A landscape artist with a different perspective

Keiron Pim It has almost become a cliché for landscape artists to rhapsodise about Norfolk's 'big skies' so it is oddly refreshing to find one whose gaze is directed towards the ground.

Keiron Pim

It has almost become a cliché for landscape artists to rhapsodise about Norfolk's 'big skies' so it is oddly refreshing to find one whose gaze is directed towards the ground.

Mary Spicer's new exhibition opens on Monday at the St Giles Street Gallery in Norwich. Rather than romanticising the East Anglian countryside, her work focuses on how farming gouges and shapes the land, with tractor tracks creating patterns on the fields and churning the earth into thick folds of mud.

"I have been particularly looking at the way the land gets carved up by agricultural machinery," she says. "It gets scoured and criss-crossed by ploughed lines. I have been trying to look at the texture of landscape, the marks you can get as a result of that."

Her paintings combine several media - acrylic paint, oil pastels, Indian ink and texture gel, for instance - applied in thick swathes that, in the words of gallery owner David Koppel, "really capture Norfolk".

Mary has lived at Ditchingham, near Bungay, for 17 years and has come to know the surrounding landscape well.

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"Because I have been in the landscape and got to know it very intimately, what I want to do is pinpoint certain features in the landscape that are specific to East Anglia," she says.

"I particularly didn't want to do what a lot of East Anglian artists do, which is to put in all the windmills and the usual features.

"I wanted to look at it differently and put a whole new take on it.

"I make the foregrounds very big so you get a very small strip of sky, and you are really confronted by the land in front of you."

Most of the paintings on show at the gallery are around 50cm by 70cm. Titles include Across The Winter Fields to Broome Church, Scarred and Furrowed Land, and All Goes Back to the Land.

Her technique is to build up layers of texture through using brushes, palette knives and her fingers, creating "the unmistakable, indelible marks of human activity". Colours on her palette include yellow ochre, burnt sienna, burnt umber: rich, earthy colours that are topped with glints of ultramarine where puddles of water reflect the sky. The emphasis is on the countryside as a creation of society rather than a wilderness: we see the effects of farming, the farm buildings and churches that people have erected, the fields of crops, even piles of animal manure. She also charts the effects of the changing seasons. Some paintings evoke a cold winter light, other blaze with spring sunshine and the vivid glow of rape fields.

Mary began her career in 1978. She went to art school in Brighton and became an art teacher, spending time at Sir John Leman High School in Beccles, and taking adult education classes. She says: "Like most artists I have drifted in and out of teaching at times, but for the past six years I have been a full-time artist."

Landscapes, by Mary Spicer, is at the St Giles Street Gallery, 51 St Giles Street, Norwich until April 18. See www.sgsgallery.com. Prices range from £1,000 to £1,600.