Unsettled Landscapes: The Art of the Eerie was created in response to an article written by prize winning author Robert Macfarlane in which he identified the eerie as:
‘…that form of fear that is felt first as unease, then as dread, and which is incited by glimpses and tremors rather than outright attack. Horror specialises in confrontation and aggression; the eerie in intimation and aggregation. Its physical consequences tend to be gradual and compound: swarming in the stomach’s pit, the tell-tale prickle of the skin.’
Macfarlane has developed his writings on the subject for an introductory essay in the catalogue which accompanies the exhibition. The English countryside is more usually associated with the pastoral: a place of beauty and peace, but there is also a tradition in art and literature that draws on an innate strangeness and hostility. The exhibition explores artists’ reactions to ancient landscapes and unquiet nature and their use of light, weather and season and the eerie effects of absence and presence to create an uncanny view of the rural world.
The exhibition is grouped around four overlapping themes:
Ancient Landscapes — features that are inexplicable and mysterious that connect us to the unknown distant past
Unquiet Nature — natural forms used to unsettling effect, such as trees, lonely expanses of heath and the borderlands where different worlds meet
Absence/Presence — how the inclusion or absence of figures and objects invoke the eerie through uncertainty and suggestion
Atmospheric Effect — the influence of weather, season, light and time of day on our responses to landscape.
In the exhibition the mysteries of Avebury and Stonehenge are seen through the eyes of Paul Nash and Henry Moore, there are the spiky tree forms of Graham Sutherland and Monica Poole, Edward Burra’s unsettling late landscapes, Ithell Colquhoun’s Cornish animism, the angst-infused landscapes of Neo-Romantics John Craxton, John Minton and Michael Ayrton plus the disturbing visions of Tristram Hillier and Algernon Newton.
The eerie remains a compelling thread in contemporary art inspired by questions of looming ecological disaster, belonging, isolation and contested ownership. The exhibition showcases George Shaw’s deserted edgelands, Jeremy Millar’s homage to W G Sebald, the hostility felt by Ingrid Pollard’s lone black walker, Blaze Cyan’s intimidating woodlands, the jarring intrusions seen in Jason Orton’s photography, Annie Ovenden’s subtle atmospheres of unease and the chilling transformations of Laurence Edwards’ sculpture. Also featured are Francis Mosley’s illustrations for M R James ghost stories and hauntology-inspired artwork from the Ghost Box record label.
A fully illustrated catalogue featuring Robert Macfarlane’s essay accompanies the exhibition, published by Sansom & Company and generously sponsored by Stuart Southall.
Image: Blaze Cyan - Croft Castle | Unsettled Landscapes: The Art of the Eerie - 11 September 2021 - 8 January 2022
Hallett Independent Gallery - St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery is open Monday - Saturday, 10am - 4pm