Every September, I look forward to celebrating Herts Open Studios and enjoy visiting various art galleries, especially in St Albans and Harpenden. This year I’m off to The Gallery @ 8 in Harpenden. I step past a small shopfront and into a bright studio. I’m greeted by some artists surrounded by a collection of beautifully displayed paintings.

The first work that captures my attention is by Andrew Keenleyside, whose oil paintings have been exhibited at The Royal Academy of Arts. These paintings are a study of the landscape in and around Harpenden throughout the changing seasons. The artist has mainly focused on Rothamsted Park, the Southdown ponds and Harpenden Common. I get the sense that he is attuned to this local landscape and its changing forms.

I especially love the long avenue of lime trees in Rothamsted Park. The artist’s striking use of luminous and darker colours add a deep sense of perspective. There is a sense of wide-open land and the viewer is guided through its four seasonal guises.

Through his rich use of oil paints the artist has captured the sun’s shimmering yellows of hazy summer days and the coppery golds of the autumn. In the winter scenes the branches of the towering trees are stripped bare against an icy fading light, their stillness highlighted in the blue and mauve winter air.

I see his work as a celebration of the rural landscape that exists in his memory. I love the expressionist influences and daring use of contrasting colour and yet, looking even closer, some aspects of his work like the blades of grass and lush leaves are quite precise and feel more realist.

The paintings of the Southdown ponds perfectly capture the English landscape. I observe the way the light touches the trees, the streams trickle through the earth and how thickly he has applied unexpected mauves and bright crimsons.

Laura Dunmow’s work feels more introverted. The artist has exhibited two small canvases of a seascape and a cloudscape alongside each other entitled Cloud Rain and Cloud Thunder with varying degrees of sunlight infused within the cloud. The soft clouds have a dream-like quality and Laura’s clever use of colour shines a luminous white light from above. Her impressionistic work encourages a reflective state of mind.

“My favoured medium is oil paint,” Laura tells me. I can see that she has captured elemental forces that feel ethereal and atmospheric embodying the cloud and thunder. I almost feel as if I have been suspended into the sky, for me, Laura has unravelled a radiant duality between light and dark, reminiscent of Turner’s paintings of the Thames.

I enjoy chatting with Debbie Knight, whose work is uninhibitedly bold and abstract. I love her use of expressive colour and shape. Her work has infinite spontaneity and drama and am intrigued by the way she combines undulating lines characteristic of Matisse, subtle blues, glowing oranges, pinkish white blocks reminiscent of Rothko, then she’ll just add a circle, a line or several dots echoing Miro.

Debbie explains how she started as a representational artist particularly depicting landscape, and as her confidence has grown now enjoys the challenge of creating abstract work. Debbie likes to get “stuck in” with various media and enthuses “the bigger the battle the better!” As I move on, I leave her work feeling dazzled by her experimentalism and how she freely clashes colour then adds and combines layers over previous paint.

I start chatting with Susan Edwards who explains her love of nature study. I have a look at some linocut monoprints of sunflowers and am mysteriously drawn to one of them. I realise that it’s the same wonderful artwork that I was staring at last year. It is one of a number of detailed studies of sunflowers in imaginative, unexpected colours. The artist has honed into the sunflower until we can only see a quarter of it and has captured the curling petals and gilded it using yellow-gold paint with a midnight blue backdrop. I observe it in detail and notice how Susan has added some flecks of white seeds, subtly illuminating it. For me it represents a supernatural sunflower that has come to life at night, born to “an inner sun” radiating a light that continues to shine even when darkness around it prevails.

I feel so lucky that I have been reunited with it once again and decide to buy it on the spot. Susan tells me that, strangely, a sunflower appeared out of nowhere last summer in her front garden. It was vibrant and robust and she felt inspired to work with it. As I pay her, and she slowly hands it to me, I can feel her reluctance to part with it. I understand, as it is beautiful, and I assure her that I will treasure it and hang it on the very centre of my main study wall.

  • Marisa Laycock moved from south west London to St Albans in 2000. She enjoys sharing her experiences of living in the city.