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ROKEBY presents a group exhibition which brings together a selection of contemporary artists whose work can be read within a specific history of British landscape painting. Incorporating work by Peter Lanyon from the first half of the 1950’s, the exhibition looks to the St Ives artist and how his concerns of that period can be seen to inform artists working in Britain today. The exhibition includes two exemplary works by Lanyon from 1952; Inshore Fishing and Construction for Bojewyan Farms.
Lanyon was one of the most important artists in Britain in the twentieth century. The only native Cornishman of the St Ives School he can be said to have transformed the tradition of landscape painting, using his immediate surroundings and the notion of place to express a total experience of landscape.
Lanyon’s activity during the immediate post war period laid the foundations for his mature working methods, concerns and handling of paint. Having been taught by Ben Nicholson and influenced by St Ives resident Noam Gabo, by the ‘50‘s Lanyon had worked through his Constructivst period and had returned to the significance of the immediate landscape. Post-war, Lanyon began to abstract further from nature and was led by an all-encompassing understanding of his native countryside, instilling his paintings with a phenomenological dimension, that could be understood in time and space. For Lanyon a practice founded in landscape should encompass a conception of place via all the senses as well as alluding to historic, social and personal experiences.
The exhibition includes contemporary artists who investigate landscape and its legacy through the canon of twentieth-century art and a specific Modern British period, and whose inclusion alongside Lanyon offers possible new readings of their practices.
Essex born Simon Keenleyside paints his native surroundings; the backwaters and tributaries of the Thames. Depicting these places with an ability that discloses the mystery and ambiguity they continue to instill in the artist, Keenleyside not only evokes physical places, but also mental states and the desires and anxieties that accompany him during his trips into the county. Though some of his paintings readily bring landscape to mind - Keenleyside plays with illustionistic devices of perspective and depth - others are suggestive of states of mind or experiences of light, colour, form and texture, in yet others the surface collapses into what can be understood largely in terms of pure abstraction.
Vincent Hawkins works on paper, card and canvas and in a recent move has created ‘folded paintings’ which can be read in a similar vein to Lanyon’s experiments in space.1 Hawkins’ folded wall based assemblage’s can be read in relation to these but also to the layered multiple perspectives that Lanyon investigated in the early ’50’s. Similarly the enclosed forms of Lanyon’s paintings from the period are echoed in Hawkins’ paintings which seem to offer a subjective experience of being in and part of a place - whether physical or psychological.
Abigail Reynolds transforms printed matter relating to the British landscape in assemblages that incorporate objects and images, books, glass and industrial material. As an artist living and working in St. Just, Penwith, Cornwall, Reynolds, is interested in landscape as a site of numerous - social, political, cultural - histories. The Maidens, 2011 brings together material from three sources; a photograph of a line of women circling a fence at Greenham Common who seamlessly align and morph into a group of Morris dancers within the pages of a book. A further book has its page open on an image of a stone circle close to St Just. Formally the construction can be read in terms of Lanyon’s attempts, through his assemblages, to understand physical and abstract space, but also as a way of disrupting a linear temporality in landscape, again important to Lanyon.
Bradley Grievson’s abstract paintings bring landscape to mind whilst condensing space and time. Like Lanyon’s mode of working in the ’50’s, Grievson’s paintings are made up of layers of paint and other materials, giving them an overall dense appearance, especially so due to the dark palette. Similarly Grievson’s compositions are dissected and encourage an unfolding engagement with the surface and the interrelated parts. In the same way, Lanyon sought a physical relationship with the work that evolved and shifted with time and as ones focus moved physically across the canvas. Ultimately both artists achieve a sense of movement through space and time but one that is anything but linear. This is embodied in a new large scale print by Grievson which takes a dated topographical bookplate and abstracts it through a process of scanning and enlargement. Movement is inherent in the work and time collapses via the ruptures and repeated moments caught in the surface.
This is the first of a series of exhibitions at the gallery which look towards the legacy of British Modernism and its influences on contemporary practices.
With thanks to David Bowie and a Private Collector, London for loaning work to the exhibition.
1. Early examples of these constructions were Lanyon’s attempt to articulate his ideas in space; from 1950 he used them as working tools though later they developed to have an independent status.
2. Letter to Paul Feiler, June/July, 1952, quoted Peter Lanyon, At the Edge of Landscape, Chris Stephens, Pg. 17, 21 Publishing