I’d known nothing of Mary Newcomb‘s work until I bought the ‘Little Toller Books’ edition of Richard Mabey’s ‘The Unofficial Countryside’ which reproduces Newcomb’s ‘The Pylon’, 1973 on the cover.

'The Pylons'

You can find out much more about her life and work through the ‘Further Reading’ links below, but in brief, Mary Newcomb was a self-taught painter. Her passion was nature, and in 1945, she’d volunteered as a student helper in the Flatford Mill Field Studies Centre then being set up by bird painter Eric Ennion. It was there that she learned the art of observation and of taking copious notes and sketches to keep an image fresh in the mind’s eye.

Cork Harbour, 1968

Later she married farmer Godfrey Newcomb, and in her married life she would find all the source material she needed for her art in the rhythms of nature and the rituals of rural life: in animal husbandry, in village fetes and country shows, or in incidents glimpsed as she travelled on the bus, or walked or bicycled.

Hill Across the Marsh 1968

Her paintings have a dreamlike and hauntingly lyrical quality; the scrubbed canvases almost hallucinatory – with scale and proportion playfully subverted. Her art has a seeming affinity with English folk art.

‘The Swollen Stream’, 1981

But there’s nothing twee or fey about her work. Much more it seems to me she was attempting to strip back a deep understanding of the natural world to elemental and essential forms. The works hint at a rich interior world and an ongoing engagement with, and exploration of, our place within place.

‘Moths Flying into the Light of the Barge’

From the first streaks of vibrant combinations of abstract colour, images would be brushed one on top of another, images would be turned upside-down old and reused… these paintings are a result of intense concentration and endeavour and record a creative struggle to capture the observable world – or reality as she saw it.

‘Country Chapel’, 1973

 

Further Reading:

  1. There’s an excellent review of her work on the wonderful ‘That’s How The Light Gets In’ website HERE
  2. Obituary from ‘The Guardian’ HERE
  3. Review from ‘The Telegraph’ HERE
  4. Or watch this introduction to her work:

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