There are a couple of paintings I’ve made over the years with a similar title, that communicates this idea of a journey, so instantly there’s a narrative established in The Crossing. It’s a big painting, and the truth is, left to my own devices I would always work big. That’s what I do best. But I’ve had to learn over the years to work on a smaller scale, so that my work is accessible – not everyone has huge wall space available. Nevertheless, it’s very important to me that I have something of this scale happening in my studio because it excites me; I love working on things of this size and this feeds back into the rest of my work. And it allows me to do create paintings that are maybe a bit more challenging.
There are lots of elements in this piece that would give the viewer an insight into the way that I work and why I work the way I do. There are areas of extreme contrast, especially in the looseness of the paint around the child and the horse in the tonal wintry landscape, created by almost abstract brushstrokes. This serves to act as a foil to the areas of extreme detail. That detail just doesn’t register as powerfully if everything around is painted to that same level of intricacy. I believe this is the way the human eye works; when we look at a scene we tend to focus on faces, and we register what’s around them without needing to take in every inch of it.
There’s also another old-school device in The Crossing that goes back centuries to the work of the masters. In an otherwise tonal landscape, that is, one few colours, they would add in one very strong, rich colour, either in a piece of drapery or a brightly coloured landscape somewhere in the distance. In this painting, almost everything else in the canvas is absent of colour except for this splash of vivid red right in the centre of the girl’s coat that immediately draws the eye. It’s a very powerful painterly device and one that is also used a lot in films, that contrast between tonality and colour.
I haven’t allowed myself to get bogged down too much in the narrative of the journey in The Crossing. Perhaps that’s part of the intrigue about the painting – the viewer can decide where the little girl and the horse are going. Undoubtedly, though the significance of the fairytale setting of a little girl dressed in red, making her way through woods in winter does not go unnoticed.