Book Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends
The Wainwrights in Colour by Andy Beck. Double Z. £39.99
There’s something almost mystical in the reverence other walkers have for the work of Alfred Wainwright. Andy Beck, a hardy ex-RAF type, has spent much of the last ten years and more locating the exact spot where AW stood to take each of his photographs. And Andy means the exact spot where AW must have stood with his Box Brownie or whatever he used and snapped those small grainy photographs that, in the winter months, he would transform into those “pen and ink drawings breathed more life into inanimate lumps of rock than could reasonably be imagined”. Andy feels a tingle down his spine when he stands where the master stood. “More intense was the effect when it was at one of the many unfrequented places where the grass still grows strongly underfoot, away from the masses and where perhaps I would like to think that only Wainwright had previously stood to admire the same scene.”
In following in the footsteps of the master, Andy claims to have walked 1747 miles, and climbed up 587,992 feet of fell ( and probably descended the same distance) and made 628 summit visits. The result of this incredible pedestrian endeavour is a series of 1509 paintings, each one corresponding to each of the pictures in all seven of the Pictorial Guides. It is a work of piety and reverence, but also a work where two artistic minds meet and one recreates the work of another.
Andy’s paintings do not simply colour in Wainwright’s drawings, they make them afresh, adding and enhancing the vision they are trying to capture.
One painting looks up towards the summit of Catstycam on a winter’s day. The beautifully shaped summit is covered in snow and on the lower fells the rocks and light brown heather are peeping through. In the foreground the beck tumbles over a green and grey rocky ledge into a pool where the blue and white water echo the blue and white of a cloudy sky. There is no longer the austerity which came with the ink-lines and the difficulty of suggesting colour and distance with the strokes of the pen. The colour gives the landscape shape and texture, makes it both more actual, but also more comfortable.
As with Wainwright, Andy Beck’s artistry is naive. He records what he sees before him, or rather what the camera has recorded for him, and then translates that photographic record into an accurate picture where the artistry lies in the process of that translation.
Another painting is seen from behind the stone cairn on Great Crag on Watendlath Fell. Stones have been added to the cairn since that day when Wainwright stood there perhaps some sixty years ago, but otherwise the landscape has not changed. Andy creates a world of colour, of purple-grey rocks overlooking an expanse of orange-brown heather, with pinky-red fellsides beyond extending to a smooth summit ridge covered in snow.
The colour is even more vibrant in his depiction of the Wastwater Screes and Gullies. Those incredible pyramids of seemingly mobile rock are muted blues and greys and lemons melding into orange vortices and above are burning orange slopes as though the molten lava still flowed from the volcanoes and higher still are the purple summits reflecting the last warm rays of the sun. It is a powerful picture that has more drama than the ink original. However, it lacks the intimacy and painstaking precision which reflects the master’s passion for his beloved landscape.
Andy Beck has produced a superb book – It’s a signed limited edition of only 5000 copies. It will never stand beside the work of Alfred Wainwright. He was the true original. But, I think, the old master would be thrilled with the homage paid by this very sincere and talented disciple.