work and landscape

In the tradition of estate paintings, this painting was sold to the landowner. Such pictures go back to Roman times, but in Britain the work of
 Dutch artists like Jan Siberiechts is better known. Land use and labour are natural subjects for estate painting, but the way they are represented can vary. Often the experience of work is barely visible or turned into pernicious romantic fantasy. But John Constable, while having a landowner's viewpoint, often showed the work done about his father's
 property in a well informed and, to a degree, intimate way. 

Over the four years that I worked on Spring I learnt a lot about the kind of work
 that happens in a modern arable field, and I felt my work and the farmer's work
 had become related. We were aware of each other's time table. I lived five miles away
 and often phoned Bill, the manager, for crop and weather reports, and Bill became
 interested in what I was doing.

 I also got to know Reg Cockle, who did most of the quite complex tractor work. If there's a tractor in a painting, Reg is driving it.

Ideas about work became part of the painting. On my side, I was making a career change. I had just enough lecturing to pay
 the bills, and decided to put whatever time it took into these new paintings.
 I took up a craftman's life, working from 9 to 4, at least four days a week.
 Each phase of these pictures took many weeks, and with experiments, site visits and 
repainting, working for a show quickly became a job.

 I think this approach helped me to notice different kinds of work in the landscape itself.

Tyre tracks in 'tramlines'.
Reg Cockle applying nitrogen
skips from Colchester Skip Hire went past regularly
Crew with passengers approaching Stansted.
Bill Jack, farm manager, in dungarees.

The details above show men and machines criss-crossing the land and sky, passing left-right, right-left, near-far and far-near through the painting. Work is mapped into the landscape by these movements. 

the dark side of work


I discovered there was a workhouse for the poor in my painting. It's marked on a nineteenth century map and is now an expensive private property, painted in Suffolk Pink. 

I was surprised, because I had thought of workhouses as large, brick built institutions. I had personal experience of this as a child as my father had introduced me to "Little Jack", a pub aquaintance who had been bought up in a nearby workhouse, at Seisdon. The place had left it's mark on Jack, and this made me curious. I walked out there along the lanes and remember looking across a field at what was left of it, through decayed iron gates big enough for a mansion. But the workhouse in my painting was tiny, with no gates at all.

However, if you realise that the funds for these buildings were drawn from the parish, and that many if not most parishes were both small and poor, there must have been thousands of little workhouses like this one scattered throughout the English countryside.


The poor walked everywhere. They still do. And in some ways the sense of place I was trying to achieve for myself was closer to their experience than that of a modern person living with cars, planes and electronic imagery. 

Coincidentally, the President of The John Claire Society, Ronald Blythe, lives near the little workhouse. John Claire was a nineteenth century village labourer-poet, who wrote movingly about the small places and details of country life, and about the grim life inside the workhouse. 

Again coincidentally, a friend, Alain de Botton, a wealthy man who would not need to work at all if he choose not to, wrote about my paintings in a context of how other people earn their living. It's an unusual but very revealing perspective on art which you can read about it in "The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work" . 

Paintings and prints available. For information, images and all other enquiries please contact


Phone: +44 (0)1353 667014

Letter: Coach House, 7 Douglas Court, Ely, Cambs, CB7 4SE, UK


Copyright © 2024 Stephen Taylor Paintings. All rights reserved. Website by Studio Nova