Accustomed as we are to our built environment, it is easy to forget the simplest reason for building: shelter. Irrespective of ornament, stated purpose, expense or material, almost every building serves to keep us in, and everything else out. One of the earliest models of shelter remains with us – the shed, shack, hut. So much more than husband's or hermit’s refuge, the persistence of a cuboid with gabled roof is almost inescapable; it can be found from research stations in Antarctica to dwellings in the Arctic Circle and most places in between. They are our homes, our offices and our supermarkets. Sheds - decorated or otherwise - are all but ubiquitous.
Kit Allsopp began painting elemental structures 'for a laugh’, but years later he’s yet to shed painting sheds. As a practising architect, the template offered seemingly-endless possibilities: 'start with a shed and let’s see what we can do with it', he wrote in 2008. The same can be said of his paintings of sheds: they do not depict any one shed in particular; they are composites of sheds seen on countless walks in many countrysides. 'I made them all the same and then worked on their differences – in scale, colour and vertical or horizontal format, and whether they faced left or right or had windows and doors'. An enduring feature of Kit’s shed paintings is his restrained use of colour, and limited shades to depict the visible walls. His palette tends to natural, earthy hues, suggesting stone or wood. This deceptively simple technique gets to the heart of the shed as archetype, and to its complexity of meaning.
Accustomed as we are to the built environment, it is easy to forget the simplest reason for being: Nature. Our bodies and drives were forged here; the natural landscape whence we come is raw and pristine. Perhaps unsurprisingly for an architect, Kit came to painting trees and natural scenery only after his initial work on sheds. He says, ‘like the shed, [trees] are all the same but different, generic and individual'. The difference in how these respective subjects are depicted is striking: where his sheds are rectilinear, concise, sometimes without scale, his natural landscapes abound in the crooked, organic lines of branches and brooks, streams and stems. A sense of scale, or of foreground and background, is instantly recognised by the unmistakably ’natural' sprouting of grasses and trees across the canvas. Colour in these scenes is used with great skill – and sometimes great stealth – to depict subtle natural features; dabs of paint imply leaves and mottled bark, and blurs of green and brown suggest distance in the forest.
The Jesuit priest and architectural theorist Marc-Antoine Laugier resolved the apparent opposition between the built and natural environments in his 1753 Essay on Architecture. He praised the Primitive Hut as a structure with its integrity based on - and in - the Natural Landscape. Kit Allsopp’s paintings of the manmade and the natural allow us to appreciate the understated virtue of the Primitive Hut, and the power of the Natural Landscape from which its rules are supposedly drawn.