Running is supposed to be good for the mind. For Hester Cox at least, it’s also pretty good for the soul. The artist lives and works in Horton-in-Ribblesdale, but it’s on her regular runs up the fells of North Yorkshire that she gains much of the inspiration for her prints which will be included in three identical exhibitions about to open here and in Sweden and Finland.
“Fell running takes you to some wild and remote locations and it also means I get to see these rural places in all weathers,” says Hester, who trained at Harrow School of Art and Design. “My studio looks out onto Pen-y-ghent and I probably run up there at least once a week. It’s hard not to be inspired by such an amazing location.”
Hester has produced two pieces for the Mirror Images exhibition, which opens next month, and both are a nod to the people and the animals which have shaped the landscape of North Yorkshire. “I have spent most of my working life living in rural places and I have always been fascinated by natural rhythms and cycles, whether that be the shifting of the seasons or the smaller details likes the flowering of specific plants or the arrival of particular birds.
“I moved here from Masham last year and I made both of the works during the winter time when you really see how harsh life can be for the sheep farmers. When I was out running in the snow, the dry stone walls almost took on a life of their own sticking out against the blanket of white. The whole area has a real sense of drama in the snow and it was that which I tried to capture. Usually I work in colour, but these two pieces are both monochrome because it was the only way to reflect the starkness of the landscape.”
While Hester’s partner is also a keen fell runner, she often goes out alone and revisits the same routes time and again. “That familiarity really allows me to observe the changes that take place throughout the year,” she says. “Now the hills are alive with spring lambs and when the sun is shining and all you can hear is the gentle bleating of sheep it’s a completely different outlook to the depths of winter.
“Every so often I will catch a glimpse of an elusive bird and for me those chance encounters are what I find most exciting. It is those that more often than not will be translated into print.”
Taking a camera on her runs, Hester often breaks off to record a particular detail and when she gets back to the studio will jot down notes about the things she has seen which then inform the final print.
“The technique I use is called collagraphy which involves using multiple plates as well as a combination of painted textures and intricate cutting techniques, which enable me to accentuate the kind of patterns and colours which exist in the natural world. I know we often take our surroundings for granted and one thing I hope my work does is draw attention to the everyday things that happen which often go unnoticed or are soon forgotten.”
Hester is not the only Yorkshire artist taking part in the Mirror Images project. In all 10 printmakers dotted around the county have been commissioned to produce new work, including head of art at Eton Ian Burke. Living on the edge of the North York Moors, his work is inspired by the coastline close to his home where he has a studio based in an old pig shed.
The work of the English artists will be complemented by exhibits from 30 other printmakers from four different countries which have brought together by the Connections North project, a collaboration of galleries and arts organisations.
“England, Scotland, Finland and Sweden are centres of excellence when it comes to printmaking,” says Rick Faulkner, director of Chrysalis Arts, which helps support and promote the visual arts in North Yorkshire. “The work which has been brought together for this exhibition represents a wide spectrum of interests, approaches and techniques. There is a huge diversity to be found within contemporary printmaking and the idea of this project was to showcase these talented artists and bring their work to new audiences.”
Mirror Images, The Inspired by...gallery, Danby, North York Moors National Park, May 9 to June 5. Alongside the exhibition there will also be an extensive programme of workshops, talks and demonstrations designed to encourage complete beginners to have a go at printmaking. For more details visit www.northyorkmoors.org.uk/inspiredby or www.connections-north.org.uk