Thomas Joshua Cooper at LACMA

Artist Philip Braham wrote a powerful essay that included an analysis of the work of Thomas Joshua Cooper in issue 3 of Art North magazine. For fifty years, Cooper has been making photographs outdoors, often realised through intense physical travel to remote and isolated sites. His stunning, large-scale, black-and-white photographs encapsulate the psychological impact of the place through geographic and atmospheric details.

As Braham explained Cooper’s practice in relation to his work on the far north coast of Scotland: “Cooper lugs the camera and its wooden tripod to the furthest cardinal points of the landmass and insists on taking only one image at each point. In June 1990 he began a series titled The Swelling of the Sea that necessitated a three-month circumnavigation of Scotland, making the first photograph at Ardnamurchan, the most westerly point of the UK, in a Force-8 gale. The camera and lens require long exposures, but that gives time for contemplation. Only when Cooper is certain of the right moment at which to open and close the shutter will his vision be fixed onto film then fully developed as a print.” 

Announced by the Ingleby Gallery recently, upcoming is Cooper’s exhibition at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (September 22, 2019 – February 2, 2020) which comprises sixty-five large-scale and seventy-five 8 x 10 inch black-and-white photographs that together showcase Cooper’s The Atlas of Emptiness and ExtremityThe World’s Edgethe Atlantic Basin Project, which he first embarked upon in 1987, charting the Atlantic Basin from the extreme points of each north, south, east, and west coordinate.

Thomas Joshua Cooper ,  First Light—The South Indian Ocean, the Cape of Good Hope, #2 ,  South Africa, the Southwest-Most Point of Continental Africa , 2004, Collection Lannan Foundation, © 2019 Thomas Joshua Cooper, photo courtesy of the artist.

Thomas Joshua Cooper, First Light—The South Indian Ocean, the Cape of Good Hope, #2, South Africa, the Southwest-Most Point of Continental Africa, 2004, Collection Lannan Foundation, © 2019 Thomas Joshua Cooper, photo courtesy of the artist.

Using a 19th-century Agfa Ansco view camera, his singular exposure of each site includes neither a horizon line nor the terrain below his feet, but rather the surrounding “sea spaces” that are unique, dissimilar, and not readily identifiable. For Cooper, each place is a point of departure allowing contemplation of the ocean’s emptiness beyond the extreme points of the land.

The exhibition will be complimented by a conversation-based gallery talk as part of the LACMA’s monthly Art of Looking programme – a monthly one-hour conversation-based gallery tour focusing on the permanent collection and special exhibitions. Visitors can join Elizabeth Gerber for a discussion and exploration of Thomas Joshua Cooper: The World’s Edge on October 10 (12.30pm).

Norrie Maclaren

Resipole Studios is currently showing Conversation Around Luck – a walk through the most influential moments and images in the life of Highland-based television and film producer, Norrie Maclaren. Through photographic images, multi-media displays and props, the exhibition explores Maclaren’s career to date, from seeking opportunities in the creative world, to his work as an assistant to director Stanley Kubrick on Barry Lyndon and The Shining.

Norrie Maclaren ,  Soldiers being prepared , gold silk print, 30 x 40 cm. (Image courtesy Resipole Studios and Fine Art Gallery)

Norrie Maclaren, Soldiers being prepared, gold silk print, 30 x 40 cm. (Image courtesy Resipole Studios and Fine Art Gallery)

Included are his fashion photography, magazine work, and images relating to his cutting edge television programs for Channel 4. The exhibition, which is situated in the upper gallery space at Resipole Studios is supported by a number of events and talks, presented by the artist who is sharing his expertise, knowledge and experience of the photographic and film industries.

Norrie Maclaren ,  Sweet Shop 1 , gold silk print, 30 x 40 cm. (Image courtesy Resipole Studios and Fine Art Gallery)

Norrie Maclaren, Sweet Shop 1, gold silk print, 30 x 40 cm. (Image courtesy Resipole Studios and Fine Art Gallery)

Norrie Maclaren was born in 1948 and lives on the West Coast of Scotland, near to Fort William, in the former summer house of florist and cook, Constance Spry. Describing himself as a ‘gifted ‘generalist’, not one to sit still for long, Maclaren is developing a number of film and television projects through his production company on the Ardnamurchan peninsula.

