An exhibition of paintings by Lynne Cameron

University of Leeds Clothworkers’ Hall Foyer 2 August – 30 October 2013


© Lynne Cameron

Artwork photographs by Graham Low, LRPS

This is the story of the exhibition ‘Falling into Place’ - of how it came to be and what it means to me. I have been painting and drawing since 1996. In 2000 I was accepted on a Foundation course, but the time was not right - two teenage sons and a mortgage demanded my attention. I continued to paint in my kitchen, attended evening classes at York College and Leeds College of Art, and summer courses at the Slade School of Art in London. My day job during these years was university teaching. I worked at the University of Leeds, becoming a professor in 2003, and moved to the Open University in 2006. My research into metaphor and how people use it - gradually took over from teaching, and from 20092012 I was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to investigate metaphor and empathy in contexts of violence and conflict. This is the work that took me to Kenya. In the vast landscapes of the northern Rift Valley, we found successful conflict transformation activities, inspiring leadership, and empathy between people returning after the dehumanising effects of conflict. The short visit was full of images and emotions. When, in 2012, I decided the time had come to give my art a chance to flourish, it was inevitable that it would connect with my artwork. I moved to London, shifted to part-time working, and found a studio to paint in. ‘Falling into Place’ fell into place. In this exhibition catalogue, I show how the paintings developed through various stages of work, from the initial small representational paintings to the larger abstracts. At each stage, different influences came into play and different connections resonated between the visual and the experiential.

My art is about space and how we occupy it. Space is nothing until something is put into it; occupied space becomes place. Our bodies, memories, and emotions are created by the places and spaces we move through, creating landscapes of memory that in turn hold our remembered emotions. I want my paintings to express these overlapping, fragmented and dynamic landscapes. The natural world provides underlying structures for my paintings. In Kenya, the structures derive from the lines of paths through the bush, the shape of a young man’s arms held tense as he speaks of friends killed in conflict, the angles of tree branches. Over these structures I layer colour and texture, each new gesture responding to what is already in place. In this exhibition my artwork is in conversation with my academic research into conflict transformation and empathy. Both aspects of my work come from noticing and attending to the specific. As Paul Klee said, “I must begin, not with hypotheses, but with specific instances, no matter how minute”.

to Philip Spellacy, Jillian Johnson and the University of Leeds School of Music, for the opportunity to Katia and Lorna, for the studio and all that has meant to ESRC, for funding the research and supporting the exhibition to CREET at the Open University, for funding this publication to Evans Onyiego and the Catholic Diocese of Maralal Peacebuild- ing Team, Samburu County, Kenya, and to Simon Weatherbed of Responding to Conflict, for allowing me the privilege of witnessing your work

On my return from Kenya in March 2012, I needed to paint. In my cottage kitchen I surrounded myself with photographs, mixed the colours I had seen in Maralal and produced a set of small paintings.

Over there acrylic on paper 30 x 40 cm

The Space acrylic on card 22 x 30 cm

The space of east Africa challenges my eyes and my mind. It has its own scale. And over it, the sky. It seemed the most peaceful place on earth. Until we heard the stories of violence and saw the photographs. The trees grow alone or in small groups. The trees and bushes have long, sharp thorns. The extreme heat and dryness of this area seem to bleach the colours of soil and plants. The mountains were far away on the other side of the Rift Valley. At the edge, the valley drops deeply and sharply. We listened to stories of the conflict between the Pokot communities who live mainly down in the valley, the Samburu communities who live on the plains at the top, and the Turkana from further north. And of how the conflict was being transformed. A new well and waterpump had been built, changing the possibilities of the landscape for living in. People were eager to start again, in a new place. I interviewed a woman in the town. She was around my age and was trying to change women’s ideas so they would not praise the young men for fighting and killing but for working for peace. At the end of the interview, she went off to catch her bus, striding down the dusty street. When the bus reached its last stopping point, she would have many kilometers to walk further through the valley to get to her community. She had strong legs and large feet; she walked with energy, and because walking through the landscape was what people do. They know the landscape from lives spent walking through it. Cattle raiding would happen at night, on foot. Young men would walk with their guns to attack a village, and then take the cattle away with them, across the landscape. Pokot children from the valley walk up to the school each week to live with the Samburu children in the Peace Dormitory. Samburu people from the plains walk down to the Peace Market to trade with Pokot families.

The Heat of the Sky acrylic on paper 22 x 30 cm

The Heat of the Day acrylic on paper 22 x 30 cm

Intrigued by the shape of the acacia trees against the sky, I worked on their distinctive angles, the spaces between branches. Painting the land and the sky became more about feeling than representation. In the top painting I was playing with the paint left on my palette - mainly the orangey cadmium red, with some yellow ochre and blues. I liked the way it gave a sense of the heat that beats down from the sky. A pair of paintings of war memories by James Boswell in the Tate Britain, one with a red sky and one with red land, inspired me to another painting in which the land was red and the sky with ochre mixed into the red. Now it was about the heat that the land pushes back at people in the landscape. Empathy concerns how we understand another person. I have always been fascinated by the gap of otherness between ourselves and other people, and how we try to bridge it with language. Although we are doomed never to fully understand other people, somehow we can make enough sense of ‘the other’ to manage our lives as social beings. Violence and conflict become possible when empathy is denied and the other is rendered less than human. When violence ceases, empathy must struggle to return, as ‘the other’ comes to be seen no longer as an enemy but as a fellow human being with full human rights. Conflict transformation practitioners support the return of empathy.

