Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Jerusalem: - Statement


Gordon Cheung 'Overlit Realm', Mixed Media on Canvas, 2005

One of the most striking characteristics of Romanticism is the role of nature within the canvas. Previously nature’s role had been of one of a subordinate - neat and trimmed and enclosed within a walled garden. In Romanticism, nature is freed from its shackles of servitude and is depicted in its full dominant glory, presenting a Utopian Idyll of transcendental enlightenment. In his poem ‘Jerusalem’, Blake questions the divinity of man’s progress, as later did Carlyle and Ruskin. They were opposed to the Utilitarian philosophy that guided the Industrial Revolution at the expense of both nature and the workers, and sought instead a model based on ancient honest co-operative endeavour. So as man has sought to harness nature her full power has been seen to diminish. Yet despite this she is still able to exact a terrible revenge and recent natural disasters only bear a testament to the timely resurgence in the ideal of Romanticism that permeates these artists’ works.

‘Jerusalem’ brings together a number of artists who have sought to depict within their work, a new relationship between the individual and the landscape. They have sought to create new worlds imbued with a sense of the poetic, not only representing the sublime but also the uncanny. In a culture noted for its accessibility and ease of mobility, coupled with a gradual disintegration of social ties, there is a desire for intimacy as we seek environments in which we feel a sense of safety. It is the intention of these artists to seek these spaces of intimacy within the idealised haven of their work, and this escapism is marked by an aesthetic which goes beyond the ordinary. They are scarred by their impotency in the face of a media bombardment of terror and so their work contains a sense of yearning that is rooted in the tradition of Romanticism.

Gordon Cheng presents a post-apocalyptic view of a stripped earth with technological data replacing a once ‘Green and Pleasant land’. Cheung’s perception oscillates between the utopian and dystopian. Beth Harland’s work at first glance shares this vision, yet her techno-sublime vistas are in fact still lives of the discarded waste of a commodity-infatuated culture. Peter Lamb’s paintings are also littered with physical objects, but of a bygone age, that act as a glue adhering past and present. His work becomes a haunting testimony to the dangers inherent in adopting a philosophical attitude towards global atrocities that relegates them to mere historical spectacles. Hugh Mendes’ work also focuses on the historical play of world events. Within Mendes’ work Blake’s vision is transformed into the political terrain that is the disputed land of the real Jerusalem. The focus of Rikki Whitlock’s work is more introverted as he delves into Blake’s psychological profile to construct work that deals with contemporary paranoia and sincerity.

Reece Jones simultaneously implies and eludes narrative through his works. He creates monochromatic environs that draw upon the kitsch and possess the seductive surface of their process that is disquieting and bizarre. Rui Matsunaga’s paintings similarly borrow aspects from the kitsch as she transmutes this sampled imagery into a fantastical world of contemporary mythology. The work of Hannah Wooll mixes an underlying narrative of malevolence and melodrama with the conventional frivolities of femininity. Both artists construct vivid wonderlands of luscious paint and fairytale promise. Tamsin Morse’s landscape paintings encompass their construction, existing in a world beyond nature – an ominous quagmire.

By recreating the legacy of a lost Victorian artist, Romanticism prevails within the paintings of David Hancock. Having constructed a framework where his work can reside outside of current cynicism, contemporary parallels can be drawn through the reappraisal of the artist’s work. Richard Meaghan’s focus is also to the Romantic as he seeks to find a spiritual home. Through his paintings he attempts to represent the conflict of issues and the uncertainty he found in Blake’s search for the sublime.Suffused with Art Historical references, Paul Hodgson’s work is derived from Victorian studio portraiture in which ‘types’ were reconstructed and recorded by the camera. Stripped of their original associations, they are easily filled with the ghosts of our more recent histories. Barry Thompson’s work is drawn from the emancipation of childhood from an escape to nature or the adolescent sanctuary of the bedroom; his work is a lamentation for these lost utopias. Similarly Simon Woolham creates urban narratives of miscreant adventures of adolescence from simple materials, thus creating a nostalgic journey of unsettling enchantment.

In representing the landscape the artists have chosen to extract the beauty in both the natural and urban environment. These works are characterised by the transcendental; the dark compulsions of the contemporary psyche form a significant presence in their works. Surrounding themselves in a field of white noise, each artist contrives an overview, escaping into the beauty of the application of their chosen medium