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Artist’s labour of love records Painswick’s yew trees

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On a sunny August morning I found artist Greg Thatcher nestled in the ‘rib cage’ of a mature yew near the entrance to St. Mary’s church, writes Simon Pizzey.

Before him an amazingly detailed drawing of the inside structure of the tree, yew number 74 (which seemed appropriate given Greg is the same age). Unruffled and perfectly affable at being disturbed we make our polite introductions. Greg, a Canadian artist, teaches drawing and transcendental meditation in the United States.

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Greg and his latest drawing.

He was inspired to visit the Painswick yew trees after seeing a photograph in a holiday brochure and has returned nearly every year since 1991 (Covid excepted). It’s his fifth year working on his present drawing, a labour of love if I ever saw one, using a limited number of hard grade pencils.

Greg says his relationship to the trees is spiritual, he tries to capture their essence and personality: “They draw you in, it’s like a quest”.

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One of Greg’s drawings Yew Trees #76.

He even remarks that he feels the trees helped him recover after the death of his mother, adding: “I’m so lucky my wife Jan fully supports me in this work.”  

It’s easy to drive or cycle through Painswick and take the yews for granted but as Greg remarks: “There are few places in the world like Painswick where yew trees grow together in pairs to form avenues. In my home state Iowa, they are only used in farm hedges.”

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St Mary’s Church Yard, Painswick.

From the artist’s website statement: “Experiencing an artwork with openness can provide us with direct contact with our deeper selves and, at times, a beautiful epiphany that reaffirms the divine. This is my goal, and I hope that you will experience some of the joy, inspiration, beauty and raw primal forces of nature that I experienced while drawing.

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St Mary’s Church Yard, Painswick.

“Upon discovering the Painswick yew trees, I became fascinated by the larger shapes of the trees and how their shapes and their intricate values interacted and melted together. I am also intrigued by the heightened dramatic quality of the light at Painswick and had to be very attentive and aware to begin to identify the subtle changes and nuances with the trees. I find this process very stimulating and nourishing to my creativity and imagination”.

“On many of the drawings, I will spend 100 – 650 hours or more on location to establish the image. These drawings require an immense amount of dedication, focus, and concentration. They are without question the most rewarding and difficult images I have made. I have a deep relationship with the trees and my goal is to manifest my experience, love and appreciation of these wonderful friends into vital living works of art.”

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Greg at work St.Mary’s Church Yard, Painswick.

“I’ve photographed and visited the 99 (ish) yew trees many times over the years. I had never considered their inner structure until Greg’s beautifully observed work made me re-think. In my mind, as in Greg’s, there is no doubt that great trees have great spirits.”

More information, the drawings and a video can be seen on Greg’s website at: https://www.gregthatchergallery.com/

The Painswick Centre has some of Greg’s work for sale.

More about St. Mary’s church here: https://www.stmaryspainswick.org.uk/

Words and pictures by Simon Pizzey

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