Barbara Macfarlane is a landscape painter. Through her work she has always striven to depict – and to reveal – the essence of ‘land’. In large-scale paintings on hand-made paper - using watercolour, oil-paint, ink and mark-making - she makes sense of the land’s shape, its boundaries, its character, its history.
Two years ago she began a series of paintings that, while using all the painterly techniques of her established practice, borrowed daringly from the methods of cartography. And she applied them to the landscape of the modern metropolis.
The picture-plane became tilted to give an aerial perspective, the bold simplifications of map-making were adopted to record the busy details of the scene. Working in series, Macfarlane created arresting cityscapes: visions of London, Paris and New York, at once instantly recognizable and totally novel. Manhattan was reduced to a grid of pigmented blocks, disrupted only by the raw diagonal of Broadway scratched across the surface of the paper. London was condensed to a casket of jewelled-shards. Paris was defined by the broad sweep of the island-dotted Seine.
The impact of these works has been electrifying. They have been critically acclaimed (one of the London paintings was given a wall to itself at the 2013 RA Summer exhibition), and hugely popular; there have been sell-out shows in both London and New York.
For her new exhibition Macfarlane, while continuing to explore the cityscape, has also directed her topographic vision to the shoreline – a long favoured motif in her painting. It is another exciting new departure. In these pictures we can chart the journey towards a new understanding of both landscape and landscape painting.