Golden light and leaves, white water, a curlew’s cry and biting midges, burnt sienna peat and indigo blue heather – the very language of Kristan Baggaley would whisk you off to the Dark Peak before you had even set eyes on one of his paintings.
So if you found yourself sitting on his chair in a room overflowing with his work and listening to him talk of mists, mountains and moorland it would probably be excusable to drift off to the flanks of Kinder Scout.
His passion for the Peak is such that he brings the very landscape to his canvas in the shape of gritstone, heather, and gorse – building them up layer upon layer until his paintings are almost landscapes themselves.
“I am fascinated by the contrasts and changing moods of the landscape – the influence the seasons, the weather and the light have on the colours of the land. I can return time and time again to the same place and it is always different. A landscape is almost a self-portrait of the person who paints it and there is a lot of me in these paintings,” he says thoughtfully.
The finished work is hung on the crisp white walls of Kristan’s gallery in one half of a converted mechanic’s garage opposite his home in Nether Edge. It is there that he has his chair where he can sit and contemplate the paintings – many of which are not signed simply because he may actually return to them at any stage until they are found a new home.
“Once the umbilical cord is cut they are gone, but until then something still lingers…” he adds with almost a touch of melancholy.
In contrast the adjacent studio through a door just a few feet away is very much the engine room. The surfaces are jam-packed with brushes, big tubs of paint, bags of grit and sand, heather cuttings, fossils and rocks and Ordnance Survey maps of the Peak District.
He is clearly a bit of a hoarder and not big on clearing up as there are pile upon pile of old tin lids he uses to mix his paints. He is also a bit of an accidental recycler; plastic food packaging also makes the perfect palette. It is clear that someone in the household has a passion for mushrooms and smoked salmon.
The wall which houses his work-in-progress is smothered in splatters of oil paint dating back years and at his feet (which incidentally are also encrusted with a rainbow of drips) is a massive pile of congealed grit and paint.
“I set out with the intention of clearing it up every day and put a box down to collect the scrapes but that has long been buried,” he said with a wry laugh.
“What is interesting though is that you can tell I am right-handed by the uneven size of the heap,” he added, as we both stared down at the unintentional sculpture that has become almost an artwork in its own right.
Kristan likes to paint to music and in one corner of the studio is a collection of CDs ranging from jazz and flamenco to classical and even Radiohead. I’m guessing the choice depends on his mood and the season.
“The first thing I do when I come in in the mornings is turn on the music and feed the fish,” he says pointing to a tank housing two goldfish.
“I don’t take my dog to the studio so they are my company during the day. They’ve been with me for five years now and have grown quite a lot.”
Kristan spent his childhood on the edge of Sheffield where it meets the moors and says at school he was only really happy in the art room.
Although his family were wary of art as a career choice they encouraged him to follow his heart and so Kristan took a foundation course in Sheffield and then studied for a fine art degree at Nottingham Trent.
“I was heavily into abstraction. I still am I suppose, but then I was working on big abstract textured work. I would stand on a stepladder to produce big 6ft x 6ft paintings. His resulting degree show led to him being selected to exhibit at the Royal College of Art and then being offered a chance to study for an MA at Chelsea.
“I turned it down though as I needed a break from the educational institution. Maybe I was too immature.”
Instead he turned to teaching – a job he was to also turn his back on a few years later when he left to travel around Europe with his partner Lucy selling paintings as they went.
When they first returned to England it was to run her mother’s bed and breakfast business in Staffordshire and then they moved to Sheffield so Lucy could enrol on an art foundation course at Chesterfield.
It was then that the Dark Peak, just a cycle ride away, beckoned and he decided to try being a full-time artist.
The rest, as they say, is history and he has been a much sought-after artist for several years.
“What I like about now is that I have time to think about what I am doing, what is working and why it is working. I am still always looking, thinking, trying things out. My work comes from a desire to just do it.
“You can be taught about the materials but when it comes to technique it is down to just wanting to do it and I want to create the colour, romance and emotion that I see out there in the landscape.”
Kristan’s work can be seen in a solo exhibition, Dawn to Dusk, at Gallerytop at Rowsley from October 4 to November 2. His work is also exhibited at the Derwent Gallery at Grindleford.