal And Graphite On Paper, 67 x 48cm
'Pine', Janine Baldwin, Pastel, Charcoal And Graphite On Paper, 67 x 48cm

As you would expect from an artist so heavily invested in both her work - and her environment - Janine sources exquisite handmade papers from as far afield as Nepal, Bhutan and India - all vegan and made with either recycled or sustainably grown materials including hemp and lokta.

“I like to use different textures of paper, because that brings a different kind of feel to my work. Collage is amazing. I love making collages.

“An integral part of my practice is to have several pieces in progress simultaneously, usually around 10 - 15, allowing me to develop the works intuitively rather than trying to complete something from start to finish and potentially overwork it. After starting a piece, I pin it to my studio wall for weeks or months, and then at some point it will feel like the right time to continue.”

It’s clear that the inspiration for Janine’s work is the natural landscape around her, but her commitment to the environment goes far beyond capturing it’s beauty on canvas or paper.

“I think the environment is a really special thing that we have to look after, maintain and protect for the future. That's why I do my conservation work. And that's how I arrived at the concept for this show.”

The artist has been a North York Moors National Park volunteer for 17 years.

Conservation Volunteer Work With The North York Moors National Park - Hedge Laying
Conservation Volunteer Work With The North York Moors National Park - Hedge Laying

“I go along with my mum. We join different groups. There's lots of different groups that take care of different parts of the park. There's the Forestry group. There's the Cinders that maintain the cinder tracks. There's the Coast group. And there's our original group, which is MADS, which stands for Make a Difference.

“I'm particularly enthusiastic about the species that are threatened elsewhere, but they have a stronghold on the Moors. Species like the Duke of Burgundy butterfly, they have a little stronghold here and we really need to protect that and make sure they keep coming back and that they're happy here. And a lot of these species demand quite specific conditions to thrive, so we try our best to provide that.

“If I can try to convey the beauty of North Yorkshire and encourage someone to love it and protect it for the future then I have achieved something with my art.

“We arrived at the title of Wild Nature [for the exhibition] because the conservation tasks that I've been doing, put me in mind of those areas that really do feel quite like you're out in the wilderness - and I love that. We're so blessed here in North Yorkshire to have such a diversity of landscapes.”

Janine’s palette tends to be muted and wintry for most of the year. Working plein air, the starting point for her work is with landscape sketches made in the colder seasons - for works made in the summer months. In spring and summer, when the rest of the landscape has gone into its many shades of green, she often sketches in the forests and develops her charcoal works: “Greys, ochres, browns and forest greens are among my favourite colours – this limited colour palette has developed organically over the years.

“I do a lot of walking as well. So, spending time out in the landscape, getting those initial sketches, doing the conservation tasks, all of those things come together.”

The abstract expressionists have consistently been an influence on the artist’s work. She cites Willem de Kooning, together with the landscape artists that were based around St. Ives, including Patrick Helen and Peter Lanyon as inspiration.

Drawn to abstract painting, Janine explains it’s the energy that is often poured into it. “I love that subconscious pouring out onto the canvas. That kind of visceral process of just getting that out. I take a lot from that. I think still, despite some of my works being more realist when I first started out, I was much more abstract in my style.

“That’s still remained in elements of my work, but the overall finished piece, I guess, would be more realist now. I must mention Cy Twombly as well. he's been a massive influence. And again, for that gestural kind of movement.

Janine Baldwin with the wallcovering she designed for Yorkshire Housing
Janine With The Wallcovering She Designed For Yorkshire Housing

There are 30 works in the Watermark exhibition and Janine is looking forward to welcoming art lovers to see them as a collection.

“Until you see the exhibition is hung, it's quite difficult sometimes to imagine how they will all sit together. Because I've worked on them over several months - there’s been lots of evolution and changes. I've looked at different areas that I wanted to focus on and use different mediums and now it's the culmination of that. So it's exciting.

“I think at the heart of this exhibition is just a celebration of the landscape. All the different elements of the weather. Being out there, feeling that on your skin. The rain beating down, the wind whipping around you. Just that feeling of being connected with nature.

“Going back to our ancestral roots. Having that connection with the land that so many of us have lost now. Wild Nature is a celebration of nature. It's a celebration of the beauty of the overgrown areas of the North York Moors. That landscape feels still so wild and expansive and it's important to be out there and experience it all.”

The full body of work in the exhibition is on display at Watermark Gallery, Harrogate from 15 to 30 September – and also available online HERE

Header Image: 'Higher Ground, Bilsdale', Janine Baldwin, oil, acrylic, charcoal, graphite and watercolour pencil on panel, 56 x 70cm