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  • James Stewart

Chaos out of Order - Focus on Matt Bodimeade

Updated: 5 days ago

Matt Bodimeade in the studio with outline.outwit.tearfully (oil on canvas 150 x 150 cm)
Matt Bodimeade in the studio with outline.outwit.tearfully (oil on canvas 150 x 150 cm)

In this post I will attempt to summarise a recent discussion with Matt Bodimeade in his studio near Arundel, close to the river Arun, in the middle of the South Downs but most importantly on South Stoke Farm.

The farm has been managed by the Haydon family since 1969, when two farms (South Stoke and Offham) on the Norfolk Estate were combined to create a new holding of 500 acres. Ryan Haydon is the current farmer, with his daughter Lorna. The land type dictates the type of farming, so at South Stoke dairy and beef cattle have dominated the lowland (floodplain) meadows with arable crops and sheep covering the gentle downs that rise up from the Arun valley.

Matt Bodimeade worked on the farm as a teenager with Reg Haydon, Ryan’s father keeping him ‘on the rails’. Ryan too worked on the farm before leaving for agricultural college, creating a bond between the two which has lasted over forty years.

There are not many jobs on the farm that Matt has not done, and those early years were a training ground for his work as a builder, landscaper and jack of all trades.

Matt, and his brothers Nick and Miles, were the sons of John and Renée Bodimeade, John was an accomplished artist who also had a successful career as a film story board maker. Renée Bodimeade taught art at a local school and made frames for other artist’s paintings (notably for Derek Davis).

Renée Bodimeade with her three sons Nick, Miles and Matt during the first Arundel Gallery Trail in 1988
Renée Bodimeade with her three sons Nick, Miles and Matt during the first Arundel Gallery Trail in 1988

In 1988 Renée with Oliver Hawkins, Ann Sutton and Derek Davis started the Arundel Gallery Trail. The three brothers fresh from art school, took part (reluctantly) in the first year’s Trail.

Matt Bodimeade’s early works were sculptures, he liked the physicality of working with materials directly to create the final piece. His choice of materials was often unusual including farm twine, grit, sheeps’ wool, lead sheets and wire.

Assist No2, mixed media on board, 102 x 102 cm (2008)
Assist No2, mixed media on board, 102 x 102 cm (2008)

In our 2008 exhibition of work by sculptor Johnny Woodford and Matt Bodimeade, Matt’s work was placed on the walls, but still could be called sculpture or relief work.

At the time we wrote “Matt’s work as an artist is a bi-product of his working life as forester, farm worker, builder and landscape contractor. It is a distillation of ideas and images that get collected over time spent with one’s face more often than not looking at the ground and a desire to use materials in a purely non-functional manner; a compromise not necessary in his work as an artist.” As true today as it was 16 years ago!

Looking to Norfolk Clump, pastel on paper 2009
Looking to Norfolk Clump, pastel on paper (2009)

Then sometime in 2009 whilst Matt was laying a concrete slab on the farm at Offham, he looked up to take in the view, over the slurry pit, across the Arun flood plain towards South Stoke on the left, Norfolk Clump in the distance and the rolling downs heading off in the distance. The view was punctuated by hedges, tracks, posts, and buildings; it was not a ‘natural’ landscape but one where man had made his mark over many years.

He was driven to draw the view in pastels, and so started a series of works which over a number of years would develop and evolve into the paintings he is creating today.

In these early 2d works, you can see the hedges as if they were 3d, and this has been a key element in Matt’s work even now.

Why Does Matt Bodimeade Paint?

As many artists do, Matt asks himself this all the time, especially when things are not going well!

Studio Silos buy Matt Bodimeade, oil on canvas 100 x 150 cm
Studio Silos, oil on canvas 100 x 150 cm

Having enjoyed working in construction, forestry, farming and landscaping he likes to take from those experiences and make something that is his own, and not in a practical way. It is the expression of a conglomeration of ideas. The build up of ideas away from the studio can be frustrating; so painting and drawing provides an outlet for this creativity.

