Landscape Painting as Visual Poetry

A painter’s relationship with the landscape is something that is both physical and emotional. In a recent blog post, I talked about the connection I have with Cornwall and what it means to me as an artist. How the landscape exists, both in its physicality and also as a somewhat spiritual entity, imbued with both meaning and longing, familiarity and magic. The landscape as muse; Sea, sky, land and that all-important and ever-shifting light, capturing the artist’s inspiration to paint the very essence of the experience, to condense it into its visual poetry.

In this post, I’d like to discuss the idiosyncratic language of landscape painting and how the artist uses this language to convey both representations but also feeling and how, as painters, it is the physicality of the medium that offers these possibilities for fusing both feeling and subject matter.

When I first became interested in painting, it was depictions of the landscape that I found most appealing. From Constable, Turner and Monet to Winifred Nicolson, Peter Lanyon and Ivon Hitchens and as much as I enjoyed and related to the subject matter, it was how each artist was using paint that was captivating me and in my mind, distinguishing painting from other mediums, such as photography. That paint could be used to push beyond the representational and towards the poetic. 

Early encounters with John Constable’s Oil sketches, enamoured me to see the landscape through the eyes of a painter. An unresolved and magnetic rawness that spoke, not of the pastoral but of the sublime, of essence over sentiment. Expressed in a visual language that only paint can capture, raw and dynamic yet uniquely beautiful. I believe that Constable’s Oil sketches show him at his freest, unshackled from the demands of the Academy and at one with both his surroundings and medium.

John Constable oil painting

John Constable, Stormy Sea 1828, Oil on paper

Having grown up in the countryside myself, and like many young people, I couldn’t wait to leave. Being more interested in the culture and vibrancy of the city, rather than the quiet rhythms and isolation of rural life. However, those East Anglian skies under which I was born never left me. Always there in my mind, abstracted as memories, the drama of which fused a connection that would eventually go on to inform my painting practice. A gradual understanding of the landscape as something to be interpreted through both experience and memory. 

This painting, Solitary Sunset VI, comes from a memory of a sunset I witnessed (or even a few) and that had fused into my psyche as something symbolic. Its representation in my mind condensed to the key components of atmosphere and experience, depicted through the language of paint.

Richard K Blades - Solitary Sunset VI, Oil on panel

A Contemporary Language

One day, in my mid-twenties, I found myself flicking through a magazine in a doctor's surgery. It was a strange setting to be inspired but I happened upon a gallery advert for the paintings of Dion Salvador Lloyd. Lloyd, a contemporary British painter depicts the landscape in a way that I had never seen before. At a time before Instagram, it was these serendipitous moments that helped make up the inspiration for a budding artist and this encounter opened my eyes to a different way of seeing the possibilities of painting.

Lloyd’s paintings blur the line between abstraction and something that is nonetheless recognisable as a landscape/seascape. Although based in Sussex, his paintings resonated with my East Anglian upbringing. The soft grey light and emphasis on the horizon reminded me so much of the wash and those low tide scapes of the East Coast, mirage-like, unresolved and hazy, empty but layered with emotional textures.

Dion Salvador Lloyd Oil painting

Dion Salvador Lloyd - Enlighten, Oil on panel

This painterly approach, very much in the tradition of Turner and Constable helped me to understand the language of painting. That it was both the physicality of the paint and the atmosphere created that was sparking that desire in me to paint. Following this encounter with the work of Lloyd, my eyes were opened to visions of the landscape that continued in the Romantic tradition but spoke of the contemporary experience and were as much about the language of paint as they were about the particular scene.

An exhibition at a gallery in Devon introduced me to the work of Louise Balaam, a fellow British painter whose style immediately captured my attention. Balaam’s paintings celebrate both a connection to the landscape and nature but also the luscious viscosity and unique characterises of Oil paint. One can see a direct line between Constable and Balaam, both in subject matter but also emotion and approach. Her ability to capture the essence of a scene, infusing it with feeling and that ever-elusive but always enchanting atmosphere, an atmosphere that eludes many a realistic painting. 

Louise Balaam Oil painting

Louise Balaam - Carn Brea, evening clouds, Oil on panel

Pushing the boundaries between abstraction and realism, undoubtedly, Balaam understands the fundamentals of the Landscape, the compositional and tonal structures that underpin a painting, but it is the visual poetry she uses that makes her work what it is. As if one catches a glimpse of the landscape from the corner of their eye, the scene is condensed to its essentials, to the experience rather than the detail. Her gestural mark-making, bold brush strokes and knowledge of her medium, align so eloquently with the scenes she captures.

 Both Lloyd and Balaam’s approach, very much in the British and European tradition, have been very influential on contemporary British landscape painting. Consciously or not, one only has to look on Instagram and in Art galleries to see how this visual language has informed how we see landscape painting today. I include myself as being very influenced by both and very much appreciate their contribution to the furthering of this tradition.

It is the tradition of landscape as muse, of visual poetry and of feeling. That feeling of connection to the landscape undoubtedly belongs to the medium of paint and to the artists for whom that connection is at the very heart of their work.


Learn more about Dion Salvador Lloyd

On Instagram @dion_salvador_lloyd


Learn more about Louise Balaam

On Instagram @louisebalaam




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