Spring micro-commission #1: Katie Tomlinson

Micro-commission #1: Katie Tomlinson

‘The Wanderers’ (2020)
Katie Tomlinson
50 x 60cm, Oil on Canvas

The Wanderers (2020) is a response to Figures by a Fence (1922) by Adolphe Valette. Although, Valette created this painting almost 100 years ago, the painting holds new significance when reflecting on our current climate.

Adolphe Valette, Figures by a Fence, 1922. Photograph: Photography North West.

Once the government announced lockdown I found myself enjoying hobbies that I hadn’t had time for in years – baking, gardening, and most importantly, walking. For most, the ritual of a daily walk became a silver lining, and Valette’s painting depicts just this; A content and peaceful couple enjoying a moment with nature.

My response, ‘The Wanderers,’ is a depiction of one of the many idyllic Greater Manchester settings that I have immersed myself in, during my government approved daily exercise, whilst in lockdown. I especially enjoyed long walks along the banks of the River Mersey, whilst I filled my phone with amateur photographs of tall trees, wild garlic and cute dogs.

I found this photograph (left) particularly interesting. My phone automatically curved the trees, creating an obscure, fish eye perspective. Although, this resulted in a poor photograph, I felt compelled to adapt the image into a painting. The distorted and surreal curvatures of the trees later became a visualisation of the surreal experience we were all facing.

From this I began playfully constructing collages using Photoshop. The collages were generally produced using primary photographs and awkward stock images found serendipitously on the Internet. I use collage as a way of working through compositional and colour decisions, as well as a means to determine how to share the story I wish to tell. Although the painting continues to develop on the canvas, I consider the preliminary collage making to be the most significant part of my process. 

As the painting progressed, I decided to revisit the spot where the original photograph was taken. During my walk I noticed small pieces of white fluff falling from the sky and as I reached the River Mersey the area was covered in a layer of cotton like snow, completely transforming the landscape. I later learned that it was fluff from female Poplar trees.

In ancient Greek mythology, the Poplar tree was devoted to Hercules after he destroyed the fire-breathing giant, Cacus. Like Hercules, we are also being attacked, but instead of a fire-breathing giant, we are faced with an invisible monster. The tree is also a symbol of endurance and courage, qualities we have all demonstrating throughout 2020 in our battle against Covid-19. 

Revisiting the landscape and walking amongst the Poplar snow, led me to reflect on the painting I was creating. Although id began the painting with the intention of representing the positives of my lockdown experience, the work had soon become engrossed with negative post-apocalyptic scenes, tree fires and unidentifiable ghouls roaming the landscape. Therefore, when I researched the Poplar tree symbolism I was inspired to incorporate its protective fluff within the painting. Just like our key workers, the Poplar fluff falls into the painting and begins to extinguish the Covid 19 fire, saving the wanderers beneath.

Katie Tomlinson, July 2020

Part of our Salford SPRING Micro-commissions programme, find out more & view other works here.

Katie lives and works in Manchester, and is currently a studio holder at Paradise Works. Recent exhibitions include: Happy Ending at Bunker Gallery (Manchester) Spilling out with Castlefield Gallery at The Manchester Contemporary, and More T’North at the Harris Museum & Art Gallery (Preston).


Adolphe Valette, Figures by a Fence, 1922. Photograph: Photography North West.
Acquired by the University of Salford Art Collection in 1971.