How does one convey the experience of relating to the environment: the visual and sensory stimuli, an awareness of its history and essential instability.? Four artists at Stables Studios in Fairlight Hastings find metaphors. The artists can be contacted via the facebook page:
1. Sally Cole
“…..and you can feel by instinct in the distance
the bigger mountains hidden by the mountains,
like intentions among suggestions.”
Alice Oswald from Mountains in The Thing in the Gap Stone Stile.
Sally Cole turns her works in progress to the wall in the evening and does not approach them immediately when she enters her studio of a morning. This caution is not surprising, as working with them involves grappling at a symbolic level with the huge uncertainties of life: those which are expressed in the forces of the landscape, and those which assert themselves in our lives without warning. Caution there is, but no flinching. These are courageous works which come out of an acute sensitivity towards the things which, most of the time, we avoid by maintaining a state of busyness and distraction. The work therefore comes from a deeply contemplative space, though not one of serenity.
Having spent time this last year in close proximity to mountains, Sally Cole has developed a profound awareness of their peculiar, unpredictable vitality. A looming, impenetrable, rocky mass can be rendered invisible by a diaphanous mist, and reappear with shocking rapidity: the way the implications of a fateful event force their way into our resisting consciousness. A grumbling, sputtering volcano scarcely conceals its threat of our imminent extinction by fluid, inescapable fire. These have become visual metaphors, or rather the energy and unseen forces that are implied have become her subject matter.
Her mountains, huge abstractions – essence of boulder – are wrenched apart by swathes of energy and time, full of secret, terrifying, unknowable history. She conveys with her broken, fissured forms an unflinching sense of the huge forces which keep them in permanent, unpredictable motion. A volcanic eruption is imagined, as if lightning contained within breaks bounds and liquid fire pours forth. The awe and mystery is transmuted through the strength and frailty of her mark making. For all their fluidity, these works are highly wrought for she uses an endlessly evolving vocabulary of marks. None are casual; even happenstance is reworked into an act full of intention, and the works are kept open by a process of constant questioning. By this means she negotiates a tension between energy, craft and fear. She arrests our attention and moves us in ways we hardly dare express.
2. Denise Franklin
Denise is especially interested in conveying the enchantment of being in deep connection with nature. For example, when swimming in the sea, the glitter from the light reflecting on the water, the shimmer of the horizon, the sense of distance from the shore, of the enormity of time, all have a hypnotic effect. Or when walking along a beach, again, the light and space, history and weather produce a feeling which is not dependent on retaining the physical particularities, but is an effect of being present and aware in landscape.
It’s this intensity of presence, of being mesmerised, which informs her work and to which she wants to recall us. Meticulously drawn, yet meandering web-width lines, trace energy through time. When these tracked moments reach myriad proportions they embody the huge forces which form a hillside or towering sea. A counterbalance of the considered and the ineffable is found in these fine line drawings. The lines are not purposive, yet discover their shape during construction. This is itself a metaphor for the way natural shaping of the landscape, or the movement of the sea evolves. The lines seem to track time and the forces of energy which form the environment, and they acquire a monumentality as they expand into the space, following their serendipitous path. As delicate as spiders’ footprints, yet with the tensile strength of their webs, these drawings express the unseen instabilities and huge energies of nature.
There is a purity about the considered simplicity of her work which reflects a sense of honouring both the original experience and the process of construction of the imagery. The same refined balance of the serendipitous and the measured is found in subtle evocations of walking along the beach at Pett Level. Denise allows streams of monochrome wash to fall down large sheets of paper. She does this morning and evening, and creates a rich vocabulary of abstract tonal references to the changes of light and atmosphere. Her intention is to preserve the fluidity of natural events in a way which more authentic, more true to the energy of nature, than if she were to set about crafting the marks with a brush. She then creates visual haiku from a store of tonal rectangles cut from the larger sheet. Placing them within a range of formal structures breaks with any expectation of literal representation, or any attachment to the physical, but lets the eye wander in a way which recalls the roving 360 degree perceptions of a walk in the country, the immersion in fleeting sensations, the selections of memory. There’s an element of surprise, of slight dislocation, of not being able quite to hold onto one’s perceptions. It’s that moment of being mesmerised where the visual loses its particularity in the intensity of the moment.
3. Anny Evason
Anny’s work is characterised by a wild, imaginative energy. Her paintings, like the best fairy tales, seduce with a combination of lyricism and violence. It’s the violence of life, of energy, not of brutality. The mark making is extremely sensitive and rich in its powers of expression.
