American road trips are often romanticised, celebrated and on many a bucket list. But British artist Imogen Hawgood offers a different perspective through her Americana oil paintings with some hinting at the impact of climate change.
Based in County Durham, Imogen Hawgood graduated in 2020 with a degree in Illustration from Norwich University of the Arts. Her current work explores the icons of Americana and the idea of "the road" as a transitional and symbolic landscape.
Her work is influenced by the visual language of film with cinematic approaches to composition informing her process of creating new paintings, using a storyboard style of sketching to explore shape, lighting, and composition. "I'm particularly drawn by stark lighting traditionally used in film noir, and more contemporary takes on this genre, like the neon chaos of Ridley Scott's neo-noir Blade Runner," she says. "Thematically, I'm also inspired by films such as Easy Rider, Thelma And Louise and Kalifornia; examples of narratives which also question the allure of the road and where it may lead."
Her latest series of paintings was inspired by a recent trip to Los Angeles. "I grew up in the rural English countryside, which is where I now live and work," she says. "Visiting LA was like stepping into an entirely new reality, which I had only ever seen in film. Since visiting, I became fascinated by the mythic allure of the West and the idea of 'the road' as a symbolic landscape, dotted with roadside icons – motels, gas stations, neon oddities. Beatniks, dreamers and so many more have felt the allure of the West, ending up in LA and 'Frisco'. I am interested in exploring the continuing allure of the West within my work."
Imogen is also interested in exploring a darker side of "the road". "While visiting LA, I happened to experience one of the worst rainstorms the city had seen in a decade. The LA I found myself in was unrecognisable from the picture-perfect ideal I had in my head, and I was struck by the notion that LA was not necessarily what it seemed. While I do still enjoy painting the idealised 'California dreaming' imagery, I'm interested in subverting iconic imagery and revealing perhaps a grittier undertone."
As such, a recent painting, Ride The Highway West, depicts California wildfires from the interior of an escaping car. "California's skyscapes resembled not the blue cloudless paradise we have come to know, but an apocalyptic orange glow, turning day to night," she explains.
Imogen has exhibited at the New Light exhibition at Scarborough Art Gallery and at the Holt Festival in Norfolk. She has been shortlisted for the ING Discerning Eye, John Hurt and Sworders art prizes. Her current works are on show in an exhibition with artist Horace Panter at the McGee Gallery in York.
"The freedom of the American open road has been a powerful image for generations on both sides of the Atlantic, representing for some self-discovery, for others a path to redemption," Imogen continues. "Through the use of my own photography, as well as found footage, the images I create juxtapose an air of nostalgia with contemporary viewpoints. I often use the interior of a car as a frame through which to view a passing landscape and try to capture a sense of movement through my composition and use of colour and lighting.
"I hope that these images appear as brief moments in time, within which the viewer can imagine themselves. I'm influenced by the 1960s and '70s, which impacts my choice of cars (a current favourite is a 1964 Chevrolet Impala), film references and colour palette choices. This is intended to add a nostalgic feel to paintings showing locations as they are today while referencing their history."