Rob Miller artist

Portugals Magazine  Memoria Alentejano nos 33/34 2014


The other vision  of Montado . An English Painter in the Iberian Montado . Rob Miller


The colour was a deeper pink, bright, despite the shade, with tints of yellow caused by the flight of small birds, which flew, landed and perched amongst its branches. Below, a long quivering flash of yellow ochre, interspersed with even brighter light cadmiums’ and pale blue lights. All around, above and to the side, lush cobalt greens with deeper tones of mauve and purple. All of this was set in a deep shade which delivered a cool heat to my skin. A welcome break from the searing light that vibrated from the palest lemon grasslands which moved and crashed like the sea against the grove of Cork Oak trees and the small Tamarisks that sheltered beneath them.


I am not surprised the Tamarisk is described in the book of Genesis as the tree were Abraham first met God. For the vision I beheld was wonderful and alongside the noise of creation in an air that was static with insects,  birds and the smells of this warm earthy land, a delicious light musk: which cleared my mind like an angel. How can I explain in words? I set to with my watercolours, my ink, pen and brush on my pad of paper to record this vision, this experience, painting like a poet would write.


Sometimes the best relationships that you can have do occur purely by chance.  This is how it happens. You meet someone who you didn’t know; you have no preconceptions, no knowledge of who or what they are; no understanding of their language, their history; their success, their troubles, their joy or their sadness. You walk into a room and though you didn’t expect anything to happen, there they are and you feel that you already know them and you like them very much.


It was the same thing for me as a painter when I met the Iberian Montado. It was pure chance. I stayed for some months near Estapona in a new development on the coast. Around us the concrete housing blocks sprawled in between golf courses, endlessly swallowing the campo beneath a dust filled sky. By the second month I had had enough. I headed for the Seirra. Within 30 minutes I had entered a different landscape,  the Iberian Montado.  By chance I had met a new world and I liked it very much.


The next year I explored deeper into the Seirras de las  Nieves and the biosphere reserve the Seirra de Grazalema. Finally I produced a body of work that I showed in the First International Arts Exhibition in Marbella.

Since then I have read essays on the Iberian Montado. There are it appears, many issues. Changing agricultural practices, desertification, aging populations, the destruction of woodland.  As a landscape painter I work very hard to drop all intellectualism so that I can be mentally naked for the days painting looking, feeling and responding with unfettered lines, shapes and  colour.


A painting is worth a thousand words.


Different lines and shapes create different emotional responses in people. The gentle slopes of the Alentejo Montado make the old forests a unique visual experience.  The oaks dominate on a macro is the classic linear Alantejo, a small stand of oaks amongst sloping grasslands with a more distant forest stretching as far as the eye can see. Painting on my own one day near Evora, I wanted to feel the micro climate of the bio mass. I was a little lost, deep in an old large wood.  I was fully focussed on making my painting. In the background I hear the occasional cows bell, birds and animals. Then I heard someone sighing, followed by stillness.  Again I hear the sigh and I see a narrow shimmer of leaves moving towards me between 1 and 1.5metres high, a light moist wind touched my face then is gone. I try to paint this unique bio sensation. I need my brush strokes to record the moment, like a musical note. So I paint each sigh, making intuitive marks moving my brush quickly across the canvas in shimmering, cobalt green and silver mauve.  I suppose the bigger the forest the better the lungs.


Certainly in the higher parts of the Montado were the woodland is less and the thinner soils  look overworked, the air is dry to the skin and  my  palate  becomes more tawny and desert like, with only small amounts of distant green and blue.  You find more interesting shapes and busier places when you look for lush green in the Alantejo.  The white and orange rectangles of casa rural and the bright colours of the women at work in the smaller  vine fields such as at  Santa Margarida close to clear streams, olives, fruit trees and diverse crops.


I was introduced to the Alentejo by the Painter Manuel Casa Branca we had a joint interest in the biomass of the cork oak and the Cork  harvest.. On the day, we woke early and drew the cork oak being harvested. Dependant on the amount of  tree cover, the dappled light changed the visual situation. Moving from warm ochre’s were the trees thinned to the coolest and deepest of grey greens in the thickest woodland. The opportunity was fantastic the gang workers moved very quickly working with ancient tools in a primordial way. We worked hard drawing and following them through rolling dense woodland, were the undergrowth tore at our clothes and skin, we went by abandoned, adobe, rural buildings and neglected meadows. It was hot and dusty except by a small stream. I worked in charcoal on large organic papers. The pattern of colours was shifting as the sun rose, my point of interest moving from green blues to oranges then reds. Strong curving verticals dominated everything, below a dense roof of twisted branches, the men’s shapes appeared small against the large oaks as they moved in a ritual dance from tree to tree. Finally they were gone from sight and sound and then there was nothing, that is apart from the long low mauve, horizon line and above it a searing lemon globe of light, higher still dusted pinks melting into azure blues and then infinity.


I return every year to paint en plain air, exhibit my work, meet friends and join with an enthusiastic group of Portuguese, Spanish and German artists, poets and art lovers at Herdado do Gaviaso Casa Rural.


Memoria Alentejano nos 33/34 2014 pgs 51-52


Rob Miller 2013

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The other vision of Montado Memoria Alentejano Rob Miller


Corcus Suber Acrylics on Canvas Alentejo

Watercolour paintings Alentejano