Abbey Walk Gallery
East England

The coastal landscape of North East Lincolnshire is explored in a major new series of exhibitions and events to be shown over two years starting on 24th April 2013 with a show at the Abbey Walk Gallery in Grimsby. The ambitious project masterminded by artist-curator Linda Ingham shows work by some of the UK’s most experimental landscape artists and includes works on loan from The Arts Council Collection – the first time that this collection has been accessed in the region.

What motivated you to put on this exhibition? Can you tell us a bit more about the broader two-year programme?

To an extent the project arose out of my own studio practice, which focuses very much on self-portraiture and place – the place being the South Bank of the Humber estuary close to my home – a specific stretch of coast around Cleethorpes, Humberston and Tetney. I realise that this part of North East Lincolnshire holds many attractions, although perhaps quieter than those available when one walks in the opposite direction – the café bars, amusement arcades, shops and pubs that one associates with a seaside resort. I walk along the coast towards Tetney as often as I can, and it is very important to me.

Having worked with Judith Tucker and David Ainley on The Nature of Landscape project 2009 – 2011 – of which Excavations & Estuaries is a part – I began to see the possibilities to extend the previous activities in a more specific manner; the concerns in terms of resonance of place, and also significance of materials and process both in physical and metaphorical terms worked well with their work as well as my own in very different ways, and this combination was very much a starting point.

How is the specific natural environment of North-East Lincolnshire important to people who live there?

There are many who enjoy it, and many who overlook it; Cleethorpes and Humberston tends to be a place where many travel to from Yorkshire – for days out, or longer holidays. Sometimes when you have somewhere on your doorstep the attraction is not so easy to see. However, for every one person locally who rarely visits the area, there are many who do, and the specific coastline I am referring to is lush white beaches, nature-rich salt marshes, and characterful holiday homes where many live for the majority of the year. The salt flats at Tetney are a SSSI protected nature reserve, and an excellent place to watch birds migration. The large expanses of flat land and big skies are vast. And, of course, the River Humber has for centuries been the route for much traffic – both business-wise and food-wise, and now it is becoming a desirable place for water-sports. Judith Tucker and Harriet Tarlo, in their commissioned work, are very much responding to the social history of the place, as well as the natural environment as they collaborate on their drawings, paintings and poetry.

You have said that the exhibition offers a ‘series of questions’ about landscape, what kind of questions do you think it asks?

I think it prompts questions; from the most asked questions, such as ‘how is that done?’ and ‘why is this a ‘landscape’ painting?’ to considerations of just what it is that the viewer is observing, and why it matters.

David Ainley and David Walker Barker’s work shares a similar subject matter in that both are concerned with mining landscapes and ‘the stuff’ the earth is made from, and in turn bring this into their practice. David Walker Barker’s Artist’s Cabinet includes artefacts and specimens – geological and fossilised objects – many of which he has excavated from the earth himself; some of the content includes pigments many artists might use in their natural form. His painted pieces make use of these, and also somewhat have the appearance of strata beneath our feet in the most dense and beautiful way. Whilst David Ainley’s work very much focuses on surfaces and processes; he painstakingly spends hours layering up, creating and then destroying his surfaces repeatedly in recognition of the laborious act of mining. His abstractions observe process and material, and derive often from aerial viewpoints of seams of mines in Derbyshire where he lives – he extracts and then adds, like nature filling in the scars on the land man has made. Both DA and DWB’s work encourages one to contemplate the earth beneath our feet and our relationship to it.

Whilst Judith’s studies are very much in a figurative and observational technique, she often includes compositions and viewpoints in landscape that may not be considered ‘traditional’; her work is not made to please the viewer, but to please her, to experience and to enquire and connect. Complimented by Harriet’s free form poetry which similarly arises out of direct experience of the place, the current studies, or diptychs are wide horizons, yet with little actual visual horizon.

Can you tell us a bit more about Susan Derges’ ‘camera-less photography’, how does that work?

Judith and Harriet’s work is placed alongside that of Susan Derges, known for including water in her subject matter. For example, River Taw (Ice) 4th February 1997 was created by night by placing light sensitive paper onto the surface of a frozen river close by her home. In his way she captures the actuality of scientific processes within nature, whilst also harnessing the metaphorical power of that which may not be captured, a metamorphosed surface, a threshold between worlds and matter.

How did you go about selecting the artists you wanted to be included in the show – what brings them together?

Common interests approached in contrasting ways attract me; I am interested in work which is not obvious, which inspires a question. I have little interest in a landscape photographed or painted in a representative manner that does not enquire – this is not to say in any way that I am not attracted to figurative work – my own practice is figurative – but I consider that good art should have something to say, provoke questions or contemplation. Individuals of the audience will see different things, and art should leave space for this without being too prescriptive, but, for me, there has to be mindful intent behind the work.

All of the artists and the poet in the show are using landscape as their subject matter and there are relationships and threads through the subject matter and the artists own theories and ideas that connect. Much of this has perhaps been mentioned above.

Do you think landscape works still have an important place in the future of art?

Absolutely, yes I do. When its work that confronts, questions and inspires. All of the work in the show connects to other subject matters – social history, nature, geology, geography, philosophy, natural sciences, industry – how can this not be relevant? More and more, as we become disconnected by technology from making things with our hands and properly being in the world, connected to the earth, ideas surrounding landscape in art will evolve into the future. It’s an aspect of a society’s well-being.

As part of the exhibition, there is also a programme of workshops and seminars. What do you think the show, as a whole, offers visitors and local people?

All of my projects include as wide a range as possible in terms of educational content. Excavations & Estuaries also displays studies and working methodologies of the exhibiting artists as well as myself and Jeremy Leigh with whom I have been working on a series of studies. Our public, locally, includes many art students who enjoy and benefit from this kind of content, as well as the workshops and seminars; for E & E we have artist Robert Priseman, who has work in museums all over the world coming to talk to us as part of Painting/Film/Music: talking landscapes, which also includes composer David Power and film-maker Annabel McCourt. And for our seminar we are pleased to welcome academic and lecturer Joy Sleeman of UCL Slade School of Fine Art, co-curator of Uncommon Ground: land art in Britain 1966 – 1979, a touring exhibition from the Arts Council Collection.

As we are considered to be an area of low cultural activity, it is one of my aims to bring the best national and international art to the area that I can. The Susan Derges River Taw piece was exhibited in the V&A Shadow Catchers show in 2012, and her Sand Prints have kindly been loaned to us by the Arts Council Collection – a first for a gallery in North East Lincolnshire. It used to be that creatives in our area had to travel; now – well, we still do somewhat, but not all the time – and some of the time, people travel to us; Sheffield, Nottingham, Lincoln, Derby, York – all cities with thriving art scenes, yet some of their population still want more, and when they do I’m sure they visit London, but they also come to us!