Norrie Maclaren ,  Carolyne Marshall I , gold silk print, 60 x 50 cm. (Image courtesy Resipole Studios and Fine Art Gallery)

Norrie Maclaren, Carolyne Marshall I, gold silk print, 60 x 50 cm. (Image courtesy Resipole Studios and Fine Art Gallery)

Norrie Maclaren ,  Ryan Watches Stanley , gold silk print, 30 x 40 cm. (Image courtesy Resipole Studios and Fine Art Gallery)

Norrie Maclaren, Ryan Watches Stanley, gold silk print, 30 x 40 cm. (Image courtesy Resipole Studios and Fine Art Gallery)

Norrie Maclaren ,  Speakers' Corner , gold silk print, 30 x 40 cm. (Image courtesy Resipole Studios and Fine Art Gallery)

Norrie Maclaren, Speakers' Corner, gold silk print, 30 x 40 cm. (Image courtesy Resipole Studios and Fine Art Gallery)

Norrie Maclaren ,  Stanley Kubrick , gold silk print, 40 x 30 cm. (Image courtesy Resipole Studios and Fine Art Gallery)

Norrie Maclaren, Stanley Kubrick, gold silk print, 40 x 30 cm. (Image courtesy Resipole Studios and Fine Art Gallery)

Norrie Maclaren
Conversation Around Luck

Until 11 October

Resipole Studios
PH36 4HX

Tel: 01967 431 506

Pastoral Dystopia, There Am I


Two years ago, Alan Rankle showed a body of work at Bermondsey Project Space titled Pastoral Collateral. In his latest presentation in the gallery, this time titled Mothland, the work on show comprises recent paintings, works on paper and videos, all of which indicate that Rankle continues to develop the primary themes for which he has become widely known; namely those works relating to the Romantic tradition in landscape art and what the artist describes as the ‘increasingly fragmented [and] clearly insanely broken relationship of our global societies to the natural environment’. Given the fact that, at the time of writing, the current issue of Art North magazine concerns a re-evaluation of the Sublime in contemporary art, it is understandably a ‘no brainer’ that I should attend to Rankle’s output and give it some brief analysis.

Opening reception   of Mothland  at Bermondsey Project Space. Circular image (top), the artist with curator Claudia De Grandi.

Opening reception of Mothland at Bermondsey Project Space. Circular image (top), the artist with curator Claudia De Grandi.

Curated by Claudia De Grandi with whom Rankle regularly collaborates, in Mothland three specific series are brought together in reference to each other – they being Rankle’s prior Pastoral Collateral series in which he reflected on his own personal backstory in the North of England, his Castle Paintings, created initially for Capture the Castle – a ‘historical survey exhibition where he montaged images of bombed out ruins in Syria to provide the backdrop to elegantly depicted, picturesque views of English castles’ – and his Turner in Hastings works that comprise an ongoing visual essay which considers artists such as Turner, Whistler, De Wint and other renowned watercolourists who stayed and worked around Rankle’s adopted home of St. Leonards on Sea.

Alan Rankle ,  Turner in Hastings I , 2017, oil on canvas, 60 x 80cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Alan Rankle, Turner in Hastings I, 2017, oil on canvas, 60 x 80cm. Image courtesy the artist.

In the latter of these series – Turner in Hastings – one immediately runs into the compositional conventions that were not just a commonplace for Turner and his contemporaries, but continued for some time after, eventually reaching a point of reconciliation between the archaic and the modern in William Dyce’s Pegwell Bay, Kent – a Recollection of October 5th 1858 (1860) – a work (see below) that was once described by the critic Peter Fuller as showing “women and children hunting for fossils (evidence against the idea that nature was [God’s] divine handiwork) on a bleak, grey, godless shore.” Two years earlier, Fuller had written of the Dyce’s Pegwell Bay that, the artist was not asking us to believe that those depicted in the painting ‘are tracing the finger marks of God’, for each seems insulated within her own space: ‘None is looking at another. Over the heads of all of them passes a comet, symbol of impending doom and disaster.’ Well, that was then.

In Rankle’s Turner in Hastings I of 2017 (above), disaster it appears has now struck. Although conforming to the compositional conventions of the late-18th century, the shoreline in Turner in Hastings I is consumed by a murky yellow-orange over a sickly green underpainting. The sea has risen, too, and although the blue sky at top may hold true in terms of Rankle’s nod to masters of a different day, the yellow-orange seepage referred to appears about to engulf all that as well. If Dyce’s picture is of a Godless and uncertain world (at least in terms of faith in that world’s architect or maker), there are hints in Rankle’s Turner in Hastings series that it is we who are now the architects of its destruction – something that he consistently explores in several of the works on show.

Indeed, as the artist has said of his practice in this regard, ‘The flurry of Romanticism wherein we appreciated the sublime divinity of Nature remains as a shadow, hanging across the changing skies of these paintings like the grin of the Cheshire Cat – a fleeting moment destined to be as forgotten as our species itself’.

William Dyce ,  Pegwell Bay, Kent – a Recollection of October 5th 1858 , 1860, oil on canvas, 635 x 889cm.

