Jonathan Armigel Wade’s paintings offer a ‘curvispective’ on the joys of the countryside. He explains his unusual vision to Janet Menzies
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JONATHAN ARMIGEL WADE
If there was ever to be an official artist of the field, surely the appointment would be given to Jonathan Armigel Wade. His landscape scenes of British sporting life are both personal and universal in a way that is beguiling. September Mist shows Guns arriving on their pegs for a partridge drive, which I feel I must have reported on for The Field a while ago. And isn’t that me standing by the rails in At the Point-to-Point? Or, if not me, definitely my friend, Charlotte. A self-effacing Wade explains: “It is not so much about the horses hurtling over the fences – the girl at the front with a pint of beer cheering is the side of life I want to capture. I am trying to include that angle, that there are people boozing in the foreground and not paying attention to the racing.”
His celebration of the overlooked joys in the every day of the countryside makes Wade’s vision unusual. He has even developed his own distinctive perspective: “I call it curvispective. I started doing the curvey paintings in about 1996 alongside my more traditional compositions and people seem to enjoy the curvey ones more. When I left the Army to paint, with little money and a family to support, I thought I had better get my socks on. I was painting normal painting and I thought that I am trying to compete on a level playing field, so I needed an extra something. My wife’s grandfather was the well-known French impressionist, Paul Maze, who was Churchill’s painting companion between the wars. He used to say that you have to look for the curve in any landscape.”
Wade shares my affront at this style being described as ‘distorted’, exclaiming, “They are not distorted at all.” He’s right. The first response on looking at one of his curvispective works is how familiar it appears. These low, round hills and winding lanes (made by the English drunkard) are so much a part of the fabric of our lives outdoors that we imbue the paintings with our own experiences, giving Wade’s work a great immediacy and authenticity.
Many of his landscapes feature a medium-sized, vaguely Georgian country house. Wade says: “The house in the background looks a little bit like our house but it is more that it is a typical house; it is not too grand or too posh. It is trying to be very low key. It is just something very British, a nice house in rolling hills. When you include a particular element, one picture often leads to another. There was a wood I liked in one picture, and then I put one similar in another painting.
“I love all the British countryside and I have a good memory for images. Ideas pop up anywhere – a view, or something on a shoot day, perhaps. I have seen a cloud recently, with a dark horizon and grey sky and a cloud rising up. When you see something you scribble it down asap, and you need the idea that goes with it. Once you have had the idea, that is the main excitement and the rest is a slog.”
Encapsulating his ideas, titles are important. He confesses: “This is partly for copyright reasons. But also the title is part of the work, it is my painting and my title. As I am the one who made it, I should be the one to name it, and I think very hard about it. At the moment I am using three-word titles. I am working on a list now that includes The Loose Horse and Briefing the Guns.” They are moments we can all recognise, and I can’t wait to see the paintings.
These ideas, and the need to express them, were growing in Wade’s mind even as he followed his father’s footsteps into a military career. He remembers: “Everywhere I went I sketched and drew. It took me about 10 years in the Army to realise I had to go and paint.”
Even so, Wade extended his service in order to participate in the First Gulf War: “I deliberately didn’t take a camera, in order to force myself to paint. When we were advancing I was doing very quick little sketches in biro or pencil out of an Army vehicle, snapshots, I wanted to get it all out, painting it out of the system. You would see the officially commissioned paintings and they were all wrong because the artists weren’t there, taking part.”
Taking part, whether you are the painter, the painted or simply the viewer, is at the core of Jonathan Armigel Wade’s work, and looking at his paintings reminds us how lucky we are to be living in the British countryside.
Jonathan Armigel Wade’s work can be seen at The Osborne Studio Gallery, 2 Motcomb Street, London SW1X 8JU; tel 020 7235 9667 or visit: osg.uk.com
He also exhibits occasionally and his work is regularly sold at auction.