The Magic of Dark Skies: An exhibition in collaboration with Unison Colour and the Northumberland Dark Skies Park – Part III

Following on from Parts One and Two, here we conclude the series by meeting two more artists who are taking part in The Magic of Dark Skies Exhibition in collaboration with Unison Colour and the Northumberland Dark Skies Park.

Let’s look at the work of William Morrison-Bell and Matilda Bevan:

WILLIAM MORRISON-BELL

ARTIST

William Morrison Bell, a retired lawyer, lives and paints in Northumberland and creates beautifully intense landscape paintings of local places.

1. What inspired you to create this series of artworks, From Darkness to Light, for Unison Colour Soft Pastels representing Dark Skies?

My first thought was that the skies aren’t always dark even in the Dark Sky area. The true clear darkness of night is studded with stars and the sky here in Northumberland is particularly lovely with the great winter constellations above us. But I am particularly drawn to the in-between times of dawn and dusk when the light on the horizon changes slowly and with great subtlety. So while I explored other ideas that’s where my work for this show eventually settled.  

William Morrison-Bell's dark sky soft pastel artwork at The Sill.
Selected pieces on display at The Sill

2. How did you approach capturing the essence of Dark Skies in your artwork?

I made work based on what I see around me very day (and night), initially without a clear direction of where it might lead. The moon featured a lot at first, in simple studies and then in exaggerated versions of the surrounding landscape. I also had an idea to work on with a map but this didn’t come off in time, so I may return to it. At the end I had a wall full of work, some of which may reappear elsewhere.

3. Can you tell me about the techniques or additional mediums you used to convey the feeling of Dark Skies, and show stages of the creative process that you went through to complete your piece ?

I decided early on to limit myself to the Unison Dark Sky pastel set. There’s a freedom in having a discipline like that and not get distracted by an almost limitless range of other colours, like a child in a sweet shop. Latterly I decided I wanted to work on a black surface; by not filling the whole surface the imagination has space to do its own work. I also kept a note/sketch book where I recorded thoughts and quotes from what I was reading at the time (a lot of George Eliot!), and some small images. The pieces on show happened quickly over a 3 or 4 day intensive period in the studio.

Excerpts from William's sketchbook during dark sky exploration.
Sketchbook excerpts

4. Did you encounter any specific challenges to this piece, and if so, how did you overcome them ?

Challenges come in different guises, mostly around conception and execution. Is this idea/approach any good? How can I bring it off? Etc etc… I’m impatient and persistent at the same time – either I work quickly or I spend too long on things, so how to find the balance. The only way ahead is to keep on working. Regardless.

5. What emotions or atmospheres were you aiming to evoke in viewers with this piece?

I’m not trying to evoke emotions in others as I have no control over that (thank goodness). I respond to the wonder and mystery in what I see around me and if viewers also respond to that in the work then I may have succeeded in something.

6. Did you draw from personal experiences or specific locations when creating this representation of Dark Skies?

 I’m very lucky to live where I do, and I know it intimately, to the point where my inner landscape is pretty much of a kind with the outer landscape. In one sense the skies are the skies wherever you are if you’re looking up, but where the skies meet the land that’s where something recognisable takes shape and the ‘airy nothing’ has ‘a local habitation and a name’. To bring that down to earth, what you see in these works is what I see at the bottom of my garden!

7. How do you think your artwork contributes to the broader conversation about preserving and appreciating natural darkness?

Dark skies have great scarcity value, certainly in Western Europe. The view from Space confirms that. Cities and towns are massively over-lit, and modern lights are now much brighter than before.  When I was young it was the orange glow of sodium lights from Newcastle over 40 miles away that lit up the horizon.  Thankfully that has gone but now the glow is a cool white, despite streetlights being directed downwards. What are we so afraid of that we need so much light? Anything that contributes to that conversation and raises awareness is worthwhile. 

8. Where can we see more of your art?

Instagram: @northumbrianhermit

MATILDA BEVAN

Artist

Matilda Bevan is an artist living and working in Northumberland and is known for her paintings, drawings, mono prints and collages. Her art is influenced by both a place and its deep rooted history in order to capture a unique emotional tone.

Matter, Dark - A circular soft pastel painting by Matilda Bevan.
Matter, Dark (2023)

1. What inspired you to create this artwork for Unison Colour Soft Pastels representing Dark Skies? 

I took the idea of using the format of a circle from Giulia Napoleone, an abstract artist born in Italy in 1936. I have also been inspired by the work of Mark Neyrinck, Cosmologist, who applies origami folds to describe Dark Matter in three dimensional paper forms.

2. How did you approach capturing the essence of Dark Skies in your artwork?

I had already decided to use a vintage map of Northumberland as my paper base, and lay over it Mark Neyrinck’s origami pattern using pastel.

3. Can you tell me about the techniques or additional mediums you used to convey the feeling of Dark Skies, and show stages of the creative process that you went through to complete your piece ?

I cut the map into a circle then painted it with transparent gesso to give it an appropriate surface for the pastels to adhere to. I drew the outline of the origami pattern onto the map in stages, filling the shapes in with pastel colours. The triangle shapes occurring where longer forms join together could be left blank, suggesting points of light and also revealing place-names or landscape features (see figures i – iii)

Stages of completion.
Figures i, ii and iii

4. Did you encounter any specific challenges to this piece, and if so, how did you overcome them?

I sprayed the finished surface with fixative too many times, the deep black colour changed into a greyness, I have left it as it is.

5. What emotions or atmospheres were you aiming to evoke in viewers with this piece?

My aim was to evoke Dark Skies, there is emotion or atmosphere already there.

6. Did you draw from personal experiences or specific locations when creating this representation of Dark Skies?

I drew on the wonder that everyone has for the Dark Skies.

7. How do you think your artwork contributes to the broader conversation about preserving and appreciating natural darkness?

Perhaps by making the Northumberland location specific within my image, I invite you to make a connection between where you are, and the night sky.

8. Where can we see more of your art?

Website: www.matildabevan.co.uk 

Instagram: @matildabevan

I hope you have enjoyed this blog and seeing the pieces included in the exhibition.

Have you learned anything useful?

I wonder whether you will see things differently when you next look up at the sky. What do you see when you look up at your local night sky?

Will you take inspiration from the art created using the new Unison Colour Dark Sky collection, which is available to purchase here, along with some official merch!

Thank you to all the artists involved and to Unison Colour for putting the exhibition together in such an effective, thought provoking and meaningful way.

The Magic of Dark Skies Exhibition is at The Sill, Northumberland, and runs until 12th May 2024.

The Magic of Dark Skies: An exhibition in collaboration with Unison Colour and the Northumberland Dark Skies Park - Part III 1

The Magic of Dark Skies: An exhibition in collaboration with Unison Colour and the Northumberland Dark Skies Park – Part I

The Magic of Dark Skies: An exhibition in collaboration with Unison Colour and the Northumberland Dark Skies Park - Part III 2

The Magic of Dark Skies: An exhibition in collaboration with Unison Colour and the Northumberland Dark Skies Park – Part II

Dark Skies Giveaway

As we continue to celebrate 10 years of the Northumberland Dark Sky Park, we’re giving away 6 Dark Sky Pastels Sets and Tote Bags.

An Interview With The Interviewer

Today we are turning the tables, and talking to Stephen Fuller, an Associate Artist both known for his atmospheric and dramatic landscapes, and his in depth interviews of other Associate Artists.

Starry, Starry Night: A Dark Sky Palette

This December marks the ten-year anniversary of Northumberland International Dark Sky Park, an area encompassing the Northumberland National Park and most of Kielder Water & Forest Park.

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