William Dyce, Pegwell Bay, Kent – a Recollection of October 5th 1858, 1860, oil on canvas, 635 x 889cm.

First comes blind faith, then human enquiry but, as finite as the world itself, human and planetary destruction self-wrought and as unthinking as is our want and greed seems to follow. Do we see in Rankle’s Turner in Hastings series the endgame of civilisation as we know it, just as we see in Dyce’s Pegwell Bay the endgame of not just the Pre-Raphaelite challenge but also the collapse of faith in a maker? I think so. Come the point of Rankle’s Turner in Hastings II, the lurid slick of yellow that I have referred to above has already been transposed to a sun-setting sky, and in the foreground a slick of black oil is almost one with the cliff face itself.

Alan Rankle ,  Turner in Hastings II , 2019, oil on canvas, 80 x 140cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Alan Rankle, Turner in Hastings II, 2019, oil on canvas, 80 x 140cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Turning to Rankle’s Castle Paintings, created initially for Capture the Castle, exhibited in Southampton in 2017, the artist has said that:

‘…these paintings are part of an ongoing series of works about castles and their iconic relevance to modern times. […] I first addressed this theme working in a studio at St Quentin la Tour, a twelfth century maison forte in the region of the Cathars in South West France in 1986. These recent subjects, Bodiam and Lindisfarne, were, like many castles, built to dominate what are stunningly beautiful landscapes, which to contemporary observers provide a reassuringly picturesque context to the barbarism enacted within and without their walls.’

The wooded glades of mature broadleaf trees in some of Rankle’s castle paintings are here reminiscent of so many works by Claude Lorrain (1600 – 1682) and his Dutch contemporary Salomon van Ruysdael (c.1602 - 1670), if not Fragonard (1780 – 1850), too. The detail here, which might be taken for a straight ‘lift’ from their works is, however, overpainted with the smeared colours already encountered in the Hastings series, the only difference being that in Rankle’s castle paintings the vegetation is backgrounded by the architectonic blocking in of castle forms as seen through a clearing; stark, pitch black, and against a deep orange sky in the case of Untitled Painting XXVI (Bodiam). The sky here is as bright as the Madeley Wood Furnaces painted by Philip James de Loutherbourg in the background of his Coalbrookdale by Night (1801 – see below) and should not (perhaps cannot) be taken for any natural sunset. Something more sinister is afoot here, as if the castle is ablaze.

Alan Rankle ,  Untitled Painting XXVI (Bodiam) , 2018, oil on canvas 100 x 100cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Alan Rankle, Untitled Painting XXVI (Bodiam), 2018, oil on canvas 100 x 100cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Philip James de Loutherbourg ,  Coalbrookdale by Night,      1801, oil on canvas, 68 cm x 106.5 cm

Philip James de Loutherbourg, Coalbrookdale by Night, 1801, oil on canvas, 68 cm x 106.5 cm

Interesting at this point, perhaps, is that with regard to Rankle’s previous Pastoral Collateral series, the artist describes that body of work as his coming to terms with his own roots, ‘growing up in the Northern landscape amid the detritus of the Industrial Revolution’, whereas in his Castle series he has transposed the extremes of the ‘natural’ and ‘quasi-industrial’ as if the industrial revolution has collided with the agrarian revolution that facilitated it, in terms of manpower at least.

Were the ‘new castles’ of the industrial revolution not the heart of empires that arose in the form of the mill towns of Northern England anyway? Were they not what Blake referred to as our Dark Satanic Mills, a phrase that encompassed the very destruction of nature and authentic human relationships? As the literature accompanying Rankle’s current exhibition states (and as mentioned above, remember) what he develops here relates to the idealised tradition of sublime romantic landscape art and our increasingly fragmented and clearly insanely broken relationship with the natural environment.

Alan-Rankle ,  It's Not Dark Yet III , 2017, 47 x 31cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Alan-Rankle, It's Not Dark Yet III, 2017, 47 x 31cm. Image courtesy the artist.

In works such as It's Not Dark Yet III (2017) it is indeed clearly not quite dark yet, but it may as well be! ‘Picturesque’ may be the vegetation, but the colour harmonies and the colours themselves are here breaking down. A deathly, pallid grey makes itself known both in the sky within the picture as well as on the picture plane too – in the case of the latter a ‘stain on nature’ as it were.

• • •

In Britain, the words ‘picturesque’ and the ‘sublime’ have often mistakenly been used interchangeably, with William Gilpin being viewed as the father of the picturesque (according to his 18th century formulation of ideas concerning that topic), and Edmund Burke being considered in some way father of the sublime. And yet, when conflated, what we arrive at are mere satires such as Thomas Love Peacock’s novel titled Crotchet Castle of 1831. Indeed, early analyses of the Sublime as it was experienced in both art and life, had originally followed the precepts laid down by Burke and others whose writings were easy meat for the satirists of their times.