Farming again acrylic on card 22 x 30 cm

Trees and Fence acrylic on paper 22 x 30 cm

The trees provide materials for fencing, and fences create boundaries, security, protection. Fences mark land as belonging to a family or a community. Fences keep the livestock out of newly planted crops and in the safety of the homestead at night. In Farming again the fence was an indicator of peace. For the first time for several years, fear of violence had not sent people away from this place. They felt secure enough to stay and to dig the land in preparation for the rains and planting food crops. The fence showed that they could imagine a future where cattle needed to be kept away from growing plants.

“Immerse yourself in the visual!” This was advice I was given at a painting summer school in 2012. I was still painting Kenya, my responses to stories of violence and conflict transformed to peace. The tutor suggested I start from the colours of the cloths worn by the young Samburu leader. I began to play with colour.

We had driven some hours to the village and beyond it to the homestead - several huts inside a large fence. We sat outside the fence under a tree, on grass and goat droppings. The young men had come back from the camp where they had gone to flee the violence. They had dressed in their best for the occasion, with pink and red cloths, colourful necklaces and bangles, and mobile phones. They agreed to participate in the research, signed the consent forms, and dismissed any requirement of anonymity. They wanted to tell us, and the world, about the fighting in their communities and how it was now being stopped. As usual, I held the digital recorder to catch their words, turning it to our guide when he was translating questions or answers. My mind was buzzing with the sights and sounds all around, and it was pushing those away to focus on what the young men were saying. One response stopped me in my tracks and changed everything: the work of peace is not that easy .. it is the most difficult work when we started this war, we started something that we never knew, and that we have never seen

in that war so many friends, so many young people, died ... so many people died in this war As the words were translated, I looked at the young man speaking. He was in his midtwenties, I guessed. Around the same age as my own sons. That was the moment of empathy that sent my objectivity scuttling across the plain. I shifted from being a researcher into being a mother of sons, allowing in the emotions of horror and sadness that came with the thought of young men killing and being killed. In starting from the colours of the young man’s cloths, I was also starting from this place of empathy.

Left: Where to start from acrylic on canvas panel 18 x 24 cm Middle: Moving out acrylic on canvas panel 25 x 30 cm Right: Outward acrylic on canvas panel 25 x 30 cm

Sometimes my paintings start behind my eyes. If I close my eyes and ‘look’ at the inside of my eyelids, I see colours and shapes that I want to place on a canvas. Some months after the summer school, I saw there the bright pink and orangey-red next to each other, surrounded by dark. The image echoed the photograph of the young man but used the vocabulary of paint, and what paint might do. The left-hand painting has something of the shape of the cloth as worn; that was not to stay as the paintings moved on. The clashing combination of the bright colours pleased me and was kept as a place of optimism in the later abstract paintings and developed as a colour theme. I placed other colours from the Kenyan landscape - ochre and pale green - alongside, scratching and scraping to recreate the feeling of harshness, the difficult emotions.

Places of Change acrylic on canvas 30 x 40 cm

The colour paintings showed me a way forward and offered a language for bigger works: colours, a key shape and its placing, painted lines, scratched lines, and their movement across the landscape of the painting. I now had a feeling of what I wanted to say and the means to say it. I switched to canvas, learning how to stretch canvas on to wooden frames, and prime it ready for the paint. I tried with oils and returned to acrylics which better suit the dynamics of my painting practice.

A set of abstract paintings that play with the colours, lines and angles of my Kenyan experience.

Left: Falling into place acrylic, collage on canvas 51 x 61 cm Right: Landscapes of Possibility 1 acrylic on canvas 60 x 80 cm

Fluorescent pink and orange paint add a contemporary brightness to the palette, echoing the infiltration of high tech materials and mobiles into traditional lifestyles. Glimpses of horizons are offered, sometimes through collage of photocopied, more representational paintings and sometimes through impasto lines. Paths scratched into the paint cross the landscapes. There are places that feel more comfortable and places that are more edgy and harsh.

acrylic on canvas / linen 60 x 80 cm

In these paintings, I play more with layering and colour, exploiting the possibilities of the paint. Strong gestures are contrasted with smaller lines; thin translucence with thick opacity. Through the processes of exploration narrated here, I have been led more deeply into my painting practice. Through my paintings, I hope to make more vivid the possibilities of conflict transformation that we saw put into action by the Kenyan peacebuilders.

Opening reception Friday 2 August 2013 6 - 8 pm

Creativity and conflict transformation Weds 2 October 2013 6 – 8 pm Lynne Cameron in conversation with Simon Weatherbed, Director of NGO Responding to Conflict, about Kenya, conflict transformation and making art. Followed by reception.

Image, place, and conflict Weds 30 October 2013 6 – 8 pm Lynne Cameron in conversation with Harriet Tolputt, head of media and public relations, Oxfam, formerly senior field producer, Sky News.  Followed by reception.

To book a place, please email: Lynne.Cameron@open.ac.uk supported by


© Lynne Cameron ww.lynnecameron.com
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