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  • Writer's pictureHaydn Dickenson


I'm going to be honest. I've just discovered a 'new' artist, courtesy of my Windows 10 Lock Screen.

It will never do to be pretentious about art, so I'm not going to expound on this artist, pretending that I have been familiar with his work for years. No, I discovered him yesterday by going to log into my PC.

“Hang on”, I hear you say, “You are an abstract artist, and this is a blog about abstraction, so what is this highly traditional painter doing on your page? I'm confused”.

Well, you have clearly not been paying attention! The title of this blog site gives away my chief preoccupation, but have you read the byline? “The Unbridled Thoughts and Opinions of Artist Haydn Dickenson. Art, Abstract and Otherwise.”

It is the 'otherwise' with which we are concerned today. There is a plethora of non-abstract art that I find profoundly moving; as an abstractionist I am well aware, and deeply respectful, of what went before me.

Consider me today then, 'unbridled'.

The artist who piqued my curiosity yesterday morning is Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), an American artist and a representative of the Hudson River School, and the picture that I saw is the one below.

THE HEART OF THE ANDES - Frederic Edwin Church

The painting is very large – nearly two metres high and three metres wide, and is a composite creation based on Frederic Church's travels in Ecuador and Colombia. On first impression, the scene could be a verdant slice of bucolic Europe and, to an extent, it does not matter where the scene is set, the vista is so compelling and fantastical. Human presence and activity exist there – the two figures, the cross, the village, distant smoke on the mountainside, but it is Nature that presides, in all its magnificence and wonder.

When I look at this canvas, the immense technical brilliance becomes subservient to the dreamlike vision that Church delivers. Most spellbinding to me is that the 'reality' presented to us is one that is entirely within the painting. The actual scene, one 'invented' by the artist based on an assembly or recollections, does not, and did not, exist. I am transported into a realm of 'super-reality' that I can only, naively, describe as magical. I imagine how it would feel to walk to that little village, to touch the stonework of the tiny, ancient chapel, to hear the sound of the crystal waters, to smell the woodsmoke as it plumes softly into the air.

I am reminded of two things. The first is Emile Zola's lengthy, intoxicating descriptions of the Paradou Park in his novel, 'La Faute de l'Abbé Mouret'. The second throws me back to my childhood when I was fascinated by pre-history, and by life before the dinosaurs.

As a boy, I had some books, sadly long-since lost, depicting imagined scenes of a primeval earth covered in green, humid swamps and lush rainforests, with far horizons above which a huge setting sun was sliced through by silent, sulphurous clouds. If I were to see these illustrations today, they would probably appear crude and poorly-executed but, as a child, I was transfixed, and they became a reality in which I found myself immersed and with which I became one.

To this day, there is a certain light which, when I am in wide open spaces, surrounded by nature, transports me to the dawn of life on earth. I cannot say why; I know only the power of the sensation. Frederic Church's painting has a similarly persuasive effect on me. It conveys me on a heady trip to a higher reality.

In the painting below, Church offers us another fantastical distillation of light, scent and stillness. In this world, too, I want to lose myself; its higher realm is irresistibly seductive and comforting.

TROPICAL SCENERY - Frederic Edwin Church

I began working on this article yesterday evening, discovering, picture by incredible picture, a to-me undiscovered and magnificent artist. Finished for the night, I saved the first draft and went to check my Instagram, where I had earlier posted some images of a new painting on which I am working. I caught sight of the Instagram 'story' of an old friend of mine.

I opened my friend's story and was stunned by what I saw; a phenomenal painting by another Hudson River artist, Thomas Moran (1837-1926) and, yes, another new name to me. Here, we look down on a vast mountain range (apparently the Rocky Mountains) which is bathed in other-worldly pinks and blues, utterly breathtaking and, again, holding the power to transport the viewer into a seemingly parallel dimension.

I cannot find the painting in question to use as illustration, but here are two more of Moran's canvases which demonstrate unequivocally his astonishing mastery in the harnessing of light through paint. The term 'Luminism' was later coined for the style of the Hudson River artists; an apt one indeed.


THE GOLDEN HOUR - Thomas Moran

STOP PRESS! For the first time ever, I am adding material to an article after publishing! My friend, who unwittingly introduced me to the work of Thomas Moran, has sent the image that I couldn't locate earlier on, so here it is. Is it not utterly splendid?


I wrote, above, of the 'reality' which I perceive in these stupendous landscape paintings. In an earlier blog post, I explored the complex relationship between abstract art and reality.

To me today, though the worlds of the Hudson River school and Abstraction could hardly be more different, the mission of the two types of practitioners and, perhaps, of all artists, appears remarkably similar. Through art we discover experiences that transport us away from the mundane, towards a higher reality.

Copyright Haydn Dickenson 2023

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