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Riverfall & other works

Alan Rankle

Riverfall
Landscapes for the North
Maidstone Art Gallery & Museum, 1996
  The paintings in the Riverfall series represent re-workings from a single theme: that of a sudden encounter with a dark edge of water – a pond or river – on the outskirts of the city. A place reeking of desolation and the potential energy of decay, the meeting of urban and rural landscape. From the initial images I wanted to reach into a depth of greater memories, like those of childhood, or the images from a dream; calling up an illusion of real topography.
 

Untitled #3  2001
gesso, oil and ink on paper
38 x 29cm
 

To augment these recollections of my original experience, I’ve drawn in part on fragments from paintings by Ruisdael, Claude, Corot – early and pervasive influences on my work – as well as elements from my own landscape studies. These I’ve accessed randomly through photocopied distortions, and other techniques intended to alter the found images and extend their meaning.

I’ve been interested in finding modern equivalents for the spontaneous, revelational brush strokes of Ch’an painting. In the photocopy pieces a single gesture deflects an image of a 17th century painting through a piece of dumb – but sensitive – technology. This has a certain appeal. The naturalism of the picture collides with the gesture to emerge as a new narrative. In catalysing these existing structures, I feel that apart from creating my own work I’m freeing traditional landscape painting from the useless closed frame of familiarity. In quoting from what might be termed the landscape vernacular, I hope to produce multi-layered works that deflect conventional interpretations. The associational aspect of the landscape images themselves; the references to an historical conditioning through the art and text;
the re-reading made possible through a use of contrary tactile and false colour techniques; all contribute to a disruption of habitual appropriations of landscape as concept, and open other possibilities for a fresh, unconditioned response.

Parodying what is now regarded as a prosaic form of landscape painting is in my view part of an undercurrent integral to that tradition itself – this relating closely to the Ch’an approach to formal Chinese painting, evidenced in the work of artists such as Liang K’ai and Ying Yü-Ch’ien where a formidable virtuosity and an essentially reverential attitude is concealed within a cursory method. In the Riverfall series, I’m interested in adapting the use of Ch’an and Taoist precepts within the vocabulary of European landscape art in its relation to my own experience. The entire history and potential of landscape painting here taken to function as on object trouvé. I regard reappraisal, through the disruption of tradition rather than its abandonment, as a crucial act towards a present day renewal of landscape art. A feeling for an inner resonance, and what I would call duration in nature, the ebb and flow of the dialogue, are implicit in my stance as an artist.

For all of society’s opposition to the natural environment, we and all our works are nature. It’s the rhythmic pulse of intrinsic energy that connects us to the landscape. From the breeze blowing on our faces to the electronic gale howling through the TV screen, whatever the mode, the dialogue exists. I am interested in making art towards revealing and utilising this dialogue: the medium is our collective psyche, our link with nature. Sometimes just noticing things is enough; whether or not a painting or object remains to reveal traces of the work. The art is in stalking the idea; to spontaneously find clearings in the miasma of predictable responses. The more subtle the dialogue the more finely tempered the medium. In these times of manic image saturation I’ve come to regard it a task as an artist to reveal the receptive, Yin phase of movement, in order to restore a sense of balance, to show the need for a stilling of habitual thoughts and help regain finer dynamics of equilibrium – the harmony that prevails – in our actions. Twilight is the time for my art. That turning point in nature when another kind of seeing is possible. I want to create works to precipitate a moment of forgetting and remembering; while remaining focused on the landscape as it changes. I’d like my work to function in the silence between Ruisdael and Miyajima – stretching our recognition of nature further.

In the late summer of 2002 the film-maker Judith Burrows began work on a short documentary about my painting – Further Tales. Whilst filming at a beautiful location on the Lizard Peninsula, we discussed the possibilities of developing collaborative works in the area of film and video installations from our distinct yet overlapping points of view as artist and film maker. The enormous potential of combining elements of film, photography, painting and sculpture in single works excited us both. A series of prints included in this exhibition is the result of an initial foray into this exploration. These images, inspired by that Cornish expedition, were created digitally by Judith from filmed fragments of my paintings and her related landscape photography.

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