The intensity of her work is informed by her deep connection to and concern for the natural world, but also by her considerable intellect. Huge, sometimes two metres long, charcoal drawings pulse with energy and movement. When these are hung in staggered spaces, as at Rye Creative Centre,( “A Garden Enclosed”), the disruption of the usual static gallery space allows for the unexpected, for wonder and alarm, and prepares for a show which stimulates questions about our relationship with nature. Even individually, the drawings have a way of pulling us into a place of magical narrative by her use of a lyrical, subtle palette and the sheer violence of the calligraphic style of abstraction. Her drawing based on the sonogram of a nightingale refers to ideas about the development of language from bird song which is more fully explored in her “Learning French” drawings.
She is very drawn to the wilder landscape of southern France, fascinated by the shadows cast by the forests of holm oaks and by the earthy tones of the ochre quarries among the pine woods. From the winter fragments of vines still clinging to their wires, she creates a rich metaphor for different kinds of language – verbal, visual, auditory, physical: the shapes have a theatrical vitality reminiscent of the language of motion in dance, of birds landing precariously, or in mid-flight; of musical notation; of the way we might experience a new language or create one of our own from a tangle of sounds imitating bird-song. These are the “Learning French” drawings.
At the Pont du Gard near Nimes, she finds the Roman stones from the aqueduct which are unseen by tourists. Their tumbled forms find a way into her concertina book of paintings of the forest, inspired by her favourite walk rich with olive trees. The calligraphic outlines of trees concentrate all the history of their growth in a moment of drawing and are luminous with subtle light and energy. Her palette of rich ochres, lucent greens and range of dark monochrome tones, takes us to its heady scents and a deep absorption in the presence of the natural world.
Another kind of detritus appeals to her at Dungeness with its pylons and sheds, its huge concrete discs whose purpose of detecting German planes became obsolete as their construction was completed. This symbol of an early warning system which was overtaken before it became of use is a warning for us to take care of what we are doing to the environment before it’s too late.
Two of the drawings were selected for the Ruskin drawing prize and she now has work in the touring Rebelais show.
4. Sarah Palmer
Sarah’s iconography is drawn from town, sea and landscape, and sometimes the political. Her work is by turns serious and playful, but always tender. The solidity of her scaled down, iconic ceramic structures melts within their veils of light and fine washes of colour, the delicate dislocations of her fine, free drawing. This itself is a metaphor for often rehearsed collations and distillations of memory and vision.
Many of her pieces are informed by the light and buildings of Cretan* towns, and by the beautiful landscape which surrounds her studio. Her practice engages with the tracking of the way we construct and reconstruct different stories in memory. First she creates a record of an event through collage. Tearing the images and selecting them for colour and shape equivalents for the original experience, she begins a process whereby the internal becomes externalised, but in a way which reflects the selections of memory as well as the feeling of the experience.The collage provides a comparatively fluid and easily accessible visual language which serves to break the particular physicality of the remembered structures – erasing reference to the literal ‘postcard’ or snap photo record, and immediately gives access to a deeper, more personal level of perception.
She uses two types of clay for their particular qualities of texture and subtle irregularities of tone.: white stoneware and Crank terracotta. The very resistance of the material enables another stage of making a more elemental record. In an echo of collage she cuts shapes out of the clay then reintegrates them; this counterbalances the solidity of the material by keeping the process open at an imaginative level. The transparency of the washes she applies gives the impression of light transfusing the ceramic, and the variations of hue are a metaphor for the fluidity of memory without dilution of feeling.
This delicacy of touch in her work, particularly expressed in her very free lines drawn onto the clay, bring the process of abstraction to a fresh particularity, sometimes in a moment of playful commentary: “Lines of washing and none of them are mine”, or in a moment of serious reflection – an empathy for the refugees’ longing for security and grief for lost homes is expressed in the elemental house shapes which teeter above a boat tossed by a choppy ocean: the houses are lost and longed for, while their hopes churn with the sea beneath. The deceptive simplicity of the shapes of buildings gives a moving, elemental quality to the work.
She restored the buildings at Stables Studios with Denise Franklin and has created there a very small community of artists who approach similar concerns in very different ways. The comparative isolation of the studios is offset by the ‘Walking, Talking Drawing’ workshops and she values these for the way they introduce a fresh energy and allow opportunities for different perspectives on her own work. They also provide a frequent, fresh reconnection with the qualities of the garden and rural area beyond.
A short version of this article was printed in Hastings Independent Press Issue 81 20.07.17 as a preview of a show at Graze on Grand Hastings after interviews with all four artists.