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Art review: Awe: Paintings in Response to Creation, by Peronel Barnes at Sarum College

13 March 2020

Katy Hounsell-Robert on paintings from a bothy in the Shetlands

© peronel barnes

Awe by Peronel Barnes

Awe by Peronel Barnes

LIGHT is the passion and unfailing inspiration of the artist Peronel Barnes: how its silent and glorious power transforms the way in which we see the landscape, sea, and sky, and affects our moods.

Last year, she had the opportunity to spend six weeks in early summer in Walls, in the Shetland Islands, living in a discarded fisherman’s hut (bothy) with no running water or electricity. Like Norway, at that time of year, the Isles enjoy the light for about 21 hours a day, and here she would be as close as possible to pure light and the raw elements and express her impressions of the power and glory of God’s creation in painting and some poetry.

Like Augustine of Hippo, who marvelled at the amazing blues, purples, and greens of the sea, and how they intertwined when he first came to Carthage as a student, she was overwhelmed by the beauty and ever changing colours of the Shetland sea and sky.

The warm Mediterranean at Carthage was very different from the Shetlands, where the wind was so strong that it blew the easel away and scattered paints and paper; so she had to work with her materials held down on the ground by rocks. But alone with the sea, rocks. and beach. with no distractions of shops, vehicles, places to visit, or human activity, and no roads to guide her over the sharp rocks covered by moss, lichen, and scented thyme, she could feel at one with the elements and “incredibly connected” with God the Creator.

In an earlier phase of her career, she exhibited widely, focusing on watercolour, and won the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colour Frank Herring Easel award for an outstanding work in 2011. Now, for more depth and texture, she has included oils, influenced by Rembrandt’s use of oils transparently and opaquely, and other media.

© peronel barnesFlung Birds by Peronel Barnes

Not unexpectedly, the sea is the sole subject in many paintings. In Gusting Gale and in Saatbrak (Sea Spray), both oil on canvas, it is as though we are transported on to the fierce rolling sea. The sky at sunrise is another favourite subject, as in Promise of Sun (oil on board). In Flung Birds (oil on canvas), she shows Arctic turns (tirricks) blown across the sky over the yellow gold beauty of the sun rising along the horizon.

She shows how the weather and light change the same scene. In Peak of the Bay (mixed media on canvas), a pale-blue sea under a pale-blue sky washes over dark rocks in the bay. Another view, Littlelure Bay (mixed media on paper), is delicately veiled in mist, and her watercolour on paper Day ’atween Wadders (weathers) shows the soft changing shades in the sky. She feels greatly indebted to the art of Edward Seago for helping her to look at and appreciate the sky.

Sarum College has a policy of exhibiting art as though in a large-ish house, so that people come across various paintings in the refectory, corridors, or other rooms. There are 41 pieces in “Awe”, and it is pretty certain that many of them will make you “stop and share” the awe that the artist felt in painting them.

“Awe: Paintings in Response to Creation” by Peronel Barnes is at Sarum College, 19 The Close, Salisbury, until 11 April. www.sarum.ac.uk


For information about a retreat in Shetland (unguided), email bo.simmons@btinternet.com

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