An unusual travelogue that takes us from the artist’s beloved East Anglia to further afield. The personal sojourn has been compiled from a collection of beautiful landscape watercolours of every season accompanied by an informative and witty text. Just as much a narrative as a picture book.
East Anglia, as a place of cultural history, hasn’t the gratuitous romanticism of the Bronte’s Yorkshire or of Hardy’s Wessex, but a darker, objective, more cerebral one. In the early nineteenth century the poet, George Crabbe, brought something of the clinician’s skill – he had been apprenticed to surgeons in Bury St. Edmunds – in taking a history, to create the episodic poem The Borough, published in 1810. This documents a community’s bigotry and intolerance of an outsider, Peter Grimes, and its brutal theme remains a powerful indictment that still has a contemporary relevance. In the twentieth century, Ronald Blythe’s Akenfield chronicled the transition of a rural economy where the minutiae of village life are vividly set in counterpoint to the great events of the century; and, in Graham Swift’s Waterland, history itself is almost the subject, an epic narrative that spans 240 years, with the bleak melancholia of the Fens mirroring emotional crisis.
The physical topography of East Anglia expresses ambiguity, the conjunction of water and earth, the one forming the other, with water – the omnivorous sea – a dominant and threatening partner. This weft and warp of sea and land is appropriate as the local industry of weaving gave the area its early wealth.
In the middle of the seventeenth century the patronage of wealthy East Anglian merchants allowed a seminal group of local artists to leave their studios and paint outside, directly from nature. They were greatly influenced by Sudbury born Gainsborough and the paintings of the Dutch landscape artists whose work they saw in local collections. Cozens, Crome, Girtin, Constable and Cotman created a body of work that represented the countryside with a veracity that had world-wide influence. Their art is essentially one that is based on observation and their dispassionate studies of the natural world, especially those by Constable and Turner, lead directly to Impressionism.
Andrew Dodds is the natural heir to those en plein air artists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. For over forty years, from 1957 to the present, he has contributed drawings and paintings of East Anglia to the Eastern Daily Press. In recent years he has extended these local scenes with visits to Cornwall, and also to Portugal, Majorca, Greece, Turkey and Australia. Quite apart from its great aesthetic value and beauty his work is an invaluable chronicle of our time. In this he is a reporter and certainly any one of his pictures is worth a thousand words.
Dodds’ work first appeared in the early 1950s. He had studied at the Central School of Art under Bernard Meninsky, John Minton and Roderic Barrett, where drawing from life was a central part of the curriculum. This discipline, of careful and accurate observation, has informed his style ever since.
Early drawings for The Farmers Weekly were spotted by Cara Strong of the prestigious Saxon Artists Agency and she invited him to join her very exclusive roster of artists. Work for the Radio Times followed. Ralph Usherwood, its editor, was impressed by Andrew Dodds’ farming background and his skill in drawing rural subjects and commissioned him to make some drawings for a new radio serial. Although this was not expected to enjoy a lengthy run it quickly established itself as a favourite among listeners and Andrew’s drawings in Radio Times contributed to its success over the next ten years. The programme was The Archers and Dodds used his family as models for the Archer family and a local farmer, Walter Lord, for his drawing of Walter Gabriel.
These drawings, and the hundreds of others that Andrew made for Radio Times, became an inspiration for a whole generation of art students. Some were fortunate enough to have tuition during Andrew’s years as tutor at St. Martin’s School of Art in London, and then at Suffolk College School of Art & Design, where he was Deputy Head.
The impact of his black and white line technique cannot be underestimated. Andrew, and his peers – Leonard Rosoman, Fritz Wegner, and Barry Wilkinson – drew with accuracy and an economy of expression that described the subject more vividly than any photograph. Their understanding of form, perspective, texture and the effect of light, accompanied by an exciting sense of composition, derived from years of studying great masters like Rembrandt, created a new artistic syntax.
It is rare for an artist who works solely in black and white to make a successful transition to working in colour – most often the hues are added almost as an afterthought to a carefully constructed line drawing. Andrew Dodds achieved the change effortlessly. His watercolours are amongst the finest examples of the medium, with colour used brilliantly to indicate perspective, and stand comparison to any created by the great topographical artists, Turner and Lear for example, in the eighteenth century.
The paintings included in this book evoke the seasons throughout a year. Although mostly of East Anglian subjects, there are records of Andrew’s visits to countries around the Mediterranean and also to Australia.
Andrew delights in detail, architectural elements are drawn with precision; the rigging of boats is accurate; the twisted branches, foliage and textured bark of trees are closely observed to the extent that an arborist could identify each one; people are included so naturally that they often recognise themselves when seeing the printed version. Local meteorological conditions – whether a rainy windswept beach at Aldeburgh (itself painted during the downpour!), or a sundrenched view of a Mediterranean harbour – are so vivid that one can almost feel the extremes of cold and heat. A lemon tree, drawn in his daughter’s garden in Greece, has the exuberant quality of Rackham, and a view of children feeding gulls and ducks on the Oulton Broads has the immediacy of a Japanese print. Above all Dodds respects the working tradition of the countryside, the rural and coastal industries, with a regard for the hands that shaped it.
Great art is about communicating an individual’s vision of the world, of representing a truth. Based on his lifetime’s practice Andrew Dodds persuades the viewer to see the world through his eyes, quietly and without distortion, and we are all the better for it.
Author of Artists of Radio Times
Published by Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
Jardine Press Ltd 2003
152 full colour illustrations
240mm x 168mm