My work isn't solely about painting wildlife, but more the atavistic link we have with animals and environment - I try and keep hold of our innate wildness and our ancient wild memories, making connections with our environment
Meeting this thoughtful wildlife artist in her North Norfolk studio, I can't help but notice that her face, hands and clothes are all heavily smeared in Cobalt Blue oil paint so that she is almost literally immersed in her work.
In a new series of semi-representational work, Lockwood surrenders herself to her canvases, allowing them to take the directional lead. She explains how she may consciously start with a wing detail and then simply wait for whatever her subconscious conjures up for inspiration to continue the process: "Sometimes, the painting has a mind of its own, and whether I like it or not, it turns into something very different from the idea I first had," she explains. "I don't mind this, I've learnt now not to fight the flow."
But she can't avoid the odd interruption and I feel rather guilty about disturbing her flow. Lockwood is in creative lockdown, feverishly preparing for her upcoming exhibition which is entitled Wildling, and which opens on 23rd October at the Pinkfoot Gallery in the impossibly cute, pebble and brick village of Cley within the Norfolk Coast's Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The definition of Wildling is: "A wild plant or animal, especially a wild plant, transplanted to a cultivated spot." Lockwood's eyes light up as she explains: "I felt this was a fitting title as I can identify with this meaning. The exhibition and accompanying book are a collection of my work exploring the animal form and its belonging or place within its environment."
During Lockwood's art training (growing up in Sheffield and later in London at Middlesex Poly), she was taught to sketch from live animal observation. After 25 years of such forensic study, she now has an encyclopedic knowledge of how animals hold themselves and move. In the studio, scattered among the paint tubes and jars of brushes are piles of drawings of birds, quickly sketched while out on forays in the surrounding forests and marshes. Lockwood's subtle understanding of kinesiology means that she can make a particular animal instantly identifiable with just three or four scant brush strokes.
As a child Rachel spent many happy days with her brother running wild through the woods or hiding in the hollows of holly bushes and she is naturally drawn back to such spaces: "There are many different woodland habitats near my home in North Norfolk that take me back to my wild childhood, and I'm sucked in. If I encounter an animal in the woods, I still get a flash of excitement and a deep connection that is hard to explain." she adds.
"My work isn't solely about painting wildlife, but more the atavistic link we have with animals and environment - I try and keep hold of our innate wildness and our ancient wild memories, making connections with our environment." In 2013, she channeled those connections and the dramatic landscapes she now calls home into 58 vibrant oil sketches that made up her Forest series.
For Wildling, Lockwood still takes to the woods but these days the approach is a little more professional. She camouflages herself head-to-toe in forest tones and waits in one spot so that wildlife wanders in and out of her view without noticing her presence. She's very good at this environmental subterfuge - possibly too good. Once, one tourist hiking through the forest stopped to answer the call of nature right next to her. A type of male display she admits that she could have done without.
Her endless patience has paid dividends, however, with rewards that include poignant close-up and personal sightings of extremely shy red deer. In her new canvases they are depicted merging within the trees in which they so skillfully hide.
Lockwood tells me how she also likes to include the animals at the periphery of the scene. For example, she asks me to look again at the painting of the deer and points out a partridge just behind their legs. She has effortlessly captured the essence of the bird - its distinctive wing banding and shape - in just a few lines. It is one of those lovely secret visual treats that once she has shown me, I can't believe I hadn't spotted for myself.
Hares are another favourite species for Lockwood. She goes on hare safaris: taking bumpy drives across Norfolk's flinty ground in search of these mesmerising creatures. Her shrewd observations of their expressions are portrayed in vibrant crimson works such as Leveret Mother's Arrival. Her joy in recalling hours lost watching their mad March boxing bouts is in sharp contrast to her anger at their precarious status, partly a result of gamekeepers who in the past used to boast proudly of killing 900 of them a day. Sadly, today, they still face threats such as being mown down by enormous combine harvesters. She explains that leverets learn to keep still and camouflage themselves against danger, but this doesn't work against a combine's cutter bar.
Her concern about how we treat our surroundings is evident in the restoration of the three acres of land in which her studio stands: "We've planted over 400 trees and shrubs. I know it's going to take a long time for the land to revert to a natural state, but amazingly within two months of installing a Barn Owl box, a pair moved in and went on to raise two chicks." She shares this momentous event with us via a gorgeous painting called Owls Preparing that colourfully captures the birds waking and stretching.
"My work as an artist has developed as the years have gone by but continues in the same vein. It has allowed me to watch the world around me and keep in touch with the natural wild side of life - a place that seems to make constant sense, even when the world around me seems not to."
While standing beside the wildlife pond she has created outside her studio a charm of goldfinches arrive. To me it's a big deal, but to Lockwood and her sketchbook, it's just business as usual and entirely natural.
The Arts Interview: Rachel Lockwood
Picasso or Turner? Picasso
Top environmental tip? Don't breath
Linda Snell or Jolene Archer? Jolene
Studio clothes: painting overalls or civvies? Studio clothes
Lark artist or late owl? Lark artist.
Sketching or painting? Ooohhhh! Can I have both
Warm or cold studio? Warm but sometimes I forget and I realise I'm frozen.
Our most annoying environmental error? Finding oil.
Studio or plein air? Both
Regular breaks or work through? Breaks when I'm not lost in a piece.
Forest or marsh? Forest
Gary Cook is the Ecologist Arts Editor and a full-time conservation artist
Society of Graphic Fine Art: sgfa.org.uk/members/gary-cook/
The Ecologist: tinyurl.com/j4w6zp3