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  • James Stewart

Nick Bodimeade - Photographic Realism and Process Based Abstraction

Updated: May 14

In this article, we take a look at the work of Nick Bodimeade over two decades.


After an introduction, we outline his thought and artistic processes for his current series of South Stoke Idyll paintings.


Then we look back at eight of his solo exhibitions with Zimmer Stewart Gallery from 2004 to 2023, where we can see how Nick Bodimeade's work has evolved.

Nick Bodimeade in his studio on the Downs,  discussing his new paintings with Adam Stead
Nick Bodimeade in his studio on the Downs, discussing his new paintings with artist, researcher and agriculturalist, Adam Stead

Introduction


Nick Bodimeade lives and has his studio on a small holding on a meander core island on the River Ouse as it cuts through the South Downs north of Lewes. He grew up in Arundel alongside the River Arun, another Downland river.


He studied at Worthing and Wolverhampton art schools in the 70s and was strongly influenced by the painters Vic Willing and John Walker who were visiting lecturers.


For many years Nick worked as an abstract painter with a strong side interest in site specific, landscape based, sculpture, all the while trying to reconcile his passion for representational drawing with the process based abstraction he was intellectually drawn to.


In early 2000 with the availability of digital photography he turned this around, putting photographically based representation at the foreground of his practice, whilst still holding onto his passion for abstraction.


Cwm Clyd Farm, oil on canvas 36 x 36 cm
Cwm Clyd Farm 2024, oil on canvas 36 x 36 cm


His fascinated engagement with landscape both professional and recreational, goes back to his early days as a student when he began working on farms in Sussex and mid Wales (Cwm Clyd), and he has at various times been a shepherd, coarse fisherman, rock climber, farmworker, hill walker, small holder and mountain biker.







Nick Bodimeade says ‘The sense of a physical engagement with the world is something I seek in my paintings and which I hope is manifest in the evidence of their facture. The experience of landscape seems often to be a visceral, sensational one, and I aim for the viewers’ experience of my paintings to mirror this.’


Teaching has also been an important element of Nick’s practice , ‘Teaching keeps you on your toes. The clarity of the thought and articulation required helps in what otherwise might be an unexamined, muddled, not to mention, lonely  studio practice’.


He has taught at all levels from Foundation to MA and for some years was course leader in Fine Art at Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College; other teaching experience includes University College Chichester; Canterbury Christchurch University College; Amersham & Wycombe College; Northbrook College, Worthing & North Oxfordshire College of Art and Design, Banbury and most recently West Dean College of Art.


Nick Bodimeade’s work is widely collected and held in private, corporate and public collections. He has had recent solo exhibitions at galleries in Sussex, Cornwall and Kent.


He exhibits with St Annes Galleries, Lewes. Zimmer Stewart Gallery, Arundel and the Porthminster Gallery, St Ives.


Nick Bodimeade's work is held in many public and private collections including, The Contemporary Art Society, The Landmark Trust and the Government Art Collection.



South Stoke Idyll Paintings 2024


Cow Bank, oil on canvas, 130 x 110 cm

Nick Bodimeade’s South Stoke Idyll paintings combine his fascination with the transformative possibilities of painting and its practical processes, with his interest in landscape as a work place,  a place of pleasure and leisure and a place of ever increasing environmental and social concern.


He describes the experience of space as having for him a central role in both the experience of painting and of landscape. Perhaps you have stood on a hill top and felt a desire to throw yourself into space, to consume and be consumed by it and maybe to have felt this desire to be located somewhere deep within.



What is it in our animal nature, our evolutionary history and our cultural field of reference that causes us to respond in particular and personal ways to such stimuli?


Some finding evidence of god and ideas of the 'Sublime', and for others, more fundamental drives like the desire for food, shelter and procreation.


For whatever reasons and in what proportions, how landscape and its representations engage with this atavistic stew of powerful feelings is a key interest.


In his paintings, evocative colour, illusionary space, tactile handling and formally articulate composition are applied to the photographic source material, reconnecting it to the mind/body experience of being in the outdoors.


Wellingham Barn, oil on canvas 31 x 36 cm
Wellingham Barn, oil on canvas 31 x 36 cm

He changes how he paints according to subject matter and how he wants the work to be experienced, sometimes working with intensely coloured, slippery, creamy paint and fluid, sensual gestures, at others, with thin, rainy, slurry colour and a more tentative drawing where the image feels as if it is just emerging from the material.


The ‘how’ of the painting as important as the ‘what’. Nick describes wanting his paintings to meet the viewer half way, engaging with shared experiences and ideas of our relationship to landscape and the flora and fauna that inhabit it.


In the exhibition, South Stoke Idyll, Nick Bodimeade shows  bold, desirous paintings of travelling Sussex lanes, evocative interior and exterior farmhouse views [that reflect on how the landscape’s perception is dependent on who is doing the looking], and the abstract patterns of  South Stoke dairy cows, whose great great…. grandmothers he worked with in the 1970s.


See all of Nick Bodimeade's South Stoke Idyl paintings here.


Previous Exhibitions with Zimmer Stewart Gallery


We have exhibited Nick Bodimeade's work for over 20 years, in nine solo exhibitions and countless mixed/group shows.


In 2004 he was still teaching full time at Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College and had not yet become a full time artist, this happened in 2009.


Over the next two decade we had the privilege of seeing Nick Bodimeade's work evolve, and as these exhibitions, see examples below, demonstrate there is a consistency of quality in the painting and a determination not to take the 'easy route' but constantly challenge himself.



November 2004- 'Dogs, Trucks and Sheds' with sculpture by Matt Bodimeade


In these varied paintings Nick Bodimeade is interested in how every day life can be turned into painting and the transformations that take place in that process. His subjects here are - dogs, trucks, sheds, motorways, and people without much clothing on, down at the beach, camping, or mucking about in the country.



March 2006 - Sculpture and Paintings with Jim Partridge


Our second exhibition with Nick Bodimeade shows two sereis of paintings: Trees and for the first time his Beach paintings.


Both series show his confident broad brushstrokes bordering on abstraction or impressionism.


In the "Big Beach" paintings the subject matter is almost secondary to the seemingly random abstract patterns and shapes created by painting people on a beach in their own areas or wandering to and fro. Painted from photographs we would see these develop further in future years.


April 2008 - Beach Geometry


At the time Nick Bodimeade said “The beach is like a blank canvas, re-colonised each day, always changing, but with discernible patterns. Its visual structure developing as people respond to terrain, weather, tide and the conventions of personal space.”


This is a subject everyone can relate to - it is a space where we have all done our own looking and thinking. For Nick this is important, he feels the viewer therefore meets the paintings half way, the visual ground work done.


For Nick these works is not just about observation, it is as much about the possibilities of

painting. Through his confident broad brush strokes and his attention to formal values Nick returns the familiar to us, transformed into a new physical and visual presence.


In 'Red Shorts' (final image below) the subject matter seems almost secondary to the abstract patterns created by the figures as they sit, stand and walk about, in groups or alone. The eye is carefully led through the painting, always seeming to return to the standing figure whose shorts give the figure its title.


'Beach Geometry' (first image) is a large painting where over time figures have been edited out from a crowded scene as the artist searches for structure, finally leaving a single

passage of human activity that links fore and background, land, figures and sea.


April 2010 - A Painter of Everyday Life


Through his confident mark making and attention to formal values Nick returns the familiar to us, Beaches, transformed into a new physical and visual presence. Here, they are developed further with different colour combinations and seemingly impossibly crowded scenes!


Nick Bodimeade sees these works as studies on the 'Hive Mind': also known as groupthink, this is when a person or persons have a strong tendency to fall for group decision-making. If someone has a hive mentality, they may feel invulnerable and morally correct when they're part of a certain group. They may also not be able to make decisions on their own.


It was in 2010 that Nick applied the same 'pixelated' technique with reverse painting to view of cows on a hillside.


In addition to the paintings shown in 2010, Nick Bodimeade produced several series of prints: A series of monoprints; a series of dry points with chin collé in a small "edition variable"; a series of woodcuts, some with hand colouring, in small edition of just 12, on the subject of lurchers (referring back to the large Lurcher paintings of 2004-6).


At the time James Stewart, Gallery director said “We have shown Nick Bodimeade’s paintings for several years now and his work just goes from strength to strength, as his confidence and abilities grow over time”.



April 2012 - Standing, Walking, Sitting, Lying


For his solo exhibition in 2012, Nick Bodimeade developed his Beach paintings further.


