Marion Taylor - My Colmer’s Hill Obsession

Marion Taylor at work at St Micheal's Studios in Bridport

Marion Taylor at work at St Micheal's Studios in Bridport - Credit: Archant

Bridport artist Marion Taylor’s ongoing obsession for this much-loved local landmark has resulted in a book which celebrates this iconic hill through the eyes of 22 artists including her own colourful interpretation

Sitting in the lobby of The Bull hotel in Bridport Marion Taylor cuts a stylish figure; her eye-catching silk scarf, covered in a cloud of colourful butterflies, reflects one of her obsessions. “I love painting butterflies and insects I can just get lost in the patterns on the wings, all those millions of little dots, I love all that detail,” she sighs happily. Her other great obsession I can see through the window – Colmer’s Hill.

With its distinct conical shape topped by a stand of conifers, it can be seen for miles around. It has also been the inspiration for Marion’s book Colmer’s Hill - One Artist’s Obsession and a whole range of canvases; each a love letter to this local landmark.

“When you drive into Bridport it’s almost as if it’s waving hello,” says Marion, whose colourful Art Deco-style interpretation of this focal point is used by the Bridport Literary Festival on their promotional literature, each year in a different colourway. “It’s almost like comfort blanket, it’s always there and, depending on the season, the weather and the angle you see it from – it’s always different.”

Born and bought up in Bridgewater, Somerset Marion says it was her father who first got her interested in the countryside. “He was a teacher and a great influence on my life. We share a mutual love of the countryside and plants and it was this that drew me to the landscape.”

When she was 16 Marion embarked on a foundation course at Somerset College of Art. After the first year the students had to specialise and, even though Marion was keen to follow a course in fine art, her tutors had other ideas. “They felt that I should study textile design and you can see that influence in my work today.”

After leaving college Marion worked as an occupational therapist aid. She then married and settled down to the business of being a mum to her two daughters. In her spare time she continued to do some freelance art work hand-tinting antique prints and maps for a book dealer in Lyme Regis and doing illustrations for Dorset Magazine, but as the children got older she returned to painting and started to explore what her style was.

Most Read

“I drew on my training in textile design - repeating patterns, bright bold colours and clean lines.” Initially Marion worked from home but about seven years ago she got a space at St Michael’s Studios in the arts quarter of Bridport. “That was a real turning point for me and it is was when I really began to find my style.”

At her studio Marion was able to work on bigger canvases and build up her confidence as a painter. A major influence on her style is the graphic transport and railway posters of the Thirties. “I think it’s because they’re so pared down. When I look at a landscape I see it in a pared down form too, without the fiddly distraction of details such as cars or lamp posts. The graphic shapes, bold colours and simple lines of those Thirties transport posters are very similar.”

Marion uses Golden Acrylic an American brand of acrylic paint which comes in a great range of colours. “They have an intense pigment which suits me because I am a complete and utter colour junky. The brighter the better,” she says with a broad smile. “Because I trained in gouache my paintings have to be really flat, so that is how I like my acrylics to be.”

On a white canvas Marion draws and outlines her landscape. “I either start in one corner, building up five or six layers of thinned paint until I have a matt finish or I may do four or five layers over the whole canvas at a time.”

It’s that layering that gives Marion the rich depth of colour she desires. When it comes to brushes, surprisingly she uses a number 2 or 3. “People laugh when they see how small they are, but it gives me control over what I am doing.”

She roars with laughter when I ask her if she ever uses a palate knife. “Goodness no that would be far too messy, I am a very tidy painter. My lines have to be very clean, very precise. I can’t stand it if I splodge colour by accident on to a white bit …I realise that I am in no way normal!”

Marion’s obsession with Colmer’s Hill started about 12 years ago she tells me. “Up until then I had resisted painting it, then I became totally obsessed with it. I would walk around the hill and paint it from different angles; it changes shape depending on where you are looking at it from.”

She soon discovered that she wasn’t the only person with this addiction. “I started collecting images of Colmer’s Hill done by other artists who I felt captured the spirit of the place. I was amazed at how many renowned artists had been drawn to it.”

One of those was Paul Nash (1889 – 1946), a contemporary of Stanley Spencer and Ben Nicholson. “For a short period during the early Thirties Nash lived near Swanage and it was during this time that John Betjeman, who was then editor of the Shell Guides asked him to do a sketch of Colmer’s Hill for the guide.” This sketch is included in her book Colmer’s Hill – One Artist’s Obsession that features 22 artists, including Marion, from across the centuries who have all been inspired at some point but this magical hill. They range from contemporary works by Brian Rice, Robin Rae, Fred Cuming RA and Julian Bailey to a delightful watercolour by Helen Allingham RWS (1848-1926) of thatched cottages in Duck Street with a treeless Colmer’s Hill looming behind. “There must be something about that hill that draws all these renowned artists, its hard to say exactly what that is. But for me Colmer’s Hill sums up Bridport.”

Having done numerous canvases of this much-loved landmark I ask Marion if she would ever consider capturing the essence of Colmer’s Hill in textile form, returning to her roots in textile design. “Like a Colmer’s Hill cushion?” she asks. I nod. “Now that’s an idea, I’ll have to look into that. It would look rather splendid.”