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Page last updated at 14:50 GMT, Friday, 19 March 2010
Devon artist Saul Cathcart's natural approach to art
Louise Walter
By Louise Walter
BBC Radio Devon

Saul Cathcart
Saul Cathcart creates his paintings in situ

Saul Cathcart is just 31 - yet his wild sea and landscape paintings are already being studied by art students in Devon.

He paints on a grand scale - on large canvases, board and paper and using a mixture of acrylic, pastel, ink and pencil.

He also paints from the heart - his emotions tumbling onto the canvas. He says he has to be inspired by a place in order to paint it.

The crash of waves on battered cliffs or the flash of light pushing through a rain cloud are his subjects of choice- still life is really not his thing.

Saul paints in situ - whatever the weather.

This apparently makes for an amusing sight as he tries to drag enormous canvases down cliff faces - sometimes in danger of taking off.

When I went to meet him, he was carrying a canvas the size of a surfboard against a blistering Dartmoor wind.

It's absolutely bucketing it down, freezing cold and fog is closing in fast.

Saul Cathcart: Detail of Sun Mist and Shadows, Higher White Tor Dartmoor
Detail of sun, mist and shadows, Higher White Tor Dartmoor

And yet, with a grin on his face, Saul says: "There's no such thing as bad weather... it just means you see things differently."

And he's right. On such a bleak day I expect him to be creating something quite dark and grey - but he's working with bright pinks and oranges - picking out the colours of the gorse and fern.

Suddenly a gloomy aspect across Dartmoor seems like a hopeful prospect - full of light, colour and beauty despite the bitter rain and fog.

By looking at Saul's interpretation, the beauty of the landscape becomes clear to me too.

He really likes the elements to play their part in his paintings, rain smearing the paint or the wind blowing it away.

He works kneeling on the wet grass, his canvas propped up on a mound - totally vulnerable to rain.

"I like the fact that part of it is out of control- sometimes a painting only just stays on the page."

He doesn't even mind the water dripping off my nose onto the work as I stand and watch - occupational hazard apparently.

He does admit that working like this has its drawbacks - he loses around four paintings a year when they're caught by the wind and end up over cliffs.

Saul's passion is painting the Westcountry - the area he knows and loves.

He enjoys painting an area that he knows well - recognising the shapes in the landscape the way a fisherman sees a familiar headland or a farmer knows the shape of his fields.

And that's how you feel looking at his paintings - you're looking at a wide and thrilling expanse, but there's always the hint of familiarity with recognisable landmarks.

He seems to capture the essence of a place, but his works are not snapshot stills, there's a real sense of movement and emotion - he describes them as being "almost a day in a painting".

Saul Cathcart: Detail of Light on the land and distant cloud, littaford tors, dartmoor
Light on the land and distant cloud, Littaford Tors, Dartmoor

He says he doesn't necessarily have to like a place to paint it, but he does have to have a rapport with it - and his work is as much about his response to a place as its scenery.

His paintings are studied by A-level and GCSE students at Okehampton College as part of their "natural world" course, used as a "key piece" for some of the pupils.

Their teacher, Jean Buchannan, says the students are really inspired by Saul's work, especially as he takes the trouble to come in and work with him.

Surely it must be a bit weird going in and finding yourself as the subject of the class?

"It is a bit, yeah," he admits, scratching his stubble.

"But it's cool too - seeing what potential there is in people.

"When I first worked with them I thought they would all just end up just copying one of my paintings, but actually it was amazing to see how different their responses are."

As part of the course the students have to build up a book copying different works - Saul said he opened one book to find himself on the same page as Turner - "that's pretty mad," he says, with a smile.

People buy art for all kinds of reasons - sometimes just to fill a space, sometimes as an investment.

I ask Saul what kind of people buy his paintings.

"Do you know what's really cool - everyone who I have met who has bought one says they've bought it just because they really, really like it.

"They've not necessarily got loads of money to spend on a painting, but something in my work has struck a chord.

Clouds over Kings Tor
Detail of Clouds over Kings Tor

"It might be that I've captured a moment or a feeling from a childhood holiday, or simply that it's an area that they really love. And that's great."

So what next for Saul?

Well, he's recently moved to Exeter and is starting to explore the light and shade of the city.

He's working on his Dartmoor series, but also crossing the Tamar from time to time to work on pieces about the Seven Bays on the north Cornish coast.

After that - who knows? But he wants to take every opportunity that comes his way.

"It's a real privilege," he says, "to be able to do something that I love in a place that I love, and I just want to keep on doing it."

Saul Cathcart's work is currently on display at the Kaya Gallery in Totnes.

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