Scottish Sculptors of the Far North, we need you!

Arts impresario and promoter Richard Demarco CBE is set to tell a special conference that Scottish sculpture is “under-celebrated and faces a daunting future” when he speaks alongside artists, curators, auctioneers, dealers, collectors and arts enthusiasts at the mid-18th century Palladian mansion in the Borders, Marchmont House, on 21 September.

Here is a story of two Scotlands, however. While Demarco and Co. will shine a light on the lives and careers of “inspiring artists from Eduardo Paolozzi, William Turnbull, and Gerald Laing” to more “locally-based figures such as Tim Stead, Rory Mcewen, Charlie Poulsen and Keith McCarter”, sculpture in the Far Northern Highlands, as well as the Northern and Western Isles, still remains woefully under-represented.

If you are a sculptor in the Far North we want to see better recognition and coverage of your work. While the Borders’ event will offer the chance to see a superb collection of modern and contemporary sculpture from across the UK, some of which has been created at Marchmont House, this is only part of a much wider story that needs to be told. Art North magazine is here to further the exposure of the fine arts of the Far North and we’d like to hear from you.

Richard Demarco will be part of a panel of speakers from public and independent groups discussing how they are supporting the arts in Scotland and what more can be done. Do you feel supported in what you do? What do you think should be done? Tell us your story about making sculpture in the Far North of Scotland. We actively encourage you to get in touch by email so that we can work towards offering you a level of exposure befitting your practice.

Impossible Colonies

In the 1920s, the Lithuanian geographer, diplomat and academic Kazys Pakstas (1893–1960) proposed an idea to move the entire nation of Lithuania from its geographical home by the Baltic Sea in Europe’s east to a safe place, a peaceful colony overseas. This was a reaction to the tense geopolitical situation with neighbouring Russia and other events in Europe. Pakstas spoke of the importance of saving the nation through saving its intellectual thought first. This Utopian project, titled Dausuva (named after Dausos – the spirit world in Lithuanian mythology) considered locations like Quebec, Belize, Sao Paulo, Angola and Venezuela. Pakstas visited each of the locations and held meetings with local authorities about potentially buying or leasing land to resettle. 

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte ,  Impossible Colonies , (installation view). (Photo: Ian McKay).

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte, Impossible Colonies, (installation view). (Photo: Ian McKay).

Some 400 years earlier Jacques Cartier had sailed from France across the Atlantic hoping to find a western shortcut to the riches of Asia and its spices and silks. Twenty days later his ships reached the shores of what later was to become Canada, at the time inhabited by First Nations. Spices and silks were nowhere to be found, but there was plenty of gold, diamonds and fur. Jacques Cartier and his team endured a harsh Canadian winter and in spring loaded their ships with their newly found riches and set sail back to France to report on the mission to King Francis I. Upon their return the precious cargo turned out to be quartz and iron pyrite rather than diamonds and gold, leading to a French phrase faux comme les diamants du Canada (‘fake like Canadian diamonds’). 

My exhibition Impossible Colonies presents a constellation of works, reflecting on these histories. 

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte ,  Impossible Colonies , (installation view). (Photo: Ian McKay).

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte, Impossible Colonies, (installation view). (Photo: Ian McKay).

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte ,  Impossible Colonies , Untitled, Photo etchings, 2017. (Photo: Ian McKay).

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte, Impossible Colonies, Untitled, Photo etchings, 2017. (Photo: Ian McKay).

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte ,  Impossible Colonies , Untitled, Photo etchings, 2017 (detail). (Photo: Ian McKay).

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte, Impossible Colonies, Untitled, Photo etchings, 2017 (detail). (Photo: Ian McKay).

The first chapter of Impossible Colonies presents a fictional archive of Pakstas’ proposed migrations. Three photo-etchings (above) depict landscape as a new, mysterious, untouched and therefore romanticised and distanced entity. Something to be admired, but conquered or at least tamed. Colonial expansionist thought saw nature as detached from humanity, as an environment in which we exist rather than as something we are an integral part of. 

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte ,  Impossible Colonies , Untitled, ‘Silk Hanging’, 2017. (Photo: Ian McKay).

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte, Impossible Colonies, Untitled, ‘Silk Hanging’, 2017. (Photo: Ian McKay).

Two photographic silk flags with golden tassels show the Baltic Sea and Loch Dochard in Argyll. Using these flags as symbols for territorial claims, yet consciously stripping them of nationalistic imagery and meaning, the inhabitants of Impossible Colonies celebrate fluidity, transition and closeness as building blocks of a new society. 

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte ,  Impossible Colonies , (installation view). (Photo: Ian McKay).

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte, Impossible Colonies, (installation view). (Photo: Ian McKay).

