Final Reflections on the Project


All Good things

A long time to reflect

I thought I’d give myself some time to reflect properly but certainly not as long as the time since my last post. In wanting to communicate some idea of the project having a lasting impact on my work only patience has suggested what the effects are and might be in the future. The blog has helped enormously in recording and sharing some of my most treasured memories. I have mixed emotions about concluding it, even now, so long after the end of the exhibition.

I did enjoy many visits to the gallery over the course of the exhibition. I feel extremely lucky to have been able to work with such thoughtful dedicated individuals, at every stage, who contributed to make the exhibition so engaging. Each moment spent in there was special, whether it was the tranquility of being entirely on my own with the works, or the space reverberating with the hub bub of visitors from Bolton and much further a field.
I must also mention the many school visits I undertook which have hopefully guaranteed the next generation of Bolton Artists are as excited about Art and Moran as me. Working with the children who visited the exhibition has been such fun and further emphasised it’s appeal to a very broad audience.

Moran and Me

Simple beginnings

What started with a simple inclination to visit the site of one of my favorite paintings was actually like pulling at a tiny loose thread of an elaborate tapestry. As the yarn has unraveled I’ve discovered an intricate layering of time, visions and voices. Essentially the project was a chance to reevaluate Moran’s influence on me, whilst also learning much more about his era and why he produced the art he did. A natural curiosity to compare this knowledge to my own experiences and depictions of the same subject, during and after the trip,  resulted in a much deeper understanding of my painting as well the role of art, both in the period it is produced and as those circumstances change.  I was struck that, although Moran was “employed” to record facts, he was able to fulfill his commitment to the task as well as re imagining what he saw to create great Art.


“Nearing Camp on the Upper Colorado River” Oil Painting by Thomas Moran Copyright Bolton Museum and Library Services.

True Heroes

I’d placed Moran and other influential artists in a little “hero” box many moons ago, easily listed and referred to but rarely given fresh thought. At some point, during those many years, the dream to paint like him had imperceptibly given way to the desire to paint like me. I suppose it’s the true calling of any artist, to actually create something that links to an inherited tradition but is also new, in reflecting their own experience, memories and imagination.

In the heart of the the project I have slowly transformed  a sentimental nostalgic view of Moran as an artist into a mature appreciation of him as a man. This process has been strangely melancholic at times but necessary and liberating. The era was always alive in my imagination but it now feels much closer in an unexpected way. It’s as though I started building a bridge over a chasm of history between me and Moran. Possibly due to the incredible shifts in painting which seemed to separate us but as the project went on, the bridge became smaller and smaller. We all grow in our appreciation of the challenges that life can throw at us,  and I believe, with experience, we yearn to know that our heroes were human too and then their achievements become all the more real and substantial, truly heroic.

The Bolton Connection 

When I first started on this project I thought I might unearth some hidden gems of information about Moran’s link’s to Bolton. I had a naive idea that he may have harbored a sentimental connection to the town of his birth. Although he did visit a number of times and the town must have been very proud to reaffirm his roots with a very successful exhibition, it is equally clear that Moran rightly a son of America. I doubt he could have embraced his creative opportunities to successfully depict The West had he not felt such ties with his new home.

Having said that I do think that the link with Bolton is something that the town should celebrate wholeheartedly. It occurred to me that the connection belongs to everybody and is kept vibrantly alive in great events, like the exciting acquisition of “Nearing Camp”,  for the people in the town to view whenever they want and imagine what is possible. In my efforts and the actions of everyone who helped and encouraged me there seemed a deep understanding of the importance of these bonds which enrich our lives, day to day and in future.

Moving Forward 

The Mystery of Painting

The project’s effect’s have emanated into my paintings in surprising ways. Most notably, I have a much clearer sense of where my art sits into the grand scheme of things. I am one of a number of painters, working today, who is very happy to make a commitment to traditional subjects such as Landscape and an ongoing relationship with paint. I now understand that what can result from this process is an enigmatic alchemy, where the paint not only describes recognisable elements to produce an “image” but the handling of the paint itself can also mysteriously portray the nature of the the artist, simultaneously. How many times do we hear that looking at an original work, in the flesh, is utterly different to seeing a reproduction in a book? In a book, we only see the image and nothing of the secret language of the paint. The true beauty of this organic relationship is that it will always be in transition and a mystery, affected by events in an artist’s life and is as unique to each individual as a snowflake.

“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.” Albert Einstien


Ripples on a Pond

Perhaps more directly I can feel that this new found awareness is giving me confidence to  work on a large scale again, as well as being more experimental in the way I work with the paint. A number of works I have completed, based around the theme of a cave entrance, have grown directly from the seeds of a couple of pieces in the exhibition and these are a new direction that will occupy me for some time.

Cave, Oil 120x70cm.jpg

Cave, Oil, 120x70cm

I have also returned to subjects which established my reputation, representing the British Isles, even in this work I can feel the influence of what happened in America. I have metaphorically and literally expanded my horizons.


North, Oil, 120x70cm


Another Trip -Teton Art Lab April 2016 

I was really keen for the exhibition to be seen in America but alas the logistics of transporting the whole show made such an ambition impossible.

