Blue Walls

Saturday, 29th January 2005
Wild West Yorkshire nature diary

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'Blue Walls' after Derek Hyatt
My drawing of Derek Hyatt's
Blue Walls (oil on board)

Derek Hyatt's show at Dean Clough, Halifax, is something of a retrospective with 70 paintings spanning six decades. I'm interested to see a few etchings from his student days of hillsides, walls and copses because they're the sort of subjects that I'm intending to draw in the Peak District. They set out some of the themes of his later oil on board landscapes:

  • the marks that make up the drawing resemble the scratchy runes you find on natural surfaces - weathered rock faces, rough moorland slopes or lichened tree bark.

  • the life and humour in them - they have a freshness about them that can be lost in the traditional approach to Dales landscape painting which can become oppressively nostalgic.

  • they're set in a simple face-on perspective which is closer to Giotto than to Constable.

Stony Spaces

If West Yorkshire was ever to appoint a shaman for the county it would have to be Derek. While the shapes of fields, walls and hills in his images are keenly observed from nature they also echo the shapes that appear in the Bronze Age cup-and-ring marks of Ilkley Moor and in rock paintings throughout the world.

If you view Constable's paintings as a record of a changing landscape, transformed by weather, light and history; a fleeting moment, then Derek's landscape have something more primitive and elemental about them, even when they're dealing with a moment. Like Giotto's stony settings, Derek's spaces seem to be places where something mysterious - a drama, a transformation or a revelation - might unfold. Perhaps such magical events are going on all the time in our familiar local hills, but you need an awakened eye to see them. That's why we still need shamans.

He uses shapes and symbols in the Dales landscape, such as a stone cross built into a wall, the pattern of walls on a hillside or the standing stone of a gatepost to suggest the enduring mysteries of nature. A little owl perched on a gatepost becomes the genius-loci, the guardian spirit of the place, the silhouette of a hawk a talisman.

Piece Hall, Halifax Piece Hall

This is the first time Barbara and I have visited the Dean Clough Mills arts centre but we'll certainly call back soon. Amazingly we've never visited Halifax's famous Piece Hall either. I sketch the arcade, which runs around the huge courtyard like a university quadrangle, as we sit at a table at the Cappuccino Café.

The menu gives a few facts about the Piece Hall, which opened on 1st of January 1779 as a cloth market (the 'Piece' was a piece of cloth) and, in a run-down state, was saved from demolition by only one council vote in 1972. Next Page

Richard Bell,

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