Foreword by Dick Pope
Dick Pope, Cinematographer, 2016. Nominated twice for Academy Awards Oscars: The Illusionist, 2007 and Mr Turner, 2015
As a cinematographer, exactly what excites and attracts me to Katherine Hamilton’s paintings could be perceived as fairly obvious… they are most cinematic. Bathed in beautiful and apt light whether it be twilight, night, dawn, sunrise, sunset or that ‘magic hour’ following the setting of the sun, her perfect compositions captured effortlessly within the frame are always quietly observed from a very natural point of view.
But the other reason I so admire her work is because the films I shoot are about storytelling and Katherine is certainly a very fine storyteller. Each and every one of her paintings confirms this. They all tell a story, lightly atmospheric in tone here, mysteriously and darkly brooding there, fleetingly observed or meticulously studied but always reeling me in with their underlying narrative, their calming affirmation and global celebration of people and places across the planet.
Captured through a lens, this marriage of narrative, light and composition is what I strive to achieve when I photograph a film for cinema. But this is not at all the way Katherine paints because there is no camera involved. Pretty extraordinary really, for much of her work appears at first glance to evoke the briefest photographic moment, seemingly frozen by the opening of a rapid electronic shutter. The reality though is very different because when approaching a subject, first she simply observes, while patiently waiting for ‘it’ to happen, totally immersing herself in her subject and allowing the experience to completely absorb. She sketches and makes detailed notes. Then later, often much later and back in her Suffolk studio, she begins her arduous process of bringing her paintings to life as oil on canvas. Here embarking on a further painstaking journey of rediscovery, but now distanced from the reality of the original experience, her memory and senses re-kindled, she re-imagines, and dreams again.
And indeed her work does emerge dreamlike, a greatly heightened and tilted reality, often virtually surrealistic, hyper in colour, light and deep shadow, playful and ominous. Now distilled to the essence, landscape or interior stripped back of all unnecessary embellishment, they do become dreamscapes, putting me the viewer right there. They can be lonely, almost post-apocalyptic, as if no one’s left alive or I’m the very first or very last to see this, to be here. I am alone. Observing the work feels very personal, like an early explorer’s ‘first contact’. She is that explorer.
For Katherine has a restless ‘traveller’ spirit and will suddenly take off to very far away, remote and inaccessible lands. One of the extraordinary things about these adventures is that she always travels rough and always travels alone. It’s a personal journey. She’s a loner, driven and very courageous. For her, she simply cannot share the experience and has to suffer alone to achieve that which she’s seeking. This struggle both out in the field and back in the studio is all one to her, a totally and intrinsically necessary part of her life journey. Viewing the paintings I can certainly often sense the hardship she must have endured to achieve her vision. She really puts herself through it. She has to, and that applies to all her work whether it’s Southwold, South America or the Southern Arctic.
This struggle, the constant reaching out for new horizons, the journeying and sketching, the re-imagining, the slow working up of many paintings at the same time, all remind me of another painter. Because for me Katherine embodies the feminine spirit of a thoroughly modern J.M.W. Turner. Forever drawn back to the English coast, he to Margate, Kent, she to Southwold, Suffolk, both so obsessed by sea, sky, land… and light. Surely also for Katherine… ‘The Sun Is God’.