A beautiful world that speaks of its creator

Martin Beek, whose striking landscapes decorate the recently published Green Reflections, explores the interplay between his sense of God’s creation and his work as an artist

25 July 2021

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Psalm 19:1

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

Romans 1:20

Inspired by nature

As an artist and a believer I’ve come to the realisation that this beautiful world in which I am planted says so much about its creator, if I dare open my eyes wide enough.

The natural world has been the most significant inspiration for my art throughout the past 40 years or more. There is no doubt that spending time in the countryside and working directly in situ has been the principal feature and joy of my work, especially during the past decade.

It was therefore good to be invited to contribute to Martin and Margot Hodson’s recent book Green Reflections. The paintings featured there are almost entirely from a large body of work painted seven years ago called ‘The pace of nature’, landscapes from the Oxfordshire villages of Ipsden and Longworth.

Immersed in the landscape

My practice as an artist has always been the result of concentration and contemplation, allowing my chosen locales to speak to me, and so I felt my work in Ipsden and Longworth were sympathetic to the aims and concepts of Green Reflections. Both places were villages I knew pretty well before embarking on these extensive series in oil.

I worked consistently during a two-year period in the landscape, filling pages in sketchbooks, drawing on my iPad with the Brushes app and transcribing my observations and feelings about the place, the weather and also how I was feeling on each particular day. ‘The pace of Nature’ was painted during a particularly cold winter and early spring, and yet that did not deter me; at times I felt spurred on by the many challenges plein air painting presented.

Painted parables

For me, art, at its best, always conveys meaning, sometimes well beyond its initial appearance. Perhaps on some deep level that is why I find Jesus’ parables and passages within the Psalms so moving, as they are images painted in words. Giving talks has given me a better insight into my own direction and understanding. I’ve always believed that my creative life is very closely related to my own Christian faith.

The promise of renewal

I often ponder the lines of Isaac Watts’ hymn ‘Immortal, invisible, God only wise’:

To all, life thou givest, to both great and small.
In all life thou livest, the true life of all.
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
and wither and perish, but naught changeth thee.

Often, as I paint in a woodland or work in a timeless landscape, I becomes strangely aware of the seasonality of human life, but also of God’s promise of renewal. In England particularly, those very noticeable changes in the hedgerows and deciduous woodlands in spring speak to me of this. Even in the depths of winter, when there are few signs of change, the beauty of the snow or a frost-shrouded landscape touches me.

During lockdown in 2020, I made a series of drawings from our home-office window, looking out as maybe a prisoner might do to the world beyond their cell. I observed the gaudy cherry blossom flourish, and then watched it die back as full summer arrived. All of this seems to speak of the Lord’s covenant with Noah following the cataclysm of the great flood, at the dawn of humanity – the promise that ‘While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease’ (Genesis 8:22).

In these challenging times I feel the need to hold on to that promise and understand my own part and place within it.

How great thou art!

Cherishing God’s creation, which is all around us, brings us together, and opens our eyes to God’s love for the world and the need to look after it. The words and melody of this hymn (memorably sung by an employee called Benkt in my father’s care home as he went cheerfully about his daily tasks during last year) can fill us with strength and hope in these difficult times:

O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works thy hand hath made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to thee
How great thou art, how great thou art.
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to thee
How great thou art, how great thou art.

Born in London in 1958, Martin Beek has been drawing and painting since he was a young boy. He studied fine art at Exeter University and has exhibited widely throughout his life. He is currently giving online art history talks for Ardington School of Crafts.

Green Reflections

Martin’s unique artwork enhances 62 reflections curated by Martin and Margot Hodson in this beautiful and thought-provoking book.

Dry creek bed in Tasmania, Australia

Three types of hope

Martin Hodson, environmental biologist and co-author of Green Reflections, suggests there are three types of hope to sustain us in our efforts to avert environmental catastrophe…