Beeswax artefacts refer to items brought from their former home, as souvenirs or memory vessels and links to the life once lived. Cast from natural southern Lithuanian beeswax, these objects are multiplied, as if trying to hold on to the memories they may carry, whilst simultaneously stripping them of meaning by repeating the shape and form. The faint smell of meadow and hay holds an imprint of time and the collective labour of colonies of honey bees that produced the wax. 

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte ,  Impossible Colonies , Untitled, ‘Beeswax artefacts’, 2017. (Photo: Ian McKay).

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte, Impossible Colonies, Untitled, ‘Beeswax artefacts’, 2017. (Photo: Ian McKay).

Two silent looped videos: Untitled (archive) and Untitled (moon) extend the conversation in time: beeswax artefacts get digitised to be accessed by future generations, in the process revealing one true original souvenir from which the others were multiplied. An unknown light object blinks in the darkening evening sky above the forest, delivering a coded message to those arriving to the Impossible Colonies, whether it’s a new land across the water or a planet promising a fresh start, this time certainly free and equal for all. 

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte ,  Impossible Colonies , Untitled, ‘Silent looped digital videos’, 2017. (Photo: Ian McKay).

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte, Impossible Colonies, Untitled, ‘Silent looped digital videos’, 2017. (Photo: Ian McKay).

Extract from silent looped video- part of Impossible Colonies installation.

Magic lantern slides continue the direction to the outer space. The fascination humans have long had with the sky and its formations, through myth, religion, astrology and science is now entering the stage of seeing it as a potential living destination. The settlers of Impossible Colonies will have a chance to define and shape their new home, and perhaps this new planet and this solar system is far enough to avoid repeating mistakes of the previous societal models. 

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte ,  Impossible Colonies , Untitled, ‘Magic Lantern Slides’, 2017. (Photo: Ian McKay).

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte, Impossible Colonies, Untitled, ‘Magic Lantern Slides’, 2017. (Photo: Ian McKay).

Collective Geologies Map from the second chapter of Impossible Colonies was made by a constellation of people who drew the map of the world from memory. Merged into one, these maps become a graphic of multiple geographies, memories and teachings. Gilded with 24 ct gold leaf this fictional map refers to aggressive historical and contemporary expansions, often fuelled by geological motives. It is layers of soil, rock, hardened lava, trapped minerals, crystals, moved and shaped by shifting glaciers, volcanic events and erosion that is so inviting to slice through like a layered cake of space and time, even better if speckled with gold veins and diamond nests. Colonialism exploits geological, biological and natural resources as well as people, it is only unclear how deep the colonial knife slices: does the cut end at the tectonic plates or does it dig deeper to the very core of the planet? 

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte ,  Impossible Colonies , ‘Collective Geologies Map’, Inkjet Print with gold leaf, 2019 (detail). (Photo: Ian McKay).

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte, Impossible Colonies, ‘Collective Geologies Map’, Inkjet Print with gold leaf, 2019 (detail). (Photo: Ian McKay).

Amateur Botanist video combines photogrammetry generated 3D models and underwater video footage to imagine and reenact some ways that plants may have travelled and spread around the planet. It hints at imperial expansions and is based on a narrated dialogue between two non-human species. This work explores notions of native and invasive, and tests the waters outside the anthropocentric world view. 

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte ,  Impossible Colonies , ‘Amateur Botanist’, 2019. (Photo: Ian McKay).

Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte, Impossible Colonies, ‘Amateur Botanist’, 2019. (Photo: Ian McKay).

Migrations of plants, as well as those of animals and humans, have shaped the planet, and have been affected by complex intertwined sociopolitical factors: wars, expansions, climate change, economy and eating habits. These factors, alongside time, also determine whether a species, an individual or a group get labelled as local, invasive, indigenous, exotic, foreign or native. 

Amateur Botanist observes the simplest of botanical migrations – fruits, vegetables and roots floating across bodies of water to reach new lands and spread. A dialogue in between two non-human species also includes digitally rendered forms, extending the conversation from human to non-human, to the digital realm.


Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte 
Impossible Colonies

Continues until 27 October 2019
An Talla Solais Gallery
West Argyle Street
Ullapool
IV26 2UG


Acknowledgements: 

Impossible Colonies work was commissioned by Edinburgh Art Festival in 2017, while my research was supported by Lithuanian Culture Council. The ongoing second chapter of Impossible Colonies was started during the residency at VU Photo, Quebec City Canada, and supported by Creative Scotland, VU Photo and Lithuanian Culture Council. Amateur Botanist was commissioned by Short Circuit projects and Centrala, Birmingham. Made with support from Lithuanian Culture Council.

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
Acharacle
Argyll
PH36 4HX

Tel: 01967 431 506

Pastoral Dystopia, There Am I

Alan-Rankle-and-Curator-Claudia-De-Grandi-III.jpg

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