I have always been inspired by landscape, not in a descriptive or narrative way as is usually associated with photography, but in evoking the memories and moods of places seen or imagined: the calm of a frosty morning or drama of a storm, the changing seasons, the harsh winter or jubilance and celebration of summer. My images are created not from photographing actual places but by finding marks and textures on flat surfaces such as scuffed walls, scored metal or wood with peeling paint. With the use of colour to create an illusion of space these marks and textures are transmuted to an imagined place, far from their origins, taking on a life of their own.
I trained as a painter and even though I now use the medium of photography my inspiration and ideology continues to be embedded in the Fine Art tradition. My early photographs were taken in the landscape, in ‘real space’. Here I was looking for a strong formality created by light, texture and form flattening the image onto the surface. As the work evolved over time the element of ‘real space’ became increasingly less dominant as I started to become intrigued by the potential of natural and man-made marks and scorings found on rock faces and quarry walls. By natural progression I began to look for the formality and marks on these and other surfaces to create the ‘spatial illusions’ within the image.
For twenty-five years I worked in the darkroom making large black and white prints which I then hand toned with subtle colour, enhancing and emphasising the formality and spatial qualities. In 2008 I changed to digital photography. My ideology has stayed the same but the change of technique has opened new and exciting possibilities, particularly with the use of a much wider range of colour.
I have lived and worked on the island of Menorca for the past twenty-seven years and of course the island and its landscape have had a huge influence on my work. The intensity of the Mediterranean light, the incredibly varied geology and landscape, the extremes of weather and the elements impact deeply upon one’s inner world and nourish and inform the creative process.
My overall aim is to capture the “base metal” of marks, signs and textures from the most unlikely of surfaces, and to breathe into them the life of a new spatial existence which evokes an alchemy of memory, imagination and ambiguity.
Macalpine’s work is a realisation of her sensations of landscape. Her aims are to do with Fine Art: her interests lie in formality and ambiguity, in light and atmosphere, all of which are Fine Art concerns. She regards herself as an artist who happens to use the photographic medium, but were she to consider that the image might be better served by another medium in the future she would not hesitate to use it, be it painting, printmaking or mixed media. For her the camera is simply a tool towards the finished work which is so finely tuned that one is aware primarily of the image and only secondly of the medium. In this regard she stands alone in her field.
Mary Rose Beaumont (Excerpt from “Intervals in Light” by Mary Rose Beaumont)
Photography has never greatly interested me. For a long time I believed that there was no room for the artist to manoeuvre; the choices were too limited and basically I still think this is true of most photography.
Over the years, however, I have gradually observed the work of Jean Macalpine and my view has changed. She does interfere with the image observed, I don’t know by what means, but her pictures are archetypically constructed with dreamlike colour and are metaphysically haunting and strange. How does she do it? She also continues to develop, and her scope seems unlimited. Jean Macalpine’s work has some parallels with the paintings of her partner Kenneth Draper and their dialogue continues to produce amazing works.
John Hoyland (Introduction to “Intervals in Light” by Mary Rose Beaumont)
Operating in that strange hinterland between the natural (the given subject) and the contrived (its interpretation through applied colour), Macalpine strays into the realm of formal beauty. But it is a beauty which encompasses the disquieting. Where once her images were apparently serene, understated and accessible, they are now edgy and even discomforting, pushing far beyond the traditional notions of expressive scenic photography. This is not romantic or sentimental stuff; it is a version of landscape photography which breaks new ground intellectually and emotionally.
Andrew Lambirth (Contemporary Art Vol.3 No.1)