Good evening and welcome to Sladers Yard.
My friends are not allowing me to introduce them, light the blue paper and retire to the back as I usually prefer to do. As curator of this exhibition, I am to introduce myself as well and give you a bit of background as to why I have gathered them together, labelled them romantic and persuaded them stand up and speak to you this evening.
We thought we would each give a five minute introduction. The artists will talk about their work, their techniques and influences, and how the ideals of Romanticism come in to that. After that we will move on to a more general discussion and any comments or questions that you the audience would like to make perhaps you could put your hand up and we’ll see where this leads us.
I should start by saying that I come to Romanticism through poetry. I’m an English literature graduate, blown away at school, like many other young girls, by John Keats. His Grecian urn message, Beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know,’ has always been in my mind when choosing artists for Sladers Yard.
I came to Dorset from working very hard as a commissioning editor at a very commercial publishing company called Headline run by Nicholas Hely Hutchinson’s brother, Tim, and I came into John and Caryl Hubbard’s corner of paradise where the round Dorset … sheep snooze under the spreading trees looking exactly like something Samuel Palmer would have drawn.
Samuel Palmer is the root of this exhibition but also the Neo-Romantics the modern British painters who painted through the war and afterwards and had to reconcile the reality they saw. It seems to me that romantic work is often a search for a new truthfulness, a breaking away from convention and fashion to speak in a new way about the world.
Samuel Palmer was born in 1805, the year this building was built during the Napoleonic War. At 19 he met William Blake, the neglected poverty-stricken genius and visionary, and they became friends. Blake was 67 at the time. William Blake taught Palmer technique but also ideas, which Palmer interpreted in his own way. Blake told Palmer, that in Westminster Abbey, ‘his mind simplified by Gothic forms,’ he found ‘a true art. A simple and plain road to style, unentangled in the intricate windings of modern practice.’ Maybe a similar revelation came to Palmer when he saw the work of the Northern primitives, Memling, Durer and van Eyck in the house of a German collector Charles Aders. Charles Aders was a key figure in bringing German romanticism to this country. It was he who introduced Coleridge and Wordsworth to Schlegel…
In the Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, man and nature were seen as two opposite poles. Civilisation and order could and must control and document nature. Joshua Reynolds was the guardian of the classical style and would talk about ‘general truth’ and ‘general beauty’ because he believed in rules of proportion and style which applied equally to everyone.
In the second half of the eighteenth century the wildness of nature came to be seen as an outlet for imagination, a yearning for more. It was a reaching for something more individual and subjective, allowing what we now call the subconscious, the dream, the vision, the mythical and the mystical to enrich, deepen and illuminate our perceptions.
The Romantic movement was the last movement to carry through all the arts: music, ballet, philosophy, literature, architecture and design. While in painting, it didn’t last all that long, about the same as in literature, it recurs and lