On the road in Aragon, summer 2023

In June/July 2023 I went solo on a self-directed residency to work in the landscape of Aragon a region in northeast Spain bordering the Pyrenees. My son lives in Banaguas, a tiny ancient village (the church dates from 1100) outside of Jaca, the medieval capital of Aragon. He travels in the summer so I decided to sublet his studio flat and take my painting on the road.

Working outdoors is an important part of my art practice and I often walk carrying my materials, to work in remote countryside or abandoned places. Because of logistics and weather, painting outdoors focuses my approach. I work spontaneously, with often limited materials to develop ideas quickly, responding to my surroundings.  While in Spain, with more time and better weather, my approach became more experimental shifting in an abstract direction.

The abandoned village of Bergosa

I took this way of working to Bergosa, an abandoned hilltop village outside of Jaca. Bergosa is another ancient place (the church is dated from 900), that was forcibly depopulated by the Spanish government in the 1960’s to make way for a tree plantation, part of a nearby dam project. The violence of Bergosa’s history is belied by the beautiful, seemingly ancient ruins, a disconnect that is both troubling and moving.

Despite its history, probably because of it, Bergosa has not been forgotten and is often visited by the families of the last inhabitants and people interested in its story. The festival of St Saturnine, Bergosa’s patron saint, is celebrated each year. There is drinking water at the rehabilitated spring, and a place to sit in the shade to admire the spectacular view of the Pyrenees. All of this is testament to the resilience of the local people and also extremely welcome. There is no road to Bergosa, just an 800 meter walk up – water and shade is essential!

Once home it takes time to incorporate the experience of working on location into studio work. The new painting approaches, the narratives of place and memory (both personal and collective), that I found in Spain will have resonance in the studio for some time to come.