In Crotchet Castle, for example, Peacock inserts the fictional character of Miss Susannah Touchandgo; a young woman who is described as a lady in search of the awe-inspiring sublime of the natural world to be found in ‘fissures in rock’ and ‘gnarled and twisted oaks’ from which she would sit and stare into the abyss; a darksome mass that she would lean into, in fact, ‘her heart beating audibly.’ This ‘perception of the sublime,’ wrote Peacock satirically, ‘was probably heightened by an intermingled sense of danger and that indifference to life which early disappointment forces upon sensitive minds.’ So much for the sublime as plaything. In a 21st century world that is facing down climate catastrophe, there is no longer room for satire and the joke quickly thins until it is just not funny any more, for that which is most ‘awe-inspiring’ now is the very fear of extinction itself.

Little wonder, then, that Rankle turns to artists such as Goya in his pictorial rendering of what likely awaits us. I may have this wrong but in Fairlight from the Watermeadows IV (Goya), (2018) Rankle assembles a pastoral scene again, for sure, but if ever there were such a thing in genre painting as a ‘darksome idyll’ then Fairlight from the Watermeadows IV (Goya) would qualify for inclusion. Here the tree resembles more a gallows pole than anything else. The central trunk that rises from behind a crimson smear or stain goes nowhere, strange fruit indeed hangs from its single branch, too. Unlike Goya’s cartoons such as Boys Climbing a Tree (1791-92) in the Prado Museum (a painting that epitomises pastoral pleasantries, and was made in preparation for one of the tapestries in King Charles IV's office at Monasterio del Escorial), Rankle’s Fairlight from the Watermeadows IV appears to have more in common with Goya’s Los Desastres de la Guerra, a series of prints depicting 17th century war crimes and torture, or Jake and Dinos Chapman’s glitter painted transcription of the same, titled The Disasters of Yoga (2017).

Alan Rankle ,  Fairlight from the Watermeadows IV (Goya) , 2018, oil on canvas 100 x 80cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Alan Rankle, Fairlight from the Watermeadows IV (Goya), 2018, oil on canvas 100 x 80cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Francisco Goya ,  “Esto es Peor” (This is Worse)  (c. 1810-1820) from the  ‘Disasters of War’ (Los Desastres de la Guerra)  series.

Francisco Goya, “Esto es Peor” (This is Worse) (c. 1810-1820) from the ‘Disasters of War’ (Los Desastres de la Guerra) series.

Jake and Dinos Chapman ,  The Disasters of Yoga  (detail), 2017, Francisco Goya’s “Disasters of War”series.

Jake and Dinos Chapman, The Disasters of Yoga (detail), 2017, Francisco Goya’s “Disasters of War”series.

Make no mistake, though, Rankle is no ‘showman of shock’; these are considered works that he exhibits in Mothland, and there should be no misunderstanding about the fact that he calls upon a careful and studious consideration of European landscape painting to develop his darksome vistas. Cynics might call him out for giving Claude Lorain ‘a Gerhard Richter makeover’, but this would be foolish. There is a lot more going on here than just a paltry pastiche of past masters, updated for our age.

As the artist himself has said: ‘Since I’m interested in landscape painting the work begins with walking and catching ideas. I like to talk with writers and some artists I’m close to about the way painting can be a catalyst for noticing symmetries and relationships between all kinds of phenomena. As Shih Tao put it: “in terms of penetration and development, painting is the greatest guiding form in the world”.’ On being asked of his process in making these works, Rankle offers some insight with the following text (extracts from a forthcoming book about a project to make eight paintings for a villa in Venice) also:

‘The works of painters of the Venetian School along with the paintings of other notable 17th century artists have been of great interest to me since my student days. In the early 1970’s studying at Goldsmiths’ College, in what was to become a conceptual forum of contemporary art, I nonetheless found myself increasingly drawn to the theatrical virtuosity and sheer articulateness of artists like Titian, Ruisdael, Salvatore Rosa and Claude Lorrain. It seemed to me these painters, in making an astounding leap in terms of painterly methods and techniques, had also uncovered a way to reconcile the need for art to retain a sense of the urgent visceral immediacy within the instinctive rapport we have with nature. They opened the doorway for the development of painting as an art in Modern Times.’

Alan Rankle ,  Edge of Arcadia , 2018, oil paint, pigmented ink jet on canvas 84 x 104cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Alan Rankle, Edge of Arcadia, 2018, oil paint, pigmented ink jet on canvas 84 x 104cm. Image courtesy the artist.

