Against the turmoil of the French and Napoleonic Wars, artists pursued a way of representation and subject matter that communicated their emotional response to a tempestuous and uncertain world.
The Romantic sensibility remains with us today in artists’ subjective approach, and is probably most evident in works that react to the gorgeousness of our physical world. Susan Derges and Santeri Tuori both use photography to create heightened emotional responses to the natural world. Derges captures water, its surrounding plant life and reflective qualities to create compound images, while Tuori captures drama-infused cloudscapes. Calum McClure also engages with water’s reflective qualities using rich colours in his paintings and monotypes. Photographer Marten Lange seeks to make us appreciate smaller moments of beauty through carefully observed images. By contrast, Gordon Cheung has created a series of works that use digital processes to degrade images of archetypal Romantic paintings.
Amongst the varied approaches adopted in the Romantic Movement were works which communicated the awe – that mixture of wonder and terror - that artists felt and feel in relation to the natural world, and which could provide viewers with a transcendental experience: the art of the sublime. This is the art of Caspar Friedrich and John Martin. Working in the tradition of John Martin, with his apocalyptic and dramatic vision, albeit in very different ways, are Nadege Meriau and Ambrosine Allen. Photographer Meriau’s large scale images of dramatically backlit food create a sense of entering heaven or hell. At the other end of the scale, Allen collages small fragments of images taken from vintage encyclopaedias to create images of tremendous forces unleashed upon the world
Quoting Friedich’s pose from The Wanderer against the background of a colour-filtered film of the cascading Niagara Falls, Lois Patino demonstrates the scale of the individual against natural occurrences. Oliver Beer, Nicolas Feldmeyer and Mohammed Qasim Ashfaq all employ a transcendental quality in their art. Beer’s photograph of the classic light at the end of the tunnel culminates in a form reminiscent of the Milky Way; while Ashfaq’s graphite drawings, comprised of linear gradations, relentlessly draw the viewer into a central focal point – a moment of calmness and respite. Nicolas Feldmeyer’s computer generated image of mountains, the source of so much sublime imagery, passing through a portal alludes to other words and states of being.
These artists are not, however, Neo-Romantics. Rather, they research, reuse, restructure and question the forms and ideas of Romanticism in the context of our world today. While we may find in their work the visual effects of Friedrich and Martin, or experience the same immediate emotional impact, they are informed by entirely modern sensibilities. Some depart from Romanticism, some arrive there, but all are searching for an expression of the modern world.
Thanks to Hannah Barry Gallery and Purdy Hicks Gallery for facilitating the inclusion of their represented artists, to Kimon de Ridder, Pedro Font and Bruce Irwin for loans and assistance, and to Vishal Sumarria for setting into sequence the events that gave rise to this show.
This exhibition is part of the Art Licks Weekend 2016 http://artlicksweekend.com/2016