Camerino, June 2008
I first visited Italy in 1983. As a student I had studied Italian Renaissance painting in museums and through reproductions, but the excitement of seeing the original work for the first time in Italy, in situ and actual size was a revelation. It was the landscape painting that captured my imagination. In miniscule reproductions they played a minor role, marginalised and obscured by the grander dramas of Holy Families, battle scenes, Saints and Princes. Seeing them five hundred years later, alongside the timeless, unchanged landscape of cypresses, pines and olive groves, I realised that for artists like Ambrogio Lorenzetti and Piero della Francesca, these were not simply ‘backgrounds’ but lovingly recorded responses to their environment, playing a crucial role in bringing a narrative to life. I looked at as much work as I could and started to draw the landscape; it has been a deep influence on my work ever since.
The paintings in this show, twenty-five years on, are all descriptions of weather, light and topography within a few miles of our new home in Le Marche on the Eastern border of Umbria. The landscape, as always, has been modified, pruned, sometimes ravaged to serve the best interests of each piece but the pictures always start their lives as a straightforward response to the landscape in front of me.
Piero was principally a mathematician and his preoccupation in painting was to try and carve the world up into structures, to apply a mathematical order to an apparently chaotic environment. My paintings are also, on one level, about the relationship between order and chaos, seeing structure in an apparently random and often largely uncultivated landscape. Whilst the landscapes are all closely observed and have a firm underlying structure, I try to respond to the elements and the weather through the paint and the mark-making: allowing it to be more temperamental, more passionate and less predictable than the bones beneath the landscape.
See Francis Hamel's Camerino paintings.