The ‘virtuosity’ that Rankle refers to, he says, can be attributed to the development of oil painting with the the Venetian school, developed through many artists who inspired him, (e.g. ‘where the modern use of oil painting methods, wet into wet, glazing and scumbling, allows a free spontaneously evolving way of creating the work. Related to these historical techniques I decided to explore other ideas about the nature of painting. The illusions of ‘pentimenti’ which I used on the layered paintings at La Villa – often in conjunction with photo-montaged images – are coming from observations on the way some Renaissance and Baroque paintings become more transparent with age to reveal the under-painting and also any changes and alterations the artist made on the surface of the canvas.’)

Rankle’s paintings being exhibited currently, he therefore claims, may be read as an evolving presence: ‘Significantly sometimes a figure previously painted out emerges from the shadows years later; often a portrait can be discerned to have several expressions.’ The result? An intrigue with regard technique that the artist deploys frequently in his work. ‘It’s potentially a metaphor for the effects of time in landscapes and for allowing the mystery of places and past events to be alluded to and of course it evokes such theatrical devices as sub-plots, undercurrents, hidden dealings and the implied ability to ‘re-write’ history as so many powers and shady characters have tried to do.’ In fact, one sees what Rankle refers to at its clearest in works such as Edge of Arcadia, 2018, (above).

Compositionally the right hand side of Edge of Arcadia carries a fleeting and somewhat superficial resemblance to Constable’s The Lock of 1824, but the black smear to the left hangs as heavy as the tricolore in Delacroix's La Liberté guidant le peuple (Liberty Leading the People) of 1830. If traces are what interests Rankle then perhaps my own rather superficial observations are relevant, too. Or not, as the case may be. To force the juxtaposition would be wrong, but it merits a passing consideration, I think. The black smear to the upper left of Rankle’s Edge of Arcadia may merely be a compositional device, but it carries a weight and a gravitas that draws our attention. If the artist has an interest in theatrical devices, hidden dealings, and an ability to ‘re-write’ history as so many powers and shady characters have tried to do, then the works that I refer to from the first decades of the 1800s are surely relevant, as they both have come to represent a shift towards Romanticism from Classicism.

Eugène Delacroix ,  La Liberté guidant le peuple   (Liberty Leading the People) , 1830, oil on canvas.

Eugène Delacroix, La Liberté guidant le peuple (Liberty Leading the People), 1830, oil on canvas.

John Constable ,  The Lock , 1824, oil on canvas.

John Constable, The Lock, 1824, oil on canvas.

But here’s the rub… Is Rankle a Romanticist or a Classicist in both outlook and interest? I would argue he is both. Though meant for artists such as Samuel Palmer, the art historian Kenneth Clark invented the term Micropolitan Art as a descriptor for a much wider style of painting – by which he meant a ‘pure and self sufficient art’ that is neither Provincial nor Metropolitan, rather in some ways both. In formulating his view of what Micropolitan actually was, Clark claimed that ‘truth to nature and individual judgement’ are the recurrent catchwords of the provincial ‘in its struggle to free itself from the dominating style’, while ‘metropolitan art, in its struggle for formal perfection, prefers to repeat the same subject, and even the same pattern, again and again.’

These two brought together then, Micropolitan art resembles very closely the informed pastoral provincialism of Rankle’s painting, yet the recurring motifs are what often catch one’s eye the most and are a reference to modernist repetition perhaps. They frequently reappear as the common tropes of landscape painting from past centuries and by those artists Rankle cites as being of primary interest to him. Take for example variations of the same stumps and broken boughs (below) that comprise the arboreal detail of several paintings in this exhibition. They appear frequently, and are there for a reason – tropes as said, but there as a nod to where the picturesque and the sublime in art might meet too, maybe.

Details from  Untitled Painting XXVI (Bodiam) ;  Fairlight from the Watermeadows V ;  It’s Not Dark Yet, XI ; and  Mothland 12 .

Details from Untitled Painting XXVI (Bodiam); Fairlight from the Watermeadows V; It’s Not Dark Yet, XI; and Mothland 12.

For a group exhibition Axis: London Milano for Fabbrica del Vapore in Milan that Rankle co-curated with Claudia De Grandi (an exhibition that included work by Catherine Balet, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Tim Craven, Oska Lappin, Stephen Newton, Matthew Radford, Kirsten Reynolds, Cat Roissetter, and Charlotte Snook, among others) Rankle included his own painting, Untitled Painting XIII (Herne) as his contribution to the show. As he said of that work, ‘in what at first sight appears to be a straightforward painting of a wild northern landscape reveals on closer inspection an image of a startled stag, running scared from an unknown terror and floundering into a visibly polluted stream.’ However one situates Rankle as an artist, stylistically or conceptually, in that one statement his underlying interests are made patently clear, and they persist in Mothland at Bermondsey Project Space.

