Darl-e and the Bear in Woodstock has always done things differently, either through the gallery’s ethical and sustainable stance or the wildlife charities it supports.
But new exhibition ‘Landscapes Unstilled Life’ pushes the boundaries even further by encouraging the artists involved to curate their own show.
And while the work of Ben Deakin, Jillian Knipe, Justine Formentelli, Liz Elton, Kate Kotcheff, Melanie Miller and Robyn Litchfield encompass the many and diverse ways contemporary artists portray landscapes, how the exhibition manifests itself has been the responsibility of Robyn and Jillian.
“We wanted to do something a bit different and it’s been a really interesting challenge,” Robyn tells me, “because you have to be objective about your own art, be respectful of the artists involved and how they fit together, and consider how the visitors see the work.”
As for the work itself, Robyn says the seven chosen artists examine landscape in an introspective way.
“It’s about the curious, the alternative narrative, the off-kilter and strangeness of landscapes that we wanted to explore and that’s how we picked our artists,” Robyn tells me.
Robyn’s own work is largely based on her global travels with tell tale signs of her New Zealand roots woven in, but what might appear clear cut, on further examination is actually much more personal.
Because by using old photographs and personal documents she reimagines, with her trademark luminosity, the experience of those early forays into the unknown, evoking their pristine and untouched status of the landscape, with an ethereal, nostalgic and contemplative quality.
Co-curator Jillian Knipe is more interested in what’s underneath – the waterways and light, what lies within the bark of a tree or a river’s passage. Her Australian roots flow unchecked through her art, and their primeval beginnings render the modern world around them almost irrelevant.
Melanie Miller on the other hand places her art within little boxes called diomaras, which contain hidden places, glimpses into unseen lands and undiscovered or lost realms, which you can then spotlight with an iPhone to create your own atmosphere and bring the detail into focus. She also does tiny pastiches on dark backgrounds where the organic subject matter seems as irrepressible as their content.
Liz Elton‘s focus is much more environmental. At Darle she explores compost and organic matter, bringing colour, light and form to a disregarded subject matter, and highlighting the beauty of what came before as well as the wonder of decomposition.
Justine Formentelli is equally engaged in the organic form and peels back the layers in her series’ to demonstrate what’s underneath by championing the unseen.
Kate Kotcheff on the other hand will be playing her film Mars: The Final Frontier, just seen at the Venice Biennale, with music sung herself. A combination of photography and moving image, often animating still photographs into films, this piece combines the alien landscape of the planet Mars with ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’, which you can experience when you visit the exhibition.
Ben Deakin‘s work is more utopian and surreal, juxtaposing childhood memories and the familiar against a threatening uncertainty and the landscape around it. Another extensive traveller, like Robyn, his work usually reflects the inherent geography around him and how he processes it through a personal lens.
Gallery owner Julie Wigg explains: “As part of our ongoing programme to develop the gallery, and help our artists after such a long period of disruption, we decided to run this artist curated exhibition.
“We have given the artists involved total freedom to create and use the space as they wish. The results are going to be fantastic, and hopefully introduce a new audience to Darle and the Bear and Woodstock”
LANDSCAPE’S UNSTILLED LIFE runs from 25th June to 18th July at Darl-e and the Bear in Woodstock. Go to https://darleandthebear.co.uk/exhibition-landscapes-unstilled-life-2021.asp for more details.