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In conversation: Mark Adrian Stopforth

Journeying through the untamed beauty of the British landscape, Mark Stopforth's brushstrokes capture the essence of nature's grandeur and transience. A master of lyricism and reverence, his canvases echo the sublime traditions while preserving the fleeting memories of his childhood haunts in the Fens of East Anglia. Join us as we delve into the soulful visions of an artist enraptured by the ever-changing moors, fens, fells, and estuaries that shape his artistic pilgrimage.

Joana Alarcão
6 de março de 2024
Can you start by giving us an overview of your practice and what steps you took to become the painter you are today?

I’m a painter whose primary concern is aspects of the Sublime in Art. I’ve always loved the work of artists such as Turner, Constable and Friedrich. The idea of Romanticism and a reverence for nature has been around since the C19th but never has it been more relevant than it is today. I’m not sure I set out deliberately to be a painter of the Sublime but it’s always been something I wish to evoke in my work whether it be in light reflected on water or a passing storm at sea…the paint dictates the direction and mood, I just follow where it wants to go. 

 

In your statement, you mentioned that growing up in the Fens of East Anglia left you with an impression of nature that you still rely on today. Can you share a specific childhood memory or experience that continues to inspire your artwork?

The Fens is a liminal landscape that hovers between land and water. Its fields run black with peat and the skies are always vast and expansive. Those memories and experiences where I felt complete within that landscape nearly always involve nature. For instance, watching a flock of swans drifting low across a Fen in the early morning mist. Hearing curlews call as a winter sun sinks below the horizon, surely one of the most evocative sounds in nature. These moments were and are transportative, they opened up a world of the imaginal, hinting ever so slightly at the mystery that lies beneath. It’s easy to see why, in an ancient past, offerings were made to the gods in the bogs and marshes.

 


Painting by Mark Adrian Stopforth.
Slow tides quick rain by Mark Adrian Stopforth. Image courtesy of Mark Adrian Stopforth.

Your work is frequently praised for its ability to capture the "majesty and drama" of the British landscape. How do you approach translating such grandeur onto canvas or paper?

I have no fixed idea in my head as to what I’m ever going to paint. I just go with the flow and the suggestions made by the paint. It’s a very intuitive technique so if a painting turns out to be a moorland, waterfall or estuary that’s all entirely within that moment. Grandeur is never sought it just happens that way, indeed if a painting achieves a sense of grandeur then so much the better. 

 

The landscapes you depict in your paintings are not only visually striking but also deeply evocative. How do you balance realism with emotional resonance in your paintings?

That’s the fulcrum point right there, achieving a balance between emotion and representation, how abstracted can a piece become before the emotional point is lost or indeed changes. It’s a fascinating problem and one which I feel I have to get to the bottom of with each and every painting. Sometimes I come close and other times I feel like I’ve never painted before. Those times when the balance is right are rare, but when they happen it is without parallel and is a joy to be a part of.

 


Painting by Mark Adrian Stopforth.
Archangel by Mark Adrian Stopforth. Image courtesy of Mark Adrian Stopforth.

Would you mind sharing a specific painting that holds great personal significance for you?

“Archangel” was a piece painted a couple of years ago which continues to draw me in and hold my attention. Therein lies the point that a painting, if good enough, should aspire to endure. Next year it may be different. This particular painting is a “Nocturne” which I always enjoy doing, but there are some subtle moments and tonal shifts that keep me engaged.

 

Your transition from writing to full-time landscape painting is intriguing. How has your experience as a published poet influenced your approach to visual art?

Poetry is hard, I think of it as more akin to sculpting where you’re adding then taking away until you’ve achieved a polished and complete piece. Writing takes time and determination to see it through to completion and in some ways those are attributes that transfer themselves neatly to the work of the artist. This sense of time being implicit within the creative moment and within the work once completed. You can’t rush these things.

 


Painting by Mark Adrian Stopforth.
Fallen to light by Mark Adrian Stopforth. Image courtesy of Mark Adrian Stopforth.

I'm really excited about your upcoming book on the "alla prima" technique. Can you share some details with us? What is the significance of this technique for your artistic expression?

The book is being written as we speak and will hopefully come out in January 2025. I was approached to write it based upon the technique called “alla prima” which is usually practised by “plein air” artists as you have to be quick in order to capture a moment. Whether it be a passing cloudscape or rain falling on a distant horizon. I don’t go outside to paint, my work is all based on memories and experience yet the “alla prima” style suits my impatience and the need to get marks down quickly and then spin off of that. I work a lot on paper, which is ideal, as it soaks up the white spirit very quickly and that means I have to work fast and rely on my intuition. 

 

In what ways do you hope your artwork contributes to conversations about environmental conservation and appreciation for the natural world?

There’s no escaping the themes and subject matter that I cover as being associated with weather patterns and the climate in general. This was the same for landscape artists in the C19th. Today the subject matter is loaded with significance which is as it should be. I hope those that look at my work would then, on reflection, have a moment to stop and meditate on nature and the environment. Certainly on a sense of loss that’s implied. People have commented that “we saw one of your skies” which is nice to hear but also faintly ridiculous. I’m quite literally pointing towards that which leaves me awestruck and in turn inspires me to paint. It’s noteworthy that I don’t put figures in my work or indeed anything man made such as buildings or roads. My paintings suggest a world without….it’s just you and nature, without distraction or ego.

 


Painting by Mark Adrian Stopforth.
Elysium III by Mark Adrian Stopforth. Image courtesy of Mark Adrian Stopforth.

What advice would you offer to aspiring artists who seek to immerse themselves in landscape painting and capture the essence of nature in their work?

Don’t be afraid to copy, that’s how you learn and have no preconceived ideas of where the work will go. You have to be led by the materials themselves, that way the Art you make will always be honest and born of a passion that’s personal to you.


Know more the artist here.


Cover image:

Awakening by Mark Adrian Stopforth. Image courtesy of Mark Adrian Stopforth.

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A painter of great lyricism and sensitivity, Stopforth captures the majesty and drama of the British landscape at its wildest, while expressing a profound reverence for the sublime tradition.
His work over the past twenty years has been devoted to those vistas that are associated with the untamed and wild atmosphere that can be found in the moors, fens, fells and estuaries of Britain. He has carried those impressions of the sublime in the landscape that were left on him as a child growing up in the Fens of East Anglia, impressions that are still relevant to his work today. Recently it has been the Fenland and river estuaries of his childhood, which are forever changing and in some cases disappearing, that have consumed Mark's imagination and which he strives to evoke through oil on both paper and canvas.

His influences are many and varied, and include the calligraphic paintings of Cy Twombly, the tonal ink paintings of Hasegawa Tohaku and the landscapes of Constable, Claude, Cotman and Turner.

Mark has exhibited work around the country, most notably on a number of occasions at the RWA in Bristol. He has also been successful as a published poet, being shortlisted for the Brit Writers’ Award in 2012 and winning Fleeting Magazine's International Best Short Writing prize in 2010. Writing has been put on the shelf for the time being as Mark wishes to devote himself full-time to landscape painting.

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