Alan Rankle ,  Untitled Painting XIII (Herne) , 2013, oil on canvas (diptych). Image courtesy the artist.

Alan Rankle, Untitled Painting XIII (Herne), 2013, oil on canvas (diptych). Image courtesy the artist.

In closing perhaps it is apt to remain mindful of Alan Rankle’s last outing at Bermondsey Project Space with Pastoral Collateral. For that show he laid the ground for what was to come in an interview with critic Anna McNay:

I wanted to relate ideas about historical, idealised, pastoral landscape in art to the grim reality of the environmental crisis that we are in, which isn’t just an environmental crisis anymore, it’s a totally impregnated social and political crisis heading towards disaster. Considering the historical origins of the genre in relation to my own paintings, I wanted to convey the irony implicit in how the 19th century Romantic movement, with its emphasis on the idyllic natural world of an imaginary past, was sponsored by people who, having made gigantic fortunes out of the Industrial Revolution by building their empires on the slave trade and the criminal use of the Enclosures Acts (forcing the poor from their traditional peasant homes to work in their factories and mills) also laid the foundations of environmental pollution on a catastrophic scale. Turner and other artists were commissioned by the barons of the Industrial Revolution to take the Grand Tour and pick up ideas from artists such as Claude Lorrain, Titian, Dughet and Poussin, who were themselves employed to evoke the fantasy of a golden age, a sort of Narnia in Ancient Greece and Rome, where people talked to animals and fucked gods.”

In the post-industrial world of corporate capitalism and neoliberal excess, of course the Gods we now fuck just fuck us back, but harder. The landscape that we collectively populate is polluted by our own hand in the vain attempt to still consume the fruits of our own labour (which we buy back on credit and always at a higher price), later divesting ourselves of those ‘fruits’ as per the ever-faster turnaround of both fad and fashion, increasingly thrown breadcrumb-like at our feet. Meanwhile, on the high ground and moors of North Yorkshire and the Pennines, the soil is still stained black with soot to a depth of 60cm, a reminder of the now-closed mills of the 19th century and the black snow that they dumped on the landscape. Only cotton grass and bilberry grows where once grew over thirty species of flora in Turner’s time. If this is the dystopian reality in which we are living, Rankle captures it well with his lurid stains and vivid colours, all obscuring what was once the Eden (or Arcadia) that we will never know. Et in Arcadia ego? – "Even in Arcadia, there am I." The reference is to death but Arcadia may have once symbolised the pure, rural, idyllic life, far from the city. There’ll be no going back, of course. Live we must with our delusions and dreams, meanwhile contenting ourselves with the twisted beauty of Rankle’s work, and those other artists (becoming rarer in our time) who can still hold a mirror up so that we can at least get a glimpse of the folly of our ways.

Alan Rankle | Mothland

Painting and Editions

Curated by Claudia De Grandi
Until 21 September 2019
Bermondsey Project Space

Allan MacDonald at Kilmorack Gallery

A couple of days ago I dropped by Kilmorack Gallery in Beauly to catch the Allan MacDonald exhibition there. It was a day of rare and unexpected contrasts. Heavy rain had flooded roads, making some near impassable on the way down from the north coast, the sun shone brightly, though, while nearing Inverness the cloud wrack that hung over Invergorden gave some hint of what treats MacDonald can deliver when painting at the top of his game. The well-hung clouds that skudded across Cromarty Firth and the Black Isle were spectacular, threatening, joyous and beguiling in equal measure. What they lacked, however, was that characteristic light that MacDonald is so adept at capturing and speaks of a certain time of day, a certain season, a certain place, and a moment that can pass in an instant.

Allan MacDonald ,  raging, Mangersta 2 , 2019, oil on canvas, 30cm x 40cm

Allan MacDonald, raging, Mangersta 2, 2019, oil on canvas, 30cm x 40cm

Arriving in Beauly from the North, just past the bend where the A836 crosses Black Burn and the road slows to what are currently temporary roadworks on the approach to the village, a ram was fielded with a half dozen ewes, but my thoughts were already occupied by what lay ahead at Kilmorack and the heavy skies that I had passed under on route, too. One might say that my thoughts were coloured by the bigness of everything around me, I guess.

I certainly don’t think that I can claim for the aforementioned ram that he was unusually endowed, but the fulsomeness of nature does sometimes focus the mind somewhat. Did this particular ram have the largest testicles I have ever seen? Swinging like a heaving bag of groceries, the business end of the creature had me questioning how he could actually stay upright, and as a consequence I nearly missed my turn as the temporary lights switched to green and the cars ahead of me pulled away.

