How Clare Haley's Paintings Celebrate the Beauty of Yorkshire
Artist Clare Haley's new solo exhibition celebrates the beauty of Yorkshire's wild landscape
Clare Haley: Light of Yorkshire is the eighth annual solo exhibition of original paintings by Clare at York Fine Arts, showcasing the Northern landscape and its dramatic weather.
Clare, who was born and raised in West Yorkshire, has been painting professionally for 12 years. She studied art before specialising in graphic design and working at Hallmark. ‘I’ve always been arty,’ she says. ‘I did want to paint professionally, but life comes first and I had a really good job. But I eventually decided to save up and give professional painting a go after I’d had quite a few enquiries about commissions. It worked out, and I’ve been building up my profile ever since. I’m extremely busy all the time, which is brilliant.’
She is now based in Holmfirth but was originally born in Bradford, and has always been inspired by her surroundings. ‘For me, as a landscape artist, there’s no other place to be,’ she says. ‘My surroundings are all very wild and rural. Yorkshire really is where I want to be. The weather, the countryside, I don’t think there’s anywhere else quite like it (although I do also love the Lake District). We get all sorts of weather here; the gnarly kind that you don’t see anywhere else. Driving south is lovely but it’s just completely flat. Yorkshire is simply dramatic, and the people are fantastic as well of course.’
Clare’s paintings are oil on board. ‘Over the years I’ve done a lot of research, heading out and taking a lot of photographs. I don’t paint outdoors, it’s just not practical,’ she explains. ‘I’m quite methodical in the way I do it. Going for a walk, looking at the skies, it can be anything. I could be driving along and I’ll have to stop the car to take a picture of things that I see. All those ideas come back to the studio with me.’ But it’s just the ideas that inspire Clare. ‘For the majority of the time now, I just get a blank board and imagine what I’d like to create in my head and then just start painting it from memory (or imagination) – 95 percent of the time that’s what I do. I don’t sketch anything out to begin with, or make a plan.
‘My favourite piece I’ve created so far is the first circular painting I made – As The Seasons Go Round (a bit of a play on words). It was a big risk and I had to have the frame made in London because no one else does a frame so big of that shape. It turned out exactly the way I envisaged it would and the mood of it is very dramatic but very beautiful too. The painting was only on display for a day when a man and his wife came into the gallery. They were spending a couple of days in York and they’d been searching for a landscape for their house for a long time and they instantly fell in love with this one, and couldn’t leave without it. They sent me the most gorgeous email about it and what it means to them and it just brought tears to my eyes, especially when I know it turned out just how I wanted it to.’
Yorkshire art-lovers have been really supportive of Clare’s work over the years. ‘I’ve worked for some really lovely private clients on commissions and the people who commission privately are similarly very passionate about the landscape,’ she says. ‘It can be quite sentimental actually. Last year I was approached by a lady who wanted to commission something for her partner, a farmer in the North Yorkshire Dales, for his 60th. She wanted a piece relating to the view down to his farm from the top of Sutton Bank to surprise him because it means such a lot to him, being his family farm and land. I presented that to him and he was absolutely over the moon. Commissions are really based on their love for our surroundings – it may be where they go on a walk or it might be a memory of somebody. I’d done three commissions for one woman’s father, but sadly he died while I was halfway through creating one. His daughter still has it as she’s sentimental about the parts of Yorkshire where he grew up and brought his children up. These people don’t commission on a cold, hard basis of wanting a landscape painting to fill a space on a wall, there’s usually a meaning behind it. They’re always lovely people.’
Clare held her first solo exhibition in 2012 at the now closed Calder Gallery in Hebden Bridge and now works with five galleries to display her work. ‘It was a sell-out which was unbelievable, and from the next year on I worked with York Fine Arts, which is where I’m holding my next exhibition,’ Clare says. Light of Yorkshire is what Clare is calling ‘a baker’s dozen of landscapes’ (13 including a new circular one). ‘My third circular landscape is over one metre wide. Landscapes are of course traditionally rectangular or square but I made the bold move to go circular with some of my paintings, which are a bit more of a showpiece compared to the rest. There aren’t a lot of manmade features in there, apart from dotting them with a little fencepost,’ she continues. ‘Hopefully, this exhibition offers something where people can connect with my paintings.’
Clare is also excited about being selected to be part of the New Light Prize Exhibition 2023–24, with a painting called Wild Water. ‘That’s one of my calmer paintings, and I was really surprised to be picked,’ she says. ‘It’s really exciting because that’s offering high exposure to other people and other areas within the industry. All next year I’ll be on tenterhooks with that and making sure that I’m not becoming complacent, that there’s always something new to keep my paintings interesting.’
In the meantime, Clare will continue to inspire budding artists. ‘There are some fantastic landscape painters in all shapes and forms, some more contemporary and some more traditional,’ she says. ‘What I’d say to any budding artist is to keep going and practice. A lot of people think artists just instantly create things and they’re fantastic from day one, but in actual fact artists and paintings evolve. Mine have definitely evolved and changed over the years. No one gets everything right all the time but nothing is ever wrong. Painting is good for your mind. I’d say be confident with yourself and have faith in yourself. When you’re just starting out you spend far too long looking at other people’s work and losing faith in your own work and it takes a long time to really have confidence in your own work. Promote yourself and get your work out there to as many galleries as you can.’