Therese Oulton. Surfaces not Underneaths. 2009.


Surfaces, not Underneaths. 2009.


I came across the work of Therese Oulton recently when looking for a post WW2 British female painter, she was born in 1953 in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, studied at St. Martin’s School of Art and the Royal College of Art having begun her studies as a student of anthropology. Oulton lives in London, she did spend a year in Vienna, in 1987 she was nominated for the Turner Prize. Oulton was not keen to join any group and I do not think she would want to be categorised as one of the YBAs, the young British painters, to quote her she wrote ‘I lead an extremely isolated existence.’ It is said that not many women choose to paint landscapes, perhaps not, although I like to paint landscapes, Oulton has been described as a ‘Neo-Expressionist’  known for her abstract work, also landscapes – in a fairly abstract way.

On discussing Surfaces, not Underneaths Germaine Greer writes, ‘Not many women use landscapes as subjects but for Oulton they are an inspiration and rescue painting from male domination’  she added   ‘Oulton makes us believe her reverence has extended to every single, irreplaceable pebble on the beach, she shows a familiar landscape, yet strange, the opposite of conceptual, as though she is shaking out the map of memory til it becomes a dynamic interweaving of sacred grass such as spinifex (an Australian grass) on rocks’ – an extract from an article in the Guardian in 2009, the method echoes the way Australian aborigine women paint.

This painting is painted with oils on aluminium I think, this means that the oil remains on the surface and is not absorbed as with canvas, colours are applied smoothly and can be blended, once the paint dries another coat can be laid on top. The final work will be lightly varnished to prevent scratching. We see the view from above, not directly above but as though we are gliding at an angle to the ground, as if ‘we hang in space’. It is easy to imagine the scene going beyond the frame as if into the far distance. I prefer large spaces, empty skies broken up with  white clouds and distant horizons, more than mountainous scenes although I also find them awe inspiring.  Standing on the shore line looking out to sea is one of my favourite occupations. Often I watch people on the beach, they seem to choose to walk along the edge of the solid ground within inches of the lapping waves.  I have stood at the foot of mountains near Delphi, in valleys in the beautiful Lake District and the highlands of Scotland but big skies that we can see in areas like Norfolk give me the most enjoyment. Flying along the shore line of north Devon with one of my sons in his microlite (winged  motor bike) was a thrill, looking down at the sea which looked like liquid mercury, rather similar to Therese Oulton’s depiction in this painting,

I wish I could see the work as an original because prints do not convey the depth of paint, the texture and the correct colouring, it is said that she uses a ‘delicate and virtuoso technique that amounts to contemplative practice’ her paintings are small in size but are crammed with detail. Much of her most recent work uses repeated motifs, rather like film strips, her work is widely collected, galleries in London exhibit her work, I would like to see them one day.

Information provided by wikipedia.




13 thoughts on “Therese Oulton. Surfaces not Underneaths. 2009.

  1. I like this landscape very much. It is not encroached upon by anything, it doesn’t leach out into anything grandiose or over-arching; there is no distraction from its self-sufficient is-ness: ‘just’ low mounds of coarse wet grass, an expanse of pebble-strewn mud and shingle, a shallow sea.

    It strikes me as a very complete work, very satisfying.

    The painting is elongated and shallow in its dimensions, this enhances its overall effect for me. It suggests to me: ‘this is all there is, it includes everything, no need to stray beyond, there is no beyond for you to need to attend to. You already know that.’

    That statement came to me, I sense, from the womanly part of my consciousness that was waiting for an opportunity to say something, and to be heard.

  2. Hi Peter,
    Second attempt to reply, (catcha problem)!
    Thank you for your comment, I do enjoy being by water, as you say this painting says all that is needed to transport our imagination to a beach we have visitied, Therese Oulton does not need to show us the horizon or the sky above, that is left for us to create. I think I would feel trapped living in a land-locked country, there is a freedom of a kind living on an island.

    1. Hi Norma

      Good to have your ideas about this (and other) paintings you’ve shared with us so generously.

      I wonder……….is it possible that, in titling her work ‘Surfaces not Underneaths’ Oulton is expressing an aversion to paintings as a stimulus to imagination? That would be my interpretation.

      I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that she asks us to not give rein to our imagination, but there may be a hint in the title that the painting is enough in itself, that its component parts invite no elaboration, no exploration beyond what it offers, not even a frame.

      It’s that as-it-is completeness and sufficiency that strangely touches my heart.