Sometimes nature is like that. You find yourself just looking on in amazement, stilled by the bigness of it all. Amazement is a feeling not dissimilar to disbelief, of course. Is it really as we see it, or is our view informed by the sheer strangeness of what, on another day, would seem commonplace or familiar? – Foot to floor, I got through the light just in time and focused again on my destination.

Like gargantuan ram’s bollocks, paintings such as Allan MacDonald’s yellow blue red, (2019) similarly has one looking on in amazement. Is this a fiction before my eyes, or a conceit devised to maximise what may have been a far more modest vista? You have to see the real thing that looms threateningly from above, rising over the horizon, to know in your heart that it is in every way true – there is no exaggeration on the part of the artist… this was it, that moment when one’s smallness in the grander scheme of one’s wider surroundings is emphasised with a fleeting moment or recognition. Like the big wave seen coming from the smallest of vessels in a vast sea, there is an “oh shit” moment, before the wave hits.

Allan MacDonald ,  yellow blue red , 2019, oil on canvas, 122cm x 152cm

Allan MacDonald, yellow blue red, 2019, oil on canvas, 122cm x 152cm

Unlike being out there in the midst of it all, however, the “oh shit” moment in a painting such as yellow blue red (2019) naturally evolves over time – during the making of the work, that is. To stay true to the moment of wonder that gave rise to the work takes considerable skill and courage on the part of the artist. He is not so much battling the elements but battling the risk of losing the essence of that which is his objective; a true representation of what one sees if one is prepared to look out at the vastness of it all, and – more importantly – can bare to look. Clearly an adept painter of sea and landscapes, MacDonald slips it to us with what may seem like apparent ease, but it doesn’t take long to understand how hard-won works such as yellow blue red really are.

Allan MacDonald ,  Ben Wyvis , 2019, oil on canvas, 20cm x 25cm

Allan MacDonald, Ben Wyvis, 2019, oil on canvas, 20cm x 25cm

In his current exhibition, ending soon on 21 September 2019, there are not just large works but some much smaller, and equally powerful, too. An example that serves as an indication of many in the show would have to be Ben Wyvis, (2019) which measures just 20 x 25 cm, yet here is no ‘small’ work either. In spite of its diminutive size compared to the 122 x 152 cm dimensions of yellow blue red, Ben Wyvis has all the weight and gravitas of the larger work discussed. It also affirms what a great colourist MacDonald really is, and in Ben Wyvis he seems to have captured the very skies under which I had passed on route to his exhibition, or as near as damn it!

Allan MacDonald ,  homage, Belladrum , 2019, oil on canvas, 30cm x 40cm

Allan MacDonald, homage, Belladrum, 2019, oil on canvas, 30cm x 40cm

Allan MacDonald , o ak shadow , 2019, oil on canvas, 40cm x 30cm

Allan MacDonald, oak shadow, 2019, oil on canvas, 40cm x 30cm

Coastal paintings such as raging, Mangersta 2, (2019), and imminent, (2019), further confirm the range of MacDonald’s skill in this regard, but to overlook his far more simple (yet no doubt equally hard-won) works, including homage, Belladrum, (2019) or oak shadow, (2019) is a grave mistake when viewing the body of work on show as a whole, and the addition of a portrait of the artist’s mother (titled consider the daffodils, 2019), just nails the extent to which MacDonald has control over his chosen medium of oil on canvas. Indeed, if you wanted a masterclass in all that oil on canvas can be made to do, you have it right here in one single exhibition.

Allan MacDonald ,  consider the daffodils , 2019, oil on canvas, 100cm x 161cm

Allan MacDonald, consider the daffodils, 2019, oil on canvas, 100cm x 161cm

Having never met the artist nor spoken or corresponded with him about his art – something that I would very much like to rectify, and should – I really don’t know how much he grapples with his medium in a fight to the finish, but I am thinking that it is indeed a battle with the elements from beginning to end, from the point of departure to the putting down of a brush and the leaning of these works against the studio wall. Though all dated 2019, neither do I know how long they take to make, and again I’d like to understand this.

On the strength of what I’ve seen at the Kilmorack Gallery currently, knowing more about the process has now become my objective. I want to know about the making of these works and will no doubt write again about the process should I be able to articulate it. In the meantime, I urge those in search of big nature, sublime painting, and a masterful awareness of the subtle nuances of colour as it exists out there on the coastal margins, the landscape of Scotland’s interior, and above all the skies above, to make the time to view MacDonald’s exhibition while you can. Here is an exhibition that is in every way ‘the ram’s bollocks’, and you will do yourself a disservice if you do not give it your imminent attention.