Matt learns so much in his work that he feels he has a story to tell through his paintings and drawings about the environment. Environment here is the world he lives in, which could be a farm yard, a pile of manure and of course the landscape - it’s just a matter of scale.

Sculpture feeds into his work, Matt’s paintings reflect the 3d journey, form, structure and depth within the composition.

Why Paint South Stoke

Matt Bodimeade has a deep knowledge of the area around South Stoke built up over 4 decades. He feels that this is a crucial element in his work.

To Bury by Matt Bodimeade, oil on canvas 100 x 150 cm
To Bury, oil on canvas 100 x 150 cm

His process is to sketch or take a photo in situ then make the work on canvas in the studio. He ‘roughs’ out the composition first, then as the painting develops it can change a lot and becomes less about the view and more about what is in his mind’s eye. Mentally he takes his mind outside again, en plain air but in the studio.

At this stage the composition is more about the developing painting, a barn may be made to work for the painting rather than stay ‘true’. Of course the subject is important, and remains the subject, but the painting takes over.

Colour is important, in the last few months there have been endless grey skies and rain, with largely bad news everywhere. There’s no joy and this can make one downcast. So, as with the forms, the colours can change to be boosted or bolder for the benefit of the composition.

Green is one of the main colours Matt uses, perhaps unsurprisingly, along with white (chalk) and browns (mud), but alongside these he adds orange, red and yellows to add “fire and warmth” into the works.

The landscape of a farm has itself been manipulated with the addition of hedges, tracks and trees planted ‘fighting the chaos of nature’. Matt loves the chaos.

Ryan, the farmer, brings order to the farm. There is a rhythm: processes that need to be done, a time for everything: milking, lambing, ploughing etc. A constant battle with natures encroaching chaos.

Matt says “I am the chaos, the Yin to Ryan’s Yang” and he takes this into his work as an artist.

Other Influences

Richard Diebenkorn was a jumping off point with his semi-abstract landscapes a few years ago but less so now. Matt Bodimeade is not interested in other artists work, this can be a distraction when he is in the studio. “It’s all about Matt” he says.

As works develop they can be influenced by the mistakes along the way, “the cock ups”.

Each painting is always a battle, he relearns whilst working on the canvas sometimes using vague muscle memory from painting the same views again and again.

Using a farming term, subconsciously (?), he says “there’s plenty of fodder on these 500 acres and beyond”.

Back End of the Barn by Matt Bodimeade, oil on canvas 90 x 150 cm
Back End of the Barn, oil on canvas 90 x 150 cm

The journey of each painting and his process means that the work may be quite different at the end from the starting point. The initial sketching out stage can be quite bold, then Matt needs to bring in more precision, adding a tension to the works. “The longer it goes on, it becomes more fragile”.

Knowing when to stop is key: The resolution of a small area can make the whole painting “sing in tune”. This could be adding a line of darker colour on a small patch of green or completely repainting large areas.

“But sometimes you go too far, and you cannot go back”. The only thing to do then is slash the painting and burn it with “the rest of the shit from the farm”.

So Form and Colour are Important………Anything Else?

Matt Bodimeade wants the viewer’s eye to travel across the canvas as if moving across the landscape. He achieves this using the hedges, walls, tracks etc already there.

Matt sees the farming landscape as brutal: Cows are reared in fields for slaughter or to provide milk; the hedgerows provide cover for the game birds that are shot.

This view of the landscape is not some rural idyll, but a practical statement of fact on a farm.

And it is this view that Matt wants to represent in his work, this is the story he is telling.

As we exit his studio Matt shows me the yard, with the pile of manure, concrete slabs leading the eye past the cow sheds to the lines of hedgerows dividing fields onwards and over the iron rail track linking us to the “metropolis” and into the rolling South Downs.


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