Saturday, 15 March 2014


Crow, oil on canvas, by Keith Epps.

Here's what the man himself has to say:

"I began composing this last autumn and started work on the canvas this January, but I really don’t know why it has taken so long and been so unnecessarily difficult to complete. Right up to the end it has seemed to fight back hard, and I’ve had to make many adjustments, corrections, and inventions to make it work. Still, it only gets painted once, and I think it’s worth getting it as right as I can.
This is a strongly narrative painting based on something I saw in my childhood. It shows two moments a couple of minutes apart; three of the figures on the left are repeated on the right. The location is literally just up the road from a previous painting – the far tree behind the main group on the left is the main tree in Wreck No.12, and both pieces share the sunlit vista on the left.
This painting has also had an extraordinarily long incubation period. I found this location in summer 2011, but had no idea what to use it for. Then, last autumn, I realised that it was the setting for an idea that I’d first tried out in 1981, but which I’d not been able to take forward. I dug out those drawings from my pile of sketchbooks, and set about reworking them into this setting.
The figures on the right were quite troublesome. They had to be small and unfocussed - too much detail would have drawn the eye – and, as what I think they are doing is shameful, I wanted then half-hidden. They had to be arranged so that their actions could be read, but partly obscured by the trees.
The foreground group was carefully composed using images sourced from both the Interweb and from my own childhood photos. The placing was crucial; particularly where the crow sits in relation to the palest tree. I wanted the crow to seem just slightly separate from the group holding it, and that vertical line does just that. I had roughly sketched this group out on paper, but the precise composing was done with photoshop layers, one for each figure, over the background image. I just moved them about, and back and forward, and adjusted them into the setting until they worked as I wanted them to. Before you ask – no, I’m not there.
Happily, there is clear evidence in the middle and right foreground of last month’s study of leaves, though some appear less beech than rhododendron.
Technically there’s nothing new here, though I did finally resort to buying Cadmium yellows for making the thin greens of indirect light in the central grassy area. These pigments are phenomenally powerful (and at £18 a tube phenomenally expensive). They do the job though, so respect due…
The original, autobiographical, incident happened in the mid 1960s, when I was a sensitive little boy of about nine or ten. I was at a boarding school that was enclosed by woods, and there were always a lot of rooks and crows about. One beautiful late summer afternoon I was just pottering about outside and a group of older boys approached, to pass me, going away from the school towards a shallower line of trees beside the cricket pitch. The lead boy was carefully carrying a crow, and as I was smaller, I was very close to it. A leg hung down and its beak was open, and it blinked with a milky eyelid.
‘Where are you going with that?’ I said
‘It’s injured, so we’re going to kill it’
I didn’t understand. I started to cry, so they pushed me to one side and kept me at a distance while the three biggest boys took the crow into the trees, laid it on the ground, and beat it to death with sticks. And I was horrified, and I screamed and screamed.
Thinking about it now I’m still very sad. I think that, even at the time, I was aware of why they were killing this crow. Not - as they had lightly convinced themselves - out of pity to save its suffering, but out of curiosity and cruelty, to find out what it was like. 
And fifty years on I still remember it, and how the light was flooding through the trees."
Fascinating stuff, eh?
Speak soon.

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