Albemarle Gallery

People’s relationship to landscape is complex and important: it is a public favourite, although it is mass culture and consumption (‘the public’) that threatens it most. This contradiction interests Fred Fabre in his series of British landscapes. His work tackles two problems that might be at its core: mankind’s alienation from landscape is both a cipher for the alienation from his own nature and, more recently, as the cause of global environmental catastrophe. These things can be seen as the same problem: our alienation from our own essential nature causes us to reject the fundamental truth of our home, ’Eco’.

Not surprisingly, the Romantic spirit can be found in Fabre’s approach to landscape in that it evokes the ‘rawness’ of human experience. Fabre makes startling choices in colour and contrast. There is something nightmarish and apocalyptic in the way he paints the long shadows of the day’s dying light. Not only this, but Fabre uses landscape to reflect emotion, in the same spirit of the Romantics, but he attempts to attribute this to the landscape itself, to give it a voice. Predictably, that voice is not calm. He clashes primary colours to generate emotions so that we are looking at an earth with consciousness. The idea is that the earth is alive. Crucially, what is alive is capable of being killed.

The second problem that Fabre addresses is that of man’s alienation from himself and from his earthly experience. Descartes left us with a reductive mind, the classic ‘ghost in the machine’. Then, without God to tell the mind what to do, the natural world ‘came to be regarded as fit only for exploitation’, according to Peter Fuller. Phenomenology may come to the rescue putting the mind firmly back in the body and thus in the earth, ‘It is by lending his body to the world that the artist changes the world into paintings’, as Merleau-Ponty said. In this spirit, Fabre spent 9 months ‘being in’ the landscape, photographing and observing the changing light, drinking the atmosphere and recording the effect that it had on him. These things were the aim of the work: to ‘paint not the thing but the effect it produces’ as Mallarme would have it. The effect that the landscape produces in Fabre is noticeable on the canvas. Darn Brook is a disquieting, filling the viewer with fear of isolation and abandonment. By contrast, St Margaret’s bay, with its warm colours and tactile brush strokes evokes a benevolent earth and feeling of comfort.

Fabre is also interested in the passage of time experienced by the landscape (again as if it is a living thing). He looks to the shadows, shapes and colours that time-lapse photography (a technique he used in his research) reveals. This results in a special quality and time does indeed make a strange appearance on the canvas.

The mystery of creating art runs parallel to the mystery of human experience. That mystery is ‘something of which [the artist] is not always the master’, as Charlotte Bronte said. This sense of mystery is needed if humans and nature are once again to be friends.