All is not lost, around this time last year I became aware of an Art residency program in Jackson, organised by the studios Teton Art Lab. They invite applications from artists annually and select twelve, to make work in Jackson for one month of the following year.

I am delighted to say that I have been chosen to take part in the project during April this year. I can only guess what may emerge this time. I do intend to record events again in a separate blog that will be published on my website

So this seems like a perfect time to draw the curtain on this record. I do still hope to eventually add all the little bits I’ve promised, that were features in the exhibition along with collections of sketches but for now this is my final written post. I also plan to move the whole blog on my own website at some point soon.

Thank you 

Thank you to all the followers of the blog. Your support has been crucial to it becoming such an integral part of the whole project.

Thank you so much to everyone helped with this project in anyway. The most wonderful aspect of this experience has been how warmly people have embraced the chance to get involved and make it special.

Last but certainly not least to Thomas Moran himself who’s life and Art made me dream of adventure, thank you.


James Naughton at Green River June 2013, Copyright Andrew Hodgson 2013




Notes from the Studio Feb 2014 ‘Green River Nightfall’

image  The Finale. 

This is the painting that eventually sat next to Moran’s ‘Nearing Camp’ in the Gallery at the very end of the show. There was always a certain inevitability in me revisiting this view of Tollgate rock and the Palisades but only when I was sure that my efforts would result in a work that would be a clear tribute to Thomas Moran and at the same time communicate something of my experience there as well as the way I make paintings.

'Green River Nightfall' Oil 6ftx4ft

‘Green River Nightfall’ Oil 6ftx4ft

I wanted to present the key elements merging together as the light fades. In most of my work there is a momentum of shadows and light which I like to think gives the viewer an experience beyond the bonds of what is viewed, suggesting movement of the earth, clouds, sunlight and in this case moonlight. There is a vigor in this work and it hopefully maintains the energy of all those small studies which help evoke the mystery of the transition from day to night.

I look back on these large works and feel lucky about how they came about, especially with a finite period of time which I had to complete them. I suspect that the time constraint is part of the process I engage in to try ensure a purity in my painting experience although it is not without risks. It doesn’t always work but thankfully in this instance these large works added a crucial sense of scale and wonder to the experience in the gallery. I absolutely loved producing them, the intensely physical challenge and exhilaration in painting these large pieces has left me with an appetite to carry on working at this scale or even bigger in the future.

So this is the final post from my notes of the studio phase. The exhibition actually finished a few weeks ago(November 16th 2014) . I’m really excited that I might also be able to include a 360 degree video tour of the Exhibition and two stop motion capture films of me painting the large works here but I may need technical help for this so won’t promise a timescale. I have also always intended to add sketches/maps and background detail that will add to experience of visitors in the future but I imagine these things will appear sporadically when I can collate the material.  In terms of the main writing I plan draw all the threads of the project together into one more post to follow.

Notes from the Studio Feb 2014 “The Wonders of Yellowstone”

imageThis was the last painting I started, and by this point I wanted to feature a large piece in each different phase of the exhibition. It seemed a natural choice to gather the many sites of natural phenomena together in a “The Wonders of Yellowstone” section. It was the choice of this heading which gave me an idea to produce one definitive painting that could conjure an experience to warrant such a majestic title.

It’s perfectly fine to have such intentions but much of the work I had done on this particular theme had been restricted to smalls studies and many abstract studies. I look back now and think that these limits were a perfect preparation as I had no preconceived plan of what would happen, just a vague ambition.

"The Wonders Of Yellowstone" Oil 6ftx4ft

“The Wonders Of Yellowstone” Oil 6ftx4ft

This painting became an imagined view of the prismatic pool but at a slight elevation to allow a glimpse into the far distance and the perpetual activity of the earth’s surface being breached from below across a vast plain.

It was exhilarating to paint and I hope that this comes across in the work and its image reproduced here.


Notes from the Studio Jan Feb 2014 ‘Yellowstone Canyon Shelter’

imageTales and Details

During the Canyon phase of the studio work it became clear to me that much of what I do attempts to place the viewer in a position which would be otherwise inaccessible. In this piece I had a desire to create a degree of the disorientation that I experienced on a footpath down to the base of the canyon. It is a feeling I encountered a great deal during the trip, focusing on elements of a scene that were the passing daily routines of nature, such as bird flight, whilst being amidst mythic surroundings more at home in my dreams.

'Yellowstone Canyon Shelter' Oil 6ftx4ft

‘Yellowstone Canyon Shelter’ Oil 6ftx4ft

The image is primarily of a large cave in which two deer have found shelter. The animals are dwarfed by the landscape which itself the smallest of details of the incredible Canyon. In all of the large pieces I was struck that each image could easily have been continued onto more boards of the same size.
I was thrilled to unwrap this and place it in the space before the exhibition was hung, it has elements which remind me of fantastical Victorian painting and the gallery felt like a natural home for it.

