Skilled at sketching: Interview with Peter Jarvis and Kate Dicker

Artists Kate Dicker and Peter Jarvis, whose exhibition, Viewpoints: Time and Place, currently open at The Arc, Winchester until 13 August, spoke to us about the successes of their collaboration and key works Itchen Stoke and Netley Abbey that were made in response to The Gallery exhibition Constable: The Dark Side. Viewpoints: Time and Place emphatically encapsulates their mastery of pen, pencil, paint and process.

Why did you propose an exhibition together? Now that the exhibition is hung, what do you think about the combination of your work together at City Space?

Peter Jarvis: Kate and I have been friends and colleagues for many years, and we felt that we had both reached a similar stage in the development of our work. Although quite different in outcomes, the central and common feature in what we do is our shared belief in the importance of drawing. It therefore seemed logical to think in terms of a joint exhibition inspired by our love of the landscape. After we had secured our slot in City Space, running alongside the Constable exhibition, we set about gathering ideas and researching into aspects of natural and built environment.

I feel our working processes are closely aligned. In the first instance we both work on location in the collection of visual reference material and taking this into the studio to complete finished works. Kate’s studio output goes through an interpretation working from notes and sketches towards abstraction whilst my work tends towards realism. I think our very different outcomes offer the viewer complementary and alternative ways of interpreting landscape.

Kate Dicker: Peter Jarvis and I both love painting the landscape. We were colleagues at Southampton Solent University, some while ago now.  The idea of our joint exhibition, Viewpoints: A Time & Place, is exciting, not only to exhibit our work, but also to show our different expressions to the subject. Peter is representational, I am intuitive.  Kirsty Rodda of Hampshire Cultural Trust suggested we show alongside the enlightening exhibition in The Gallery: Constable: The Dark Side. We're very pleased how it has all come together for us in City Space, and with how our work is shown and, that we successfully complement each other.  City Space is one of the best places to show artwork.

Installation shot of Viewpoints: Time and Place

Netley Abbey is a well-balanced composition that demonstrates your deftness with both pencil and paint. Please could you tell us more about the creation of this work and its place within the exhibition.

Peter Jarvis: I was aware that Constable had visited Netley Abbey, and after research discovered that it was with his wife on the occasion of their honeymoon in 1816. One of the drawings made on that occasion was the basis for his much later watercolour showing Netley Abbey by Moonlight (1833). I have visited and sketched the Abbey on many occasions but Constable’s work inspired me to create a larger and more finished piece. My initial pencil sketch took around two hours to complete, and I applied watercolour to this on returning home to my studio. Having taken numerous photographs, I selected the one most similar to my pencil drawing and used this to set up the basic view for a finished watercolour. I use a lightbox to trace through my detailed drawing onto watercolour paper, in this case 140Ib Arches Cold Pressed, ready to be stretched and painted on. The composition takes advantage of the strong cast shadows helping to define the ruined church windows and walls. It also represents the parched grass during the hot, dry summer in August 2022.

Peter Jarvis takes us to Netley Abbey and shows us his preliminary sketching here:

Itchen stoke is such a vibrant and expressive work with a visible dynamism equal to that of the river environment itself. Please could you tell us more about the creation of this work and its place within the exhibition.

Kate Dicker: At an early stage in the development of these exhibitions, we were given sight of Constable's paintings and drawings.  When I saw A Sluice perhaps on the Stour I was inspired to find a similar scene by the River Itchen. It is my homage to Constable, with his love and feeling for the countryside.

In my show, the watercolour painting of Itchen Stoke is the largest piece.  Not quite a 'six footer' (the term used for Constable's large oil paintings of which only one hangs in The Gallery). The majority of the Constable's we see were created 'en plein air', as I did, on location, with the painting Itchen Stoke. On a very hot day during August 2022, I walked to this spot and was struck by the distribution of strong colours in the high sunshine, contrasted with the darkness of the Alder trees.  This view was so vivid it was like a jewellery box.  I sat on the bank of the stream, awkwardly holding my large paper clipped to a board, and set to with energetic brushstrokes of colour. The aim was to 'snatch' that intensity I saw, as well as a feel for the sound of rustling leaves and running water.

Peter and I often talk about the way we paint in the landscape.  Peter uses sketchbooks in a traditional way; making observations about the subject and then works later in his studio.

I am more immediate in the way I start but I do take with me, on walks, my small pocket notebook for quick sketch notes.  Also on display are our materials which show how we go about using them to create our different responses to the landscape.

Kate Dicker discusses Constable, her work and gives us behind the scenes access to her studio here:

Viewpoints: Time and Place continues at The Arc, Winchester until Sunday 13 August.

Constable: The Dark Side continues at The Arc, Winchester until Wednesday 16 August.

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