Friday 31 July 2015


The Picturesque Imperfect
River Esk, Trough House Bridge, Eskdale, Cumbria 150x122cm. (c) Simon Roberts; courtesy Flowers Gallery
There are artists who dazzle us with new materials, new techniques, juxtapositions never seen before. And there are artists who challenge our lazy, everyday assumptions by boldly basing work on a pictorial cliche, in this case a 'picture postcard' location. They turn it into something we have never seen before. Roberts' distanced vantage point allows the relationship of individual bodies and groups to the landscape to be clearly observed. It echoes the great tradition of history painting.

The dozen or so folk In the photograph above are relishing this beauty spot by the River Esk, and they may have travelled some distance to get there. They are taking advantage of beautiful weather to park their bags and picnics, towels and bottles and occupy the place. What we see is a happy 'family snap', which has been turned into an action photograph.  Will that flying young body make a safe landing? It's pure theatre. gripping our attention, and that of half a dozen people above on the balcony/bridge. 

Stonehenge, Wiltshire.  (c) Simon Roberts, Courtesy Flowers Gallery

Here we notice a circle of rather busy people who happen to be surrounding Stonehenge. This small image does not allow you to see the activity clearly: conversations, greetings, groupings,  camera at the ready.  But the large formal tableau we see before us - and the fact that the picture was taken from a height- sets us at a critical distance from the scene. The  notice in the grass reminds us that their progress and route are being benevolently  'managed'. 

Visiting Stonehenge early in the day or in the night might be a very different experience. Nearly 200 years ago (1833) the poet William Wordsworth visited another favourite beauty spot, the Cave of Staffa (known to music lovers as Fingal's cave). His response has a contemporary ring:

We are, but surely, in the motley crowd,
Not One of us has felt the far-famed sight;
How could we feel it? Each the other's blight,
Hurried and hurrying, volatile and loud.

Mullion Cove, Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall (Simon Roberts( Courtesy Flowers Gallery
This third image is different again: a famous cove, with huge concrete ribs modelled and managed for the good of us all.

"Roberts' work explores senses of belonging in landscapes...Landscapes are ... linked, beyond legal ownership, to large worlds of nature and nation, beauty and history, as the term 'belonging' extends to more shared senses of attachment, citizenship and entitlement". 
From Stephen Daniels' upcoming publication Landscapes of the National Trust  
(Pavilion Books, October 2015)

Examples of Roberts' earlier work are  We English (2009), The Election Project (2010) and Pierdom (2013).

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