Studio Notes Jan-Feb 2014 ‘Teton in the Sky’

imageA Mountain to Climb
Feeling like this was all one big learning experience I approached each large piece in a slightly different way, this Teton painting was made by a gradual scaling up from a very small sketch to a work that was 60x40cm and then finally the 6ftx4ft. You can see the evolution below.

It was always on my mind to portray the Grand Teton merging mysteriously with the sky. These early studies were curious in that the peak is concealed but I now realise this only adds to the overwhelming sense of scale in the final work.

Teton Sketch, Oil 20x15cm

Teton Sketch, Oil 20x15cm

The Teton Sunset 40x60cm Oil Painting

The Teton Sunset 40x60cm Oil Painting

'Teton in the Sky', Oil 6ftx4ft

‘Teton in the Sky’, Oil 6ftx4ft

I wanted to see what would happen if I knew that the composition and colour were already working well. This isn’t how I normally work but I really enjoyed both the security and freedom that resulted.

The viewing public seemed to agree, it probably being the most popular piece in the exhibition, with most commenting on the fresh bright green aspect emphasising the warm light. I wondered if this might also be a familiarity with this subject and palette from similar examples of European Landscape such as the Alps?


Studio Notes Jan – Feb 2014 “Tollgate Rock”

imageThe Big Country
I’m sure that anyone who has followed this blog, through it’s various twists and turns, will have become aware that one of my main ambitions was to see how the experience would be communicated in a number of very large pieces. Even in the earliest drafts of the Arts Council application it was a key ingredient. I’ve worked on large commissions in the past but I was keen to see how a whole body of work would be affected by this eventual aim. I used prepared marine ply wood panels for all these big pieces, cut at 6ftx4ft, with a nervous bend I just about managed to fit them in the car.

I started them about a month before the exhibition was due to begin. I wanted to give myself enough time to complete them but also make sure that they would still maintain the vital energy of the smallest sketches with little time left  for procrastination or over working, it’s a dangerous strategy but has served me well over the years.

By this point it had been decided to arrange the Final exhibition in a chronology of the original journey with five main sections, The Tetons, The Canyon, Yellowstone Wonders, Green River and Buffalo. It occurred to me that it would be great if each of these sections might be presented around one large piece, defining the threads of each stage.

Tollgate Rock, study in Oil 6ft x 4ft

Tollgate Rock, study in Oil 6ft x 4ft

The first painting I attempted is this representation of Tollgate Rock. I had a strong sense of wanting to get something out of my system. It has since been likened to the “Devils Tower” mash scene from the film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and the painting did feel like a moment when my obsession with this place was released in a similarly intense way.

The Keen eyed among you will notice a thin scar across the board, I think this defect engendered the right state of mind to make this piece, rather than a flawless surface. I hope this blog has given everyone a sense of all these strange tricks that artists use to find the right place for their work to emerge. I’d be really interested to know if any of these mind games are employed by other artists?
So the “Tollgate Rock” piece became the first big work, a vital benchmark, by which I could judge the next experiments. I decided to leave it in this sketch like state, moving onto the other works, buoyed by it’s energetic grandeur.

Green River, Studio Notes January 2014

imageA Long Anticipated Return

As the trip culminated in the visit to Green River this was mirrored in it also being the last destination in the studio too. I got to this point feeling the pressure of the exhibition looming and also the challenge of creating work on a theme that was so central to the project it was at the back of my mind all the way through.

I remember having visits to see the gallery staff in Bolton and would get very nervous even looking at the Moran painting, knowing that whatever emerged from the next few weeks work would sit next to it in the final show. I also wanted to make sure that all the people of Green River who had given us such a warm welcome, in those finals days of the trip and at the civic reception, could feel as though I had captured something of this remarkable place.

Tollgate Rock Sketch, pencil

Tollgate Rock Sketch, pencil

Green River butes Sketch, Pencil.

Green River butes Sketch, Pencil.









It might have been easier to go out of my way and deliberately avoid depicting Tollgate Rock and the palisades, so as not to invite the inevitable comparisons in the gallery. I eventually came to the conclusion that it was the original dream to see this particular view and go on to paint it. I had grown in confidence by this point, knowing that what I produced would stem from a range of responses I had to the rocks when I was there and after returning to Bolton.

Tollgate Reflections 18x14cm, Oil

Tollgate Reflections 18x14cm, Oil

My main aim was to instil these paintings with an energy which would give an impression of the scene changing hazily from one moment to the next. The wonder of watching the sun’s last light reflected on the landscape is the speed of the changes we witness, a blaze of glory but also melancholy at the close of day. In my imagination the cliffs and tollgate rock had morphed into an ancient city scape, perfectly visible by day but only revealing it’s true beauty at this transition between day and night. The sun moves west leaving Green River cast in shadow but the rocks surrounding it glow ever more intensely like a last beacon.

Green River Valley Evening. 20x15cm. Oil.

Green River Valley Evening. 20x15cm. Oil.

A last hurdle remained. I had always wanted to see how these subjects would transfer to very large works. Although I had produced more than enough work to make the exhibition a success wouldn’t it be fantastic if this final challenge could be realised on an epic scale?