Linda Hart reviews a book that celebrates May Hill in words and paintings
( A Review for the Friends of the Dymock Poet’s Newsletter)
FDP member, Valerie McLean has produced a book about that numinous hill a few miles south of Dymock that beckons to the visitor: “come and explore me, if you can find me.” Certainly when you approach May Hill from the north, it’s there on the horizon guiding you towards it, and then it disappears until you suddenly find you are there, on the edge of an upturned soup late, beginning the gentle climb to the top.
May Hill is a collection of Val’s drawings, drypoint prints, collages and – predominately – paintings in varying combinations of ink, pastel and watercolour. They reflect her visual impressions of May Hill and the surrounding countryside in different seasons and at different times of the year. The paintings of May Hill hover between figuration and abstraction; the 969 – foot hill crowned with a hundred or so Scots Pine trees looks both familiar and strange. Val sees things in the landscape that I don’t see, until she shows them to me with her use of lines, shapes, patterns and textures. Suddenly May Hill takes on a vitality that I have somehow missed but that I know is there.
This is a book of colour – strong, vibrant, intense colour that sings, whistles, cries “look at me- the world’s a beautiful place.” Val’s colours cheer me up on a foggy autumn morning, make me smile on a dark winter afternoon. Her skill with colours is especially obvious in what I can only describe as her floral and woodland paintings. The pencil drawing reprinted here illustrates her technical skill as a draughtsman as well as a colourist.
Val’s art is complimented by short quotations from about a dozen May Hill residents whom she interviewed about life on May Hill in days gone by. I can’t be any more specific than that, because the speakers aren’t – but that is OK because it gives their remarks a timeless quality which suits the timelessness of Val’s images. There is little about the Dymock poets in the book ( this not a criticism, just a fact). Edward Thomas’s poem ‘Words’ is printed in full on one page, and now and again some lines are overwritten onto the May Hill paintings.
This book has a nice feel to it, and the Crown Quarto size (246mmx189mm) makes it easy to hold and thumb through, even while walking along a lane on the side of the Malvern Hills ( as I did , because I wanted to see the effect of bright light on the paintings). There are illustrations on almost every one of the book’s 107 pages. Almost half of these are full-page illustrations, and eight illustrations are across double page spreads. In addition, almost every full-page illustration bleeds to the edge of the page.
Review from the Royal West of England Academy Open Exhibition…Review of painting chosen as “Pic of the Day”
“‘Figure 3’ is a lovely little painting. Valerie McLean has built up layers of colour, creating interest within the paint itself. By allowing one coating to act as a veil, through which the previous can be seen, the piece has depth and intrigue. The subject and composition too are well thought out. There is a feeling of a time long since past, when the world was more straightforward without our modern distractions and interferences. “