number 43 oxford street
station gallery and the garden room
LANDSCAPE’S UNSTILLED LIFE
25th June to 18th July 2021
Benjamin Deakin . Jillian Knipe . Justine Formentelli . Liz Elton
Kate Kotcheff . Melanie Miller . Robyn Litchfield
Join us at for a glass of Champagne or British Honey Co Gin at
ART - LATE WOODSTOCK 5 - 8pm — including our Curators Tour at 6pm and 7pm.
The exhibition, ‘Landscapes Unstilled Life’ at Darl-e and the Bear, encompasses some of the many and diverse ways contemporary artists look to landscape as a way of portraying ideas beyond what is seen. Instead, what is felt, manipulated and imagined is the focus of this group show. Harsh ecological realities are explored alongside history and urban development. Fantasy and possible futures are pitted against utopian desires and transformation.
Liz Elton’s huge, fragile paintings, stained with colour like faded dresses, evoke the beauty and sadness of love and loss. Her compost prints edge towards memento mori and Dutch still life paintings, exquisite colours nestled together in darkness, holding themselves just before the border of demise. Here there is a deeper story of time and process. Perhaps if we are able to care for the land we have wandered, viewed, touched and felt, there may be a continuum, rather than an end.
Kate Kotcheff shares the extraordinary beauty of what we presume to know. She encourages us to look again, this time quietly and with an open heart. Here we see the oddly familiar surface of Mars, retold through new eyes of wonder and adoration: from subtle colours, embedded rocks, scars and recesses, to what resembles waves, skins and ribcages. Shall we respect this mighty rock of land or plunder its resources, leaving a skeletal wreckage when we’re done? Is our nature inevitable, or a construct we might rethink towards something less destructive?
Ben Deakin’s paintings have a strangeness that stills the air. These are places for people without the people being present. They feature unexpected props, merging the classical with the contemporary, becoming instantly and equally recognisable and confusing. Be it a childless children’s playground or a diner without diners in the mountaintops, his scenery seems to become scenes: set ups for theatre or film performance. Are they in readiness or left behind? We are gifted the freedom here to comprise our own drama within the fabrication that is painting.
Justine Formentelli borrows from part of her own surname to put “form” at the forefront of her practice. Language is then inevitably tied to her work, with gestures recalling the Arabic script learnt in her school years. Originally from France, she has lived in many places around the globe, and her work suggests a hyper awareness of the details of environments which are internalised, allowing subconsciousness to become the stable source, rather than ever-changing surrounds. What is depicted then, merges observation as much as imagination and unreliable memory.
Melanie Miller’s tiny worlds seem to whisper enchantments in muffled voices; like childhood notions held in secret places. These are like lines of poetry without the lines to tell us the tale. Instead, she creates curious little scenes with enough real to draw us in through familiarity, and enough surreal to distance us, like a dream or a light shone on a tender seedling in the dark dead of night. And as with any moment of light, these tender little glimpses might disappear just as quickly.
Robyn Litchfield might be living in the UK but her paintings stretch to a different place and time; wild and enigmatic. Collaged compositions are presented as holistic scenes which have an off-kilter eeriness to them. Despite all the light in these works, they feel deep and heavy. Is the artist pointing towards what has happened in the past or is it happening in the present? Maybe they are not so much statements as they are questions about what a place might hold, from its historical scars to its alchemic potential.
Jillian Knipe’s paintings traverse the colours, geologies and light of landscape felt in the mind and in the body. Hot dusty red, watery aqua and peachy skin tones make it difficult to understand just where these images are located. And are we seeing an aerial view or a horizontal one as we look through some sort of framework which reveals as much as it obscures? These are intense windows into the artist’s world of landscape, which hints at place but refuses to settle.
Playing off the term “still life”, ‘Landscape’s Still Life’ resonates with its opposite. The visible earth’s crust is a moving feast, borne of its deep seated, fiery underbelly. As its composition has been drastically altered over time through intense farming, population sprawl and a myriad of other interferences by our otherwise mostly well-intentioned human selves, so too has the depiction of landscape in art shifted. What was once simply a channel to the heavens, became an outside backdrop and a signifier of ownership, implying great wealth and power. It is now served to us with geo-political implications, geo-psychographic complications and, perhaps most of all, a warning that this land we share or choose not to, this stuff upon which we stand, balances us in its own struggle for survival.
