Local artist Chris Thomas explains the background to his exhibition of Himalayan landscapes on show at Wanstead Library this month
Nepal is a country in the Indian subcontinent and the Himalaya forms its northern border with Tibet. Its history has been filled with political instability and its geology unpredictable. Despite all this, the people have remained hospitable and welcoming, and the mountain scenery awe-inspiring. The people of the Himalaya belong to a variety of ethnic groups: Gurungs, Sherpas, Rais and a bewildering variety of other Tibeto-Burman nationalities.
I first visited Nepal in the mid-eighties and made a trek in Annapurna district. Since then, I have returned many times and trekked in the Solu Khumbu, Langtang and Annapurna districts on many occasions. Over the years, I’ve seen many changes with roads making ever deeper incursions into the mountains and hotels becoming increasingly sophisticated. The hospitality remains the same and the scenery is always spectacular.
For many years, I recorded my experiences with a trusty Pentax K1000 camera. Analogue moved to digital, and so did my photographic endeavours, but on the last couple of treks I decided to take a drawing book and water colour box to supplement my photography.
All the paintings in the exhibition were made in London using my own photographs and the visual notes I made while trekking. However, perhaps the most important references were the memories of these experiences.
When I was a student, drawing and painting the landscape was an important aspect of my work, and over the past couple of years that interest has been rekindled. I’ve always maintained an interest in the genre through looking at paintings, natural history and essays on aesthetics. Burke’s work on the sublime and the beautiful played an important role in my consideration while engaged in these paintings.
The paintings are concerned with elements of formal composition and the notion of the picturesque, with a reference to foreground interest and the inclusion of features such as habitation, architecture and cultural references in the form of prayer flags and chortens (Buddhist commemorative monuments).
The Himalaya has a limited reference to the context of the European landscape tradition. Explorers such as Joseph Hooker and Edward Norton made topographical renderings of the mountains. Edward Lear painted Kanchenjunga from Darjeeling. William Simpson made descriptive watercolours and Nicholas Roerich engaged the viewer in his mystical and romantic vision.
As Nepal was a closed country until the mid-20th century, it received few visitors, and those permitted entry were limited in their movement outside the Kathmandu valley. Photography became the preferred medium for travel and expeditions and, as a consequence, Nepal’s Himalaya has been largely neglected as a subject for painters.
Landscape painting is just one aspect of my interest in the visual arts; portraiture, the figure and narrative are also important parts of my work.
Chris’s exhibition of Himalayan landscapes will be on show at Wanstead Library until 20 March. For more information, visit christhomasart.co.uk