Embedded Character: A Few Thoughts on Geology, Climbing & Painting

120cm x 100cm
Acrylic on canvas

My style of painting is informed from my past experience as a geologist and from mountaineering and climbing. In every case, I am always drawn to the structure of the rocks.

As with the classic scramble of Liathach, Summer conditions allow for the more subtle variations in colour, texture and structure of rocks to be seen and appreciated—features that, for different reasons, a geologist or a climber would pay close attention to. In this fashion, I typically exclude the sky whilst concentrating on the features within the rocks as a means of drawing the viewer’s attention to the crag, rock face or mountain side itself, for they are often distant in paintings, not telling the story of the landscape from the perspective of the rock itself. It is my wish to subvert this: I want the rock to get the viewer’s full undivided attention, in much the same way a climber or geologist would! 

Painting of snowy Tower Ridge, Ben Nevis, with red figure treading carefully.

Tower Gap
42cm x 30cm
Acrylic on Board

For me, all rocks tell a story, and it is these stories that define our landscapes and how we interact with them. Ultimately, this is what informs my paintings.

Winter almost acts like a filter—the ice and snow distil the rock face down to its grand structural features which makes for a really striking scene with lots of contrast. In these winter scenes, I hope to convey not only the geological story contained within the rock but also my feelings when I visit such spectacular places. For me, climbing and hiking in the winter evokes a strong sense of escapism, a feeling of being transported to another world; one that is remote and breathtakingly beautiful, but a world that is also wild and untamed, requiring one’s undivided attention and respect.

Painting of snowy Church Door Buttress, Bidean Nam Bian, with light blue corrie.

Church Door Buttress
76cm x 60cm
Acrylic on canvas

Dumbarton Rock by CSD

76cm x 60cm
Acrylic on canvas

The places that inspire my work each have a unique character of their own. Dumbarton Rock, for example, feels inviting and social. Maybe it’s the beautiful orange-to-gold colours of the basalt as the crag gets the afternoon sun, or is it the groups of friends gathered around routes helping each other to send those boulder problems or get past the crux on the climbing routes? Most likely it is both!

A compact crag not far from civilization with its historic castle, Dumbarton—or ‘Dumby’ as the locals call it—has a strong connection to the people that climb there and it is my hope that my work, in some small way, captures the character of this iconic Scottish crag.

Contrast Dumbarton Rock with a trip to the towering Triple Buttress of Coire Mhic Fhearchair and the experience is altogether different—remote, wild, inspiring and even a little intimidating. Here, I feel the sense of scale, and the strong lines present across the rockface make Triple Buttress an outstanding winter climbing venue.

Painting of snow-covered Triple Buttress, Coire Mhic Fhearchair, Beinn Eighe.

Triple Buttress
120cm x 100cm
Acrylic on canvas

In my last example, the Castle of Yesnaby sea stack off the coast of Orkney, one is faced with a rock formation that lays bare its complete life story before finally succumbing to the sea; one last defiant, proud stand against the elements, a situation irresistibly compelling to me as a geologist painter, and yet another example of the seemingly limitless variety that exists within the geological landscape of Scotland. I feel that it is precisely this variety that makes climbing and hillwalking in Scotland so enjoyable.

For me, all rocks tell a story, and it is these stories that define our landscapes and how we interact with them. Ultimately, this is what informs my paintings.

Painting of Yesnaby Castle sea stack.

Yesnaby Castle
50cm x 70cm
Acrylic on canvas

Creator’s biography

Originally from Shoreham-by-Sea and now based in Newcastle Upon Tyne, Chris is an artist, graphic designer, geologist and climber. He holds a PhD in geochemistry and generally lives and breathes rocks. Although he has mostly painted for pleasure, he has recently produced cartography and artwork for the front cover of the Scottish Mountaineering Press’s Scottish Winter Climbs West, his work continues to attract a number of private commissions and he is working toward his first exhibition. 

Chris’s work reflects his lifelong passions for geological landscapes and climbing. In his work, he draws upon his experiences as both a researcher in earth sciences and keen rock climber to create paintings that emphasise the features of the landscape that define its beauty and character. He also seeks to convey the sense of escapism and adventure that attracts him as a climber to our wild landscapes. 

In his words: ‘All rocks tell a story and it is that story that defines our landscape and how we interact with it; ultimately this is what informs my paintings.’

Art, Prints & Shop
Scottish Mountaineering Press Prints