Jillian Knipe 2021
Benjamin Deakin (b.1977) lives and works in London. He studied at Kingston University and Central Saint Martins college of Art and Design respectively, gaining an MA in Fine Art in 2006.
Deakin’s paintings are composites of images from various travels and artist residencies as well as more everyday experiences. They reflect my long term interest in the power of places to trigger associations, particularly connections to art history. He is interested in the way in which culture influences how we perceive and value certain types of place and environment.
This can manifest itself in many ways, for example by experiencing a kind of everyday surrealism or romanticism blossoming suddenly in the corner of a street, a site of ancient ruins or an unusual rock-formation.
When travelling, he is often drawn to fairly challenging environments, yet even in those harsh surroundings he finds that associations and familiarities abound. He believes that we bring expectations and past experience to all our physical encounters. Painting is a way for him to process all these different experiences and re-construct the physical and emotional experience of being in those places. The paintings become composites of memories and mediated experiences as well as physical ones. In this way he hopes to show how landscapes are not only cultural constructions but a form of dialogue between ourselves and the physical world.
Origins and lineage are the key elements underlying Knipe’s artworks. She has a very complicated familial past which drives my curiosity to understand her place in the world and, since moving from Australia to London around 2000, references to the landscape have continually seeped into her work. Like the painters of the 1950s, it has taken moving countries for her to realise the lived experience of just how internalised landscape becomes, and it is exhilarating to find she carries the footprints of my previous homeland with me.
Knipe dips in and out of multiple viewpoints of experience when she is working in the studio. It may be recalling the dramatic light of Australia, which is so different to the subdued hues she sees in the UK. Or setting up colours enriched by memory and contrasting them with popular English household pigments; looking for similarities and difference. Though it is never a straightforward comparison. If anything, she prefers to maintain a healthy level of contradiction and ambivalence. To promise and deny. To reveal as much as avoid. To emerge as well as suppress. To convey playfulness alongside rebellion. To focus on the process of finding something unexpected and new when attempting to access memory or search for reason, rather than trying to depict memory itself or looking answers.
She is continually questioning the exchange between ourselves and the structures through which we perceive the world. How the external becomes internalised, processed, then externalised to develop the mysterious makings of artistic endeavour. Knipe’s intention is not so much to resolve these riddles of influence and exchange, but rather, to play with the elements which contribute to the questions; attempting to keep the ground moving through the use of colour, pattern, symbols and structure.
From sculpture to painting, collage and drawing, she develops a structure, then reveals micro details through how the surface is treated. This ranges from mark making or drawing, to sanding back the paint, revealing previous layers, right back to the original surface. All the while, developing the structure, which guides the viewing possibilities of her work.
Inspired by Abstract Expressionist gestures, calligraphy and elements of the natural world, Formentelli create single forms which allude to an inner space or state of mind.
Drawing from her own internal landscapes, she investigates and interprets the various components that make up who we are and which define the perspective we have of the world. Using different textures, opacities and a vocabulary of recurring elements, she aims to give form to what seeps through us, from the mundane to the essential such as moods, thoughts, memories, behaviour patterns…
While attempting to reveal an inner architecture, a sense of the intimate self, she also considers the forever shifting borders of the internal self and the external world.
She sees these organic structures and compositions as hosts to an interior and private realm which have the potential to spill out and merge with the surrounding empty space. She is interested in the idea of the truly personal, private and also what is unknown to us such as forgotten memories, transference of the past, the subconscious… and how the interaction between the perpetual shifting environment and ourselves can trigger change and a potential new configuration of elements.
Liz Elton is a visual artist based in London. Her initial BA from UCL was in the History of Art, followed later by a BA in Painting from Wimbledon and an MA in Fine Art from Chelsea.
She makes large floating landscape works about sustenance, waste and soil erosion. Often on compostable grounds (food waste recycling bags), incorporating seeds and grains and coloured with vegetable dyes from food waste, her delicate paintings move in the breeze or as people pass by, sometimes echoing breathing or tides going in and out.
Central to Liz’s practice is research discussing the depletion of soils and the possibility that our farmland may only support a further one hundred harvests. The skin-like beauty of the cornstarch material and a long held aversion to food waste further inform the work. Considering the genres of landscape and still-life painting Liz thinks about time passing, our own materiality, and how hope might be found in what may seem to be a hopeless environmental situation.
