Words by Mercedes Smith
Artist Louise Bougourd’s new work explores the emotionally grounding, restorative nature of the Cornish landscape.
Louise Bougourd is an award-winning artist whose career has so far been focused on the spectacular landscape of Dartmoor. She lives and works on its eastern edge, regularly walking its tors with a rucksack full of drawing kit, making plein air sketches that she later translates into semi-abstracted paintings full of atmosphere and colour. Now though, she is turning her attention to new landscapes, and a new collection, inspired by her long relationship with Cornwall. “Dartmoor’s sense of solitude, isolation and wilderness fascinates me, but Cornwall also has a deep allure for me, one which is both spiritual and emotional. Years of blissful family holidays in Cornwall have left me with warm, glowing memories,” says Louise, describing long childhood days filled with love and laughter, and what she calls a “deep-rooted sense of wholeness, of wellbeing”. She is also a recent graduate of Newlyn School of Art’s acclaimed one-year Mentoring Course, which she describes as “truly life-changing”. Loss and longing, too, form part of Louise’s connection to Cornwall: “My mum died over ten years ago,” she says, “and every time I return to Cornwall it is like an emotional tribute to her, to her love of Cornwall. It’s like saying ‘thank you mum, for instilling in me an appreciation for the natural world’.”
That deep love for nature has seen her become an accomplished contemporary landscape artist and a well-known teacher of explorative approaches to painting. Her workshops, which she holds in the garden studio of her Devon home, encourage participants to explore their ‘artistic voice’ and to paint subjects that particularly inspire them. Louise’s inspiration has always been the drama of wild spaces and man’s relationship to nature. Her watercolour, oil and mixed media works immerse the viewer in the wide-open landscapes of the South West, amid its powerful weather systems and the brilliant, rural colours of its ever-changing seasons. “Cornwall is an abundant muse for landscape artists like me,” says Louise. “It offers endless, rolling landscapes, a rugged coastline, cliffs, relics of industrial activity and changing skies at every turn. I feel a connection with Cornwall which I find difficult to articulate – it is so familiar that it actually feels like home each time I visit, which I do as often as I can. It is important to me to keep that connection. It is not just Cornwall’s unique array of colours, or the sea that merges and melts into billowing skies, or the allure of soft pastel shades where the ocean meets the shoreline, or its dramatic cliffs – it is the pull of memory that sees me heading along the A30, like a pilgrimage to the past and the present. Revisiting familiar locations is restorative to me, it feeds my creativity. When I have a close connection with a place, it inspires me, and I find that my work flows intuitively and freely, as though the past is as important to my process as the landscape that inspires the painting.” In many ways, Louise could be described as a ‘process-led’ painter, an artist whose methods and materials take the lead as she creates a work. While her outdoor sketching practice is entirely responsive on a visual level, back at the studio her drawings are reinterpreted through colour, gesture and mark. “Out in the landscape I fill my sketchbooks with rapid responses in watercolour, ink and pastel,” she tells me. “I take several sketchbooks with me, and in a short time the rocks will be strewn with them as I leave one book to dry and begin on the next one.” Back in the studio, these ink and paint sketches inform works on a much larger scale. Using oil paint, she works on canvas or panel, making more than one painting at a time in order to keep that special spontaneous quality. “My mark-making is always energetic,” says Louise. “I aim to replicate the energy and joy I experience when I’m in the landscape. Creating artwork from a place that is emotionally charged is very important to my practice, so having a personal history with a location like Dartmoor or Cornwall makes my work feel entirely natural, it literally flows from a place deep within me. I respond to the beauty, the rawness, and sometimes the cruel and harsh intrusion of man in the landscape, and I let myself feel – I sit for a while listening to and looking at and feeling the landscape before I begin to sketch, which leads to artworks that retain the energy and emotion I felt. The result is always something that is reflective of the moment, of an almost meditative state, a liminal place. I want viewers to step into my world for a moment, to be able to lose themselves by connecting with the emotional narrative I convey in my work, the conversation between memory and perception infused with paint onto canvas.”
Her new Cornwall project focuses particularly on light, and the ways in which places can be calming and restorative. “Light plays an enormous role in my work,” she says, “and I have aimed to create a luminescent quality in each piece. Creating atmospheric effects and working on a large scale has been the main focus of this new collection. My fascination for the natural world, and how we are so infinitesimally small within it, is a feeling that always stays with me. My favourite place in Cornwall is West Penwith, which is exactly the kind of grand landscape that inspires such emotion. It is so rich and diverse, with hidden coves of silky sand, stunning cliff walks, those deep valleys full of flowers, and the remnants of tin and copper mining.” In October 2021 Louise undertook a residency on Penwith, at Cape Cornwall’s Brisons Veor, an experience she found “awe inspiring, with the wild autumn sea raging over the rocks. It is an outstanding location”. While her gestural, emotive mark-making stays the same in these new Cornish works, the colour palette Louise has used is quite different to the palette inspired by Dartmoor. “It has a softer quality, more blueish grey and warm yellow white contrasted with dark blends of burnt sienna and ultramarine blue,” she explains. “The overall effect in my paintings of Cornwall is softer and warmer than the wildness of Dartmoor, with an almost effervescent quality. What I hope to have captured is my experience of feeling grounded and at peace – of a strong sense of being at one here. In every painting in this collection you will discover the suggestion of a horizon line, albeit a subtle one, which is a visual device intended to ground the viewer, but you will also find an intentional luminosity and atmosphere within my work, that lifts the soul and expresses a real sense of hope and joy.”
Louise’s new Cornwall collection can be viewed on her website at louisebougourd.co.uk
'Imagination' (left) and 'Expanse' (right) by Louise Bougourd