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When I began painting Buried Treasure it was to be a simple cross-section of the layers of the earth and what you might find if you dig down. For example, if you follow the roots of an oak tree, you might find a sett of sleepy badgers, a fox resting in her earth, Anglo Saxon treasure (I chose the Alfred Jewel), neolithic pottery…. But as I painted the jay and the magpie taking gold coins and acorns, the painting became about giving and taking, and the real value of things. What is of the greatest value – a gold coin or an acorn? Which of those could be eaten, or has the potential to become a tree, home to many other living things? Yes, my inner hippy is hanging out, and I’m cool and far out with that. You dig?
The cellular pattern on the tree is inspired by electron-micrographs of phloem and xylem, the tiny tubes that transport nutrients up a tree so it can grow.
The idea behind my painting Buried Treasure was partly inspired by BBC TV’s Detectorists. It’s a beautiful series apparently about two ordinary blokes in an ordinary English village who go metal detecting. But don’t be fooled, the series has big themes: about what we humans value, the landscape, and the comforting, regenerative powers of nature.
Life and death
As I progressed with the painting and it took on a life of its own – as all paintings do at some point in their creation – it also became about life and death. I could have called the painting ‘Going Underground’, ‘Life after Death’, ‘Safe in your Place Deep in the Earth’ or ‘All that Remains’. Nature wastes nothing – the molecules that we are made of will be recycled in some form after we die – perhaps as an oak tree?
Buried Treasure is painted with one eye on the 17th century tradition of Dutch and Flemish ‘vanitas’ paintings. They reminded viewers of the futility of this earthly life and the promise of an afterlife in heaven. As I don’t believe in gods, I’ve turned the vanitas concept on its head. I show earthly afterlife; a guarantee that Mother Nature will recycle our molecules according the laws of physics, and return us to stardust.
Any way here it is – Buried Treasure. Ultimately it’s a painting about hope. Fans of Detectorists will, I hope, ‘get it’ immediately. And I hope you dig it too.