At the beginning of lockdown Liz felt thrown into reverse gear, at home, unable to make work. Noticing the beauty of vegetable scraps left over in the kitchen and on their way to compost, she began a series of archival quality editioned prints referencing still-life painting and Instagram food selfies. This has built into a new strand to her practice, continuing with the subjects of painting, composting and the potential in waste in a different form from that of her larger works.
A quotation from William Blake’s poetry ‘..to see the world in a grain of sand’ resonates as Liz feels she can see the universe in her compost bin and thinks about the recycling of matter made in stars (her partner tells her she is made from stardust and it’s not meant romantically). ‘Mussel Shells and Vines like Stars shows the remnants of a lunch and supper, yet might suggest looking into the sea and seeing the reflection of stars.
Melanie works from a studio on Eel Pie Island in the Thames, her paintings follow a classic tradition of still life and are inspired by her immediate environments, the local familiar objects and flora are represented in a forensic manner leaving the viewer to upick their own poetic connections and narratives.
The boxes are a newer venture, collaged with found and cast objects from the natural world. Viewers can illuminate with their mobile phones allowing unique views of mysterious worlds.
“I consider myself to be primarily a painter although I produce prints and sometimes 3-dimensional objects, the intentions are the same, to focus attention on ephemeral and familiar objects to explore the beauty and history of the overlooked, I am interested in the duality of nature, light and dark nocturnal and daylight, the potential for plants and animals to both sustain and threaten, heal or harm and in exploring preconceptions or memories we have of our immediate familiar environments.
I paint in Oil on a tradional Gesso ground on boards that I prepare myself it is a laborious process and the build up of paint gives the dark backgrounds on which I most often work. The box pieces are made with a mixture of lenses, collage, found objects, Thnings I have dug up, collected and just had in the studio, often for many years, the collage elements are from black and white reproductions of famous paintings.
“Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” Mary Oliver
Drawing from archival material and personal documents relating to the early exploration and colonisation of New Zealand Robyn Litchfield reimagines and examines the experience of forays into a hitherto unknown space. Her paintings are representations of sublime encounters with pristine and untouched landscapes. She is interested in the idea of wilderness and the unknown as a terrain of the mind and as a place that induces reflexivity. Landscape becomes a ubiquitous template for exploring personal history, notions of cultural identity, alienation and a sense of belonging.
Most of her sources are photographs; archival images of early New Zealand and more recently contemporary photographs of primeval landscape taken by herself. She applies paint in expressive brushstrokes and draws back into it using processes such as scraping, layering and erasure to reveal the luminous ground below. The paint mimics the emulsion on the glass plates of early photographs whose images are revealed by light shining through them.
Litchfield developed heavily stencilled works using early postcard photographs of old- growth forest. The primitive and mysterious red forms placed within the paintings derive from remnants of these stencils. For Litchfield they are symbols of loss and longing; for past life, the dispossessed and the primeval forest. Their intrusion into the picture plane is a metaphor for a kind of otherness similar to that felt by immigrants today.
Kotcheff’s work is a combination of photography and moving image, often animating still photographs into films. She is interested in making art that reflects on the human experience of the landscape, making anthropological works that question humanity’s responsibilities to its surrounding environment, as we live out the so-called Anthropocene Epoch. This is an unofficial unit of geologic time, used to describe the most recent period in Earth's history during which human activity has had a significant impact on the planet's climate and ecosystems.
Even though her subject matters are inherently serious, she aims playfully to seduce her audience by layering and contrasting ‘romantic’ style imagery of the landscape, with text and different types of vocal commentary. Thus, the works can be viewed solely for their own aesthetic value, but my intent is to communicate meaning beyond the surface to reveal a more crucial subtext, raising awareness to the issues at hand.
This piece, Mars: The Final Frontier, combines the alien landscape of the planet Mars with something essentially human, the voice. Kotcheff mapped her humming of ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’, originally a British folk song, onto the unfamiliar terrain of Mars. The still images were edited to the music track. The images were taken from the extensive archive of the NASA Mars exploration program. Each digital image file represents a very large-scale landmass from the planet and the size of each file is enormous. NASA offers a special application that processes the large digital files into useable photographic images but looking and sorting through all the image files from the extensive archive took a long time, as there are thousands of images to choose from.
"I knew I wanted to make something with these incredible first hi-res images of the surface of Mars taken by the rover and decided that through post-production techniques using the Da Vinci editing suite, I could make the still images into moving ones, as each digital image file was taken as a long thin strip, much like film.”