Around 250 years ago Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was redesigning a vast swathe of the Derbyshire landscape at Chatsworth House.
The celebrated gardener moved earth, created a lake, widened a river and planted thousands of new trees for the 4th Duke of Devonshire.
For artist John Cheall, right, that meant Chatsworth was the perfect subject for his most recent body of work in which he plays ‘God’ and creates his own landscapes.
The paintings are as geographically accurate as possible – the difference is that the landscapes have been stripped bare of walls, hedges and fences.
“To me they seem to be adrift in time, maybe prehistoric or maybe in some far flung Utopian future,” he explained.
John painted Rewilding Lancelot and Stay a Little Longer for a special exhibition celebrating Chatsworth held at Gallerytop at Rowsley and the 12th Duke of Devonshire was so impressed he bought both.
“I have to admit I am proud that my work is hanging alongside the Masters in one of Britain’s most important private collections. The endorsement of the Duke encouraged me and helped me to believe I was on the right track with my new work,” said the 51-year-old.
The Australian-born artist was brought up on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors.
At school he excelled at maths and most assumed he would earn a living working with computers, but instead, inspired by the example of his late uncle John Carter, a well-known northern landscape painter, and encouraged by his art teacher, he chose to go to art college.
In 1990 he graduated from Loughborough College of Art with a degree in Fine Art and from day one he was determined to make his way as an artist. Straight away he managed to get his work exhibited at the Ferrers Gallery, in Staunton Harold and the Byard Gallery, in Nottingham – the city where he now lives.
“I wanted to make money without having to go through any gatekeepers and I have been trying to do so ever since with differing degrees of success for 26 years,” he said.
During those years his style of work has evolved, particularly recently while working as a freelance painting technician for Paul Smith Jeans – his images are used on designer t-shirts sold worldwide.
When it comes to his paintings however he admits he has become increasingly conscious that thousands of artists are trying to paint similar landscapes and he wants to do something different – which is why he is painting images he has created on a computer.
“What is presented to us as traditional or ancient is more usually a modern construct. For me enclosed land, sheep monoculture and grouse shooting estates have all worn a bit thin as subject matter.
“For me as a painter the most beautiful places I can think of don’t have walls or borders – common land is the ideal, much more aesthetically pleasing.
“The new method I am using involves the building of a digital model of locations using real topographical data. It offers me the opportunity to step away from the usual viewpoints and perspectives and enables me to finely tune composition, atmosphere and lighting.
“This makes my paintings almost abstract with only a minimal suggestion of a narrative, expressing my own emotions and experiences but open for others to interpret as they please.”
John’s most recent works are oils on canvases inspired by the Black Cuillin mountain range on the Isle of Skye. The dramatic, compelling paintings of strange twisted mountains and theatrical skies can be seen in Synthesising the Sublime at Tarpey Gallery until October 30.
The Castle Donington Gallery sponsors the Solo Exhibition Prize at the Nottingham Castle Open and John was the 2015 winner.
“It has been a busy year working towards this exhibition but I am really pleased to have been able to meet the challenge,” said John.
You can see more of his work at http://www.cheall.co.uk