Kit Boyd’s paintings and prints explore our relationship with landscape and our place in nature. He is influenced by the work of Samuel Palmer and British Neo-romantic artists including Graham Sutherland, Paul Nash, and Eric Ravilious. His latest etching pays tribute to the village of Shoreham in Kent, where Palmer lived and worked in the 1820s, and adds his own 21st-century twists to an idyllic rural scene, showing how nature and technology can co-exist today.
Why did you decide to make this etching?
I was asked in 2020 by the Darent Valley Community Rail Partnership if I would like to make a picture for Shoreham Station in Kent, and immediately said yes, because that’s where Samuel Palmer lived and worked in his visionary 1820s period. They had found me because of my Palmer influences. By the time the commission came to fruition in 2021, after all the lockdowns, they had asked me to make six posters for their whole line between Sevenoaks and Swanley.
Shoreham was the one I made first. I first visited the village in the mid-1990s and hunted around for evidence of Palmer to no avail, so I always felt it would be right to honour him in some way if there was ever an opportunity to show work in the village. And that day had finally come.
I used ink and gum arabic for my poster image, as Palmer had done when he lived there. It seemed like the obvious choice of materials. I really wanted to make an etching after it though, and I’ve finally been able to do this, now that the project is over and all the posters are up along the valley.
I took a copper plate to Wales with me in February and began to draw the design on it there, but changed various elements of the picture, eg. the dog became a swan and I added a mayfly to the post as the pleasure of drawing tiny detail with the needle took over. When I added the aquatint back at the studio, I decided to make it more of a nocturne like Palmer’s late etchings.
What was the process of making this etching like?
It took a long time to draw the design on the plate. It’s a hard ground etching so I was drawing through wax with a needle. Because I had an original finished painting to work with, I reversed this and traced on the design using transfer paper. I added a lot of detail, and ended up having lots of time to keep adding detail before I headed back to London because I got stuck in Wales after the three storms caused flooding.
There’s so much to see in this etching. It really takes you through the landscape and to the horizon. Can you talk me through some of the details we see on the way?
The hare is Samuel Palmer’s hare from “Early Morning”, his famous sepia drawing in the Ashmolean Museum. I like taking him for a walk. He’s in my 2017 etching, “The Tree Climber”, too. It seemed just right to have him walking across the bridge at the centre of the village. There are lots of Palmeresque features in the etching – the moon and the leaves are taken from another of his paintings, and I had to put in a bright cloud. I’ve put Palmer at an easel on the other side of the bridge. On the distant hill is the white chalk cross First World War memorial, which you’ll see from many vantage points in the valley, and birds' nests occasionally appear hidden in dark areas of Palmer’s drawings too.
What did you feel about this landscape? Did you feel the same connection with it as Palmer did? Was it different to what you expected?
It’s a spiritual place. A skylark was singing in the fields next to the river Darent when I walked there and tens of demoiselle dragonflies were mating on the river. It’s not hard to see Samuel Palmer’s inspirations and even stand on the same spots he stood 200 years ago and see nearly the same view – it’s largely unspoilt. I think it’s a surprise to many people that such an idyllic village can still exist so close to London. This is largely thanks to the Shoreham Society and the locals who have protected it from the M25 and inappropriate development over the last hundred years.
What is it that you enjoy about etching and aquatint?
"Shoreham" is my first etching since 2018. I made a conscious decision to move into linocutting for a few years and enjoy printing in colour. Going back to etching was a more joyful experience than I expected. I take a lot of pleasure in drawing with a needle through the wax – it’s a very satisfying feeling – and adding all the minute details in a landscape, something I’d moved away from in recent years. It gives me the opportunity to celebrate the fecundity of the natural world.
Nature plays an important role in your work. Where did that connection to nature come from? You also explore the balance between nature and technology in your work, which is especially clear in your “Man on a Laptop” prints. Can you tell me a bit about that?
I’ve always had a deep love for nature and landscape since I was a child, spending hours looking at the small details of plants and insects, and it’s heartening to hear there is now going to be a GCSE in Natural History, something I would have loved to have done.
The "man on a laptop" pictures really came about after I moved to Montgomeryshire in 2006, having worked for the Campaign to Protect Rural England for nine years in London.
I was lucky to find my own Palmeresque place in mid-Wales. There was very little sign of technology or modernity there in the landscapes – maybe the odd telegraph pole. Yet I was in this ancient land, with the ability to be on the internet and communicate with the outside world through all this new technology.
In this latest "Shoreham" etching, I wanted to include a nod to it being now, so the figure on the bench is photographing the swan with their mobile phone. That landscape has been preserved and protected for hundreds of years for us to enjoy now, while the world moves on technologically. Palmer was escaping the industrial revolution when he fled there from the Old Kent Road in the 1820s to find his rural idyll, so it’s wonderful to be able to celebrate and record it now, even on a mobile.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve just done a linocut for a new Penguin Vintage Earth edition of “The Man Who Planted Trees” by Jean Giono, which is out in July. The linocut is also getting its first outing in my featured artist show, and I’m editioning this at the moment.
Kit’s featured artist show runs until May 15 and his wonderful prints are available at Greenwich Printmakers in the gallery or on our online shop all year round. For more information, visit his artist’s page and his website.