Harvest Storm

This painting was based on a photograph I took of a freshly harvested field one torrid summer. But it was also inspired by my love of the desolate landscapes of the German artist, Anselm Kiefer. I worked with a palette knife, allowing me to lay the paint on in thick smears that give a genuine depth and texture to the surface. It gives a real sense of the light and shadow at play across the field, where the stubble is still golden.

Harvest storm, oil on canvas, palette knife, Anselm Kiefer

The hills that rise beyond the field, however, tell a different story. In the original photograph you see a rolling landscape growing hazy in the distance. There’s the dark green of a wood in the middle and to either side fields that are either yellow where more grain has been harvested, or paler shades of green. I raised the landscape up, giving it a craggier appearance with a suggestion of mountainous greys in the distance.

Harvest storm, oil on canvas, palette knife, Anselm Kiefer

In earlier versions of the picture, this landscape was a patchwork of bright greens and yellows and pinks that recall an impressionist painting. But as I worked on the picture, the field boundaries became less clearly defined and the colours became darker. The yellows took on an earthier, more ochreishtone, the greens became infused with a shadowy grey. I tended to apply the yellows with downward strokes of the knife to show steep hillsides, while the greens were applied with horizontal strokes for more gentle slopes. In all, it gave the enclosing land beyond the golden field a sense of mystery and drama.

Harvest storm, oil on canvas, palette knife, Anselm Kiefer

In the foreground we see the bare earth of the field boundary. The dark browns and blacks of the paint are applied particularly thickly here, so that the marks left by the knife recall the way the ground is cut by spade and plough. Here and there, strands of straw that have fallen across the ground are shown with slashes of gold. Although the thistle was there in my original photograph, I omitted it from the earliest versions of the picture, only adding it late in the process to provide a focal point. The stark bare stalks ending in little stabs of foliage perfectly capture the mood of the whole painting.

Harvest storm, oil on canvas, palette knife, Anselm Kiefer

But it was in the sky that I made the greatest change. In the original photograph and my earliest versions of the painting it was a cloudless blue, a statement of unblemished summer heat. But as the painting progressed, so I added hints of green and grey to the sky, bringing in swirls of cloud. Finally, a touch of pink just above the thistle and echoing the foliage on that bare plant, hints at the violence of the storm to come. A peaceful summer scene has become something like the barren fields that Kiefer has painted, speaking of something dark and threatening hanging over us.

Harvest storm, oil on canvas, palette knife, Anselm Kiefer

Hills detail

Harvest storm, oil on canvas, palette knife, Anselm Kiefer

Detail

Harvest storm, oil on canvas, palette knife, Anselm Kiefer

The sky


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