      1. That is a very interesting interpretation Peter, which I like because such a thought had not occurred to me. I couldn’t help myself from thinking about other beaches but as you say, the painting contains all the qualities of a sea shore scene, it does not require any extra input from the viewer.

      2. You’re very open minded to others’ opinions and perspectives, Norma.

        I viewed more of her paintings. I was struck by their strange beauty and vivid colours. Also by the sombre titles she gives some of them: for example, Chronic Blue; Heresies; Dispossession; Flare Up. One can perhaps understand how she has lived a solitary existence, although it may not have been of her choosing, nor necessarily a sombre existence.

        Maybe as a result of something being awakened in me by your art blog, I have been at the paint myself! My son asked me to write on the back of his much-loved leather jacket, so I bought some vermilion paint and a fine brush to do so. I fixed the words with three coats of an acrylic varnish. My son was thrilled with the result.

        The words were a saying of Konrad Adenauer that my son admires: “Nehmen Sie die Menschen wie sie sind; anderes gibt’s nicht.” It means “Take people as they are; there’s no other way”. I don’t know if they will stand up to the weather or sitting on the Underground.

        A fellow on a train once offered Will £200 for the same jacket, with scuffs and stains and frayed cuffs, just off his back. Will refused, it means a lot to him. With it’s weighty, sonorous Teutonic slogan, it ought to be worth at least £2,000 now, or even £20,000, don’t you think? 😉

      3. I love to chat about paintings Peter, all comments are good news to me I wish they came along more often, especially when there is a new way of looking at them.
        I’m sure your son’s jacket looks extra special now, a great slogan to exhibit to the commuters, if they read German. At least worth £20.000!

  3. Hi Norma
    My first impression was that it was a photograph and I was actually quite amazed when I saw it close up. On reflection it reminds me of a walk I did a few years ago along the coast of south western Australia. We walked for miles and didn’t see a soul except for this family of kangaroos.

    1. Two beautiful photographs Barry, the kangaroos are like silhouettes, the water looks so clean and clear, egg shell blue in the shallows, I want to paddle there and feel the sand between my toes. I’m reminded of the long beaches of north Devon and Cornwall which I loved to visit with the family when they came to stay, the dogs would race each other, loving the freedom. What is it about water that is so inspiring? I have tried in the past to capture such a scene in paint.

  4. Surely there’s never been such a gracefully serene image of a kangaroo, one that captures so immaculately its freedom, innocence and joy. The feeling I have is that this illustrates the absolute reciprocity of two beings in an act of unique creativity – a miracle of serendipity.

    1. I just stood there agog as Katie clicked away with the camera. When we got closer, they suddenly took off, wheeling around in front of us at great speed. It only seemed like a few seconds before they were half a mile down the beach. It was a magical moment.

  5. Hi,

    Like Barry, I didn’t realize that the picture was even a painting – I thought that Norma had accidentally omitted it – including only a photo of the subject matter. I was delighted when I discovered on closer inspection that it really is a painting (and obviously so – close up). I love paintings that could be photos, but have recognisable characteristics of painting when one looks closely. What size is the actual painting Norma? I too wish I could see it in it’s original – I could get lost between the brush strokes.

    I like looking at things that I know that I lack the skill to create. Sometimes there seems to be a kind of snobbery in the art world – whereby intellectual ideas are valued over manual skill. I have even heard it be said that pure painting (a simple landscape, for example) is not art – merely decoration. Why not both? I think that art can be both intellectual and manual – with each being present in varying degrees.

    I am not saying that this piece is merely an example of manual skill – far from it, but it is this aspect that immediately grabbed my attention.


  6. Hi Rich,
    I read that all the paintings in this particular series by Oulton are no larger than 2’x18″, with great skill each minute detail is painted very carefully. Did you see the scene called Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, the American Realist painter I discussed a while ago, his work would seem like photographs at first glance?
    I hope you will like the next painting I will discuss created by a man who did not take up painting until he reached 70yrs. and had never had an art lesson, his work probably aroused snobbish remarks among some art critics but now his work is widely collected and appreciated.

  7. Yes, the detail is staggering – the water seems to be in (an almost violent) motion and the energy produced in even this small section of seawater is really highlighted. It causes me to wonder at the forces present in the rest of the ocean and makes me feel pleasantly insignificant.
    I look forward to your next blog, I can imagine that only starting painting at 70 might provoke snobbery – as if the painter hasn’t earned the right to produce art, by following a conventional path (art school as a youth, followed by years of toil – earning ones stripes, so to speak).


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