Born in West Yorkshire, artist Russell Boncey now lives and works in the Fontainebleau forest and his current exhibition in Burgundy follows the success of his last show in Paris
An ardent defender of nature, Russell frequently spends time walking in the forest and along the wild and natural Normandy coastline. Many of his paintings are existential contemplations created using egg tempera which he prepares himself using natural pigments and egg yolks. He tells us more about moving to France, his art and his inspiration.
How did you come to move from Yorkshire to France, and to Fontainebleau in particular?
A Francophile, thanks to my grandparents, I moved to France many years ago as an adventure. At the time I was able to benefit from the free movement of workers in the EU. Fontainebleau is a historic town surrounded by its large forest with easy access to Paris, which has a huge number of cultural activities and places. Its airports and trains give easy access to Europe and to the world, and it’s the perfect place for me to be.
What do you enjoy most about living and working in the forest?
The forest is a major natural area in the Paris region and it continually changes throughout the year, with highly varied deciduous and evergreen trees forming its backbone. Due to the militancy of artists working in and around the forest, significant parts were designated as ‘artistic reserves’ in 1861, making them the earliest protected nature reserves in the world. It is wonderful to see and hear the wildlife and birdlife including red deer, roe deer, wild boar, owls, snakes and many, many other species.
What are your favourite things to do and places to go?
Paris, of course, for museums, galleries, shows and concerts, but I particularly enjoy walking in the forest in those parts rarely visited by others. The reflections of the sun and the shadows on the boulders and ponds can be truly beautiful. There are also hidden artistic treasures such as ancient rock engravings and more recently, The Cyclops by Jean Tinguely and his friends. On a wider scale, France is a varied and beautiful country and I like walking along the wild Normandy coastline and over the years have spent many days in the Burgundy area around Mâcon.
How would you describe your work and your style?
My work is by no means allegorical. It is, rather, a work of concrete narrative embodiment. I consciously use colours and forms to try to give substance to the sensations and perceptions, ideas and values that make up my artistic world. I coined the term ‘Narrative Color Field’ in order to describe my contemporary approach to painting – an approach, rather than a style, that attempts to synthesize the romantic concerns of the 19th century with those of the Color Field movement born in New York in the 1940s and 1950s. Inspired by European modernism, Color Field painting is closely related to abstract expressionism. My approach grows out of a long line of European and North American painters inspired by nature. My works use water-based techniques such as egg tempera, gouache, watercolour and inks.
Has your style changed since moving to France and have your surroundings influenced your work?
I find that my surroundings and my travels have a great influence on my work. The scenery, the light and the colours in Yorkshire are far different to those in France.
How do you capture the issue of climate change in your work and why is it important to you?
My work is often inspired by the shifting liminal encounters of water with land and in this way invokes the fragility of nature. The landscapes that inspire me will certainly be impacted very significantly by climate change as water levels rise and many land areas become drier. During the last few years, for example, hundreds of trees have died in the Fontainebleau forest due to the drier, hotter conditions. Humanity appears finally to be realising that we each need to make changes to our lifestyles in order to be able attempt to limit climate change and to preserve a habitable world for the future.
Can you tell us about your show in Paris and your upcoming exhibition in Burgundy?
Before Covid-19 hit the planet, my last show ‘Emotion Landscapes’ was held in central Paris and the feedback from many of the numerous visitors was extremely positive. In France, museums and public galleries have just reopened, and my show at the Galerie Mary-Ann in Mâcon is one of the first since the long period of shut-down. The exhibition proposes a different and unusual way of generating singular perceptions of the splendors of the natural world, and includes a series of six new paintings, ‘Deconstructing Blue’. Unfortunately, the current health restrictions didn’t allow the town to organise a show opening with a large public, but an art class of high school pupils and their teacher visited and I spent time with them answering their questions. I believe art is fundamental to humanity and am always prepared to discuss my work with young people.
‘Emotion Landscapes’ by Russell Boncey runs from 8-20 June 2021 at Galerie Mary-Ann in Mâcon.
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