Selected for inclusion in the Westmoreland Landscape Prize at the The Rheged Centre, Penrith, Cumbria – opening Friday the 13 September until Sunday 10 November 2019.
I am often asked, ‘where is this?’ At the risk of sounding arrogant my answer is ‘in front of you’, meaning that it is what you see and not a representation of a specific place.
I have been interested in the growing industrialisation of our countryside and in particular the landscape at the centre our food production. Fields are now producing crops 24/7, which can only be achieved with the help of the agrochemical industry. By portraying the familiar landscape and then overlaying an implied narrative that is ambiguous, possibly disconcerting but definitely ‘of our time’, our ‘green and pleasant land’ has the look of dystopia.
As a genre in fiction dystopian societies are often characterized by dehumanisation, autocratic governments and environmental disaster, and are often used to draw attention to real-world issues. However in the real world one person’s dystopia is another person’s example of progress and the future. Think for example of massive infrastructure schemes, or the increasing power of big data or gene editing. Does the technology free us or dominate us, and might our appetite for progress also reflect a self-destructive instinct buried within human nature.
I haven’t made these paintings as a response to the present spotlight on the damaging way we use our land and the impact this is having on our environment. That narrative has somewhat crept up on me, and my intention is not ‘finger pointing’ but something more ambiguous and open to interpretation; besides an increasing population needs to be fed.
In parallel to this ambiguity I’m also interested in the ‘hi-viz’ uniform that I feel is increasingly the uniform of the 21st century: the wearer is visible against a background whilst anonymous within it. This ‘uniform’ is often colour coded. For example, white being the colour of forensic investigation but also paradoxically the colour of the clean up after a disaster. A highly visible canvas to view the consequence of an oil spill perhaps?