In these works he shows figures which are seemingly incomplete, with arms, legs or feet missing. This does not affect our view of the paintings, because our mind's eye is able to complete the composition and they do not look 'wrong'.


Secondly, Nick Bodimeade has included compositions where we ae viewing the subject, over or through trees. The interplay between a flat surface (beach) and spatial views (though trees) creates the 'illusion of space'. Monet's Water Lilies demonstrated a similar technique with willow branches hanging down, through which we woulds see the seemingly endless expanse of water lilies on vast ponds.



May 2015 - Southern Winds


A trip to southern USA provided the subject matter for two new series of paintings: The Ponderosa pine forests of Arizona and the unusual looking 'Pole Houses' at Galveston, Texas.


Here is an excerpt from the 2015 exhibition catalogue written by Nick Bodimeade:


"Early last year whilst most of America was in the grip of crippling snow and ice I drove across the southern states mostly hugging the gulf of Mexico.


At Galveston, Holly and Jamaica beaches, I found hundreds of newly built, confectionery coloured pole houses on plots cleared by Ike and Katrina, waiting for their own test of wind and water.


The visual evidence of huge elemental forces was a constant travelling companion.

I later headed north for a while, exploring the snow dusted, fire and wind ravaged, ponderosa pine forested hillsides near Sedona, Arizona that provide the second strand of work in this show.


Painters paint what they can and they select subjects accordingly. The pole houses here provide structure and a relationship to the rectangle and the mountains and forests layer space and light - these ingredients activated by the disorderly pictorial winds of gesture and mark."



May 2017 - Bostal


'Bostal', is an old Sussex word for a steep track or road running up a hill.


These works allowed Nick Bodimeade to change his landscape painting style, and return to a more formal style, albeit with broad brush strokes and veering towards abstraction.


In addition to the B- roads and tracks, these works include waterways and chalk paths.


The resultant paintings are a celebration of the natural landscape and exploration of light and shade.



November 2019 - River to Sea


These paintings are all based on photographs taken or directed by Nick Bodimeade.


Photographs that enable the fleeting to be scrutinised.


Wild swimmers, sea and sun bathers - their bodies embedded, merging into the surrounding landscape providing an opportunity to exploit the fluid, immersive, qualities of paint where a figure can dissolve into tone, colour and gesture and merge camouflage like with its surroundings.


At the time Nick said "This combined with my interest in the relationship between photographic realism and process based abstraction, give the paintings a sense of flipping back and forth between the visually and physically experienced. Representation slides into abstraction, and bodies dissolve into landscape.


This becoming one with the surrounding landscape or what painters refer to as the Figure /Ground relationship perhaps partially explains the need we seem to have to expose

ourselves to the elements. I guess we all have our own theories as to what is going on here, but I feel our current contested relationship with nature gives a fresh perspective on this timeless subject."



July 2023 - Herd


This was an exhibition of South Downs and New Zealand landscape paintings featuring cows at The Mill Studio, Ford. These works continue the artist’s ongoing exploration of ‘herd mentality’: people acting together; forming small groups; creating personal space within the formation.

 

Previously, but not exclusively, in the past this has been in relation to people on a beach and specifically their way they spread themselves on the often limited space available.

 

It is the same with cows, the group tends to act together: Each individual chooses behaviour in correspondence with others, whether through imitation or as a response to some external force. Although unstructured, there may be two for more animals which are imitated by the bulk of the herd.

 

In 'Herd' Nick Bodimeade was keen to draw comparisons with Piet Mondrian’s early landscape works (circa 1901). The Dutch painter, often regarded as the father of modern abstract art, developed his trademark style in the 1920's. This is characterised by bold red, yellow and blue rectangles bounded by a black-and-white grid.

 

But he spent his youth in rural Holland painting fields and rivers. These early works, including cows featured high horizon lines and flattened spaces. In fact the Mondrian exhibition currently on at Tate Modern demonstrates that the early landscape paintings hinted at or foreshadowing Mondrian's mature abstract style.

 

At the time James Stewart said "Composition, and more than a nod to abstraction, is important in these works, Nick Bodimeade encourages the viewer to move his/her eye over the painting using diagonals, horizontals, negative/positive space as well as focal points."

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