Allan MacDonald

Until 21 September 2019

Kilmorack Gallery
by Beauly,

A Stately Home for Sculpture

A special event celebrating modern Scottish sculpture and featuring internationally renowned speakers from the arts world is to be held at one of the finest stately homes in Scotland. Exploring Modern Scottish Sculpture at Marchmont House, on 21 September, also offers the chance to see one of Britain’s finest collections of modern sculpture from across the UK. Artists, ‘art experts’ and industry leaders will gather at the mid-18th century Palladian mansion in the Borders to consider what Scottish sculpture stands for, and to shine a light on the giants like Eduardo Paolozzi, William Turnbull and Gerald Laing. They will also uncover hidden stories and offer their support for the new generation of talented sculptors working in Scotland today. Those taking part include Scottish artists David Mach RA and Kenny Hunter, several senior curators and academics such as Bill Hare and Alice Strang, and visual and performing arts champions Andrew Patrizo and Richard Demarco.

David Nash ,  Three Knobbers , installed at Marchmont House. Photo: Colin Hattersley

David Nash, Three Knobbers, installed at Marchmont House. Photo: Colin Hattersley

No stranger to Marchmont House is the British sculptor and land artist David Nash who works predominantly with natural materials and live trees, and is known for his use of heavy equipment has produced a varied body of work in which he explores the relationship between humankind and nature and has direct, physical connection with his chosen material: wood. After the success of the ALIGHT exhibition at the RSA in early 2019, a conversation took place between Hugo Burge, Director of Marchmont House and President of Visual Arts Scotland, Andrew MacKenzie. The concept of an event that focussed on wood led to Conversations in Wood, the inaugural event at the venue, aimed at promoting Scottish creativity. Running from 3-5 August, the event featured some of the leading names in contemporary art and making, with a display of works, talks, films and dialogue. 

David Nash  (Photo: courtesy of Scottish Festivals PR).

David Nash (Photo: courtesy of Scottish Festivals PR).

Nash was one of eighteen artists and makers who took part. With a lifetime retrospective of his work showing in Cardiff and work already at Marchmont, Nash screened an updated film on his River Boulder art project and give a talk on what wood means to him. Joining him were Borders based sculptor, Charles Poulsen as well as furniture maker Adrian McCurdy, both of whom have works already featured in the permanent collection at the stately home, too. Further to this was a film preview of the acclaimed maker Sebastian Cox, who is said to be creating a stir with his experimental and environmentally friendly approach to making.

Hugo Burge . Photo: Colin Hattersley

Hugo Burge. Photo: Colin Hattersley

Made possible thanks to a partnership with Edinburgh based UK fine art auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull, Hugo Burge, hopes that the 18th century Palladian mansion near Greenlaw, will become a centre for celebrating makers and creators alike. As Burge has stated: 

‘We are really looking forward to welcoming visitors to Marchmont House to meet, and see work created by some of the very best in contemporary wood makers today – including local hidden talents of the calibre of Charles Poulsen to figures with an international reputation like David Nash, Eleanor Lakelin and Sebastian Cox.’  Burge went on to say:‘Wood is such an amazing material and source of inspiration for a diverse range of artists that it gives us a plentiful canvas for inspiration, discussion and learning. This partnership with Lyon & Turnbull, and the support of our other partners, will help us to do that. I believe that it’s hugely important to promote creativity in Scotland as a way of celebrating our artistic achievements and in order to create an environment in which our artists and makers can thrive in years to come.’

Charles Poulsen . Photo: Colin Hattersley

Charles Poulsen. Photo: Colin Hattersley

The recently restored Marchmont House is now hosting a year long series of events and will additionally see contributions from Andrew MacKenzie, Laurence Neal, Lucilla Sim, Thomas Hawson, Isabelle Moore, Angus Richardson, Anthony Bryant, Roland Fraser, Beth Legg, Naomi Mcintosh, Angus Ross, Eleanor Lakelin, Edward Teasdale, Jim Partridge and Liz Walmsley. 

This collaboration with Visual Arts Scotland, The Scottish Gallery and Craft Scotland has at it’s heart, an exhibition which will be showcasing contemporary makers using wood within their creative practice and encompassing the Scottish border regions, central and northern Scotland and beyond. Moreover, there will be eight artists and makers that will give talks about their relationships with the wood they sculpt, carve and shape, as well as films that highlight the unique journeys associated with creating with wood.

A Celebration of Scotland’s Finest Modern Sculpture at Magnificent Marchmont House

Sat, 21 September 2019
09:15 – 18:45 BST

Marchmont House
TD10 6YL 

Tickets (£55 – £75)
Available at a range of prices for each event through Eventbrite.