Christopher Farrell is well known for his distinctive paintings of London, using historic painting techniques. Often large scale, his paintings contain breath-taking detail using combinations of highly skilled drawn marks, as well as more gestural and abstract forms. Using similar approaches to painters of the past, in particular Canaletto, Christopher practices methods that have not changed for centuries, yet he doesn’t romanticise or omit indicators of a rapidly changing skyline – the cranes, traffic lanes and glow of air-craft tail lights are all very much part of his work.
Turning his attention to Oxford, it’s Christopher’s aim to ‘learn’ the city through drawing. With this in mind, visitors can expect to see new paintings and drawings that are an artistic investigation of Oxford. Christopher is particularly interested in using traditional methods such as red chalk, silver and gold point, on specially prepared surfaces. These techniques date back to the 14th century, used by artists like Durer, Da Vinci and Raphael. It’s an unforgiving method, taking many hours of practice, in particular to build tone, where the artist must layer marks by cross hatching.
Rather uniquely, Christopher is unafraid of combining these historic drawing techniques with digital technology. He will use photographs of his paintings, taken at key moments to progress the work, adding or taking away gestures, before moving back to the painting itself.
As a new addition to Sarah Wiseman Gallery’s carefully chosen group of artists, Christopher Farrell has only recently begun visiting Oxford. He was initially struck by the variety of buildings and architecture. For this exhibition, he felt that this mix of buildings needed his visual distillation in order to build a unified impression of the city.
‘Oxford is a very exciting city and my initial thought was 'Wow! This place is complex'; with the mix of the architecture and the city overall,’ he says.
‘The painting process starts off by me thinking about the composition and colour. I gradually introduce the buildings as my understanding of the city grows, using the drawings as source material to reinvent my vision of Oxford in a non-representational way; I want to try to avoid obvious viewpoints so I have opted to try and capture the essence of the city, combining figurative painting with abstraction.’
‘I am always thinking, what do I need to make the paintings look like Oxford? Do I need to have representational paintings with the spires? Can a painting represent Oxford with just colour and only a suggestion of the architecture, through gestures, lines and space?’
The city of Oxford is at a moment in time where rapid development and building is creating a new facet to the life of a town long associated with ancient tradition and academia. A glittering new shopping centre, new housing, manufacturing and transport links to London have all meant that Oxford’s image is refocussing itself. Christopher Farrell’s paintings will echo these new beginnings, but will also reference and highlight links with the city’s renowned history.
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