Twilight, Woodblock print, 52 cm x 39 cm
Twilight, Woodblock print, 52 cm x 39 cm

Matthew Underwood

Colour and unexpected combinations are the trigger for my creativity. I have a heightened sensitivity to colour and see unusual juxtapositions that are then used in my palette, but the unexpected may also be an encounter with an animal, the startle of a chance meeting. The woodblock print of Sleepy Tawny Owl came from such a moment: I walked into a Tawny roosting barely six feet up. Both of us were shocked into a frozen moment that convey both the repose and the heat of that moment.

The challenge is to carry that first sight freshness from the sketchbook page, to express it and to hold it there for the viewer. I am both painter and printmaker: my printmaking is that of traditional Japanese wood block printing, moku hanga, one of the more painterly printmaking techniques. Pigment mixed with rice paste is brushed onto my carved blocks and hand burnished onto damp Japanese papers to build up successive layers of colour.

In contrast to the experience, almost always outdoors, the expression is studio-based. I manipulate the composition and orchestrate colour to convey the mood, setting colour against colour for my perspective rather than using linear recession. The structure of my work is underpinned by echoes of the same shape or line and the counterpoint of contrasting shape. So I am drawn to the botanical, where flower heads, branch, leaf or berry are recurring shapes with variation, whilst a creature that moves through them reveals contrasting lines. The spikey angularity of honeysuckle, for example, contrasts with the rounded forms of Barn Owl and the Humming-bird Hawk Moth in Twilight yet the animals are absorbed into the habitat being touched by the colours of the blooms; linked, too, by the angularity of the owls talons, weapons whose shape echoes that of the flowers. I have used positive and negative shapes in the flower heads, too; some glow with colour, those set back emerge from the dusk pinpricked with light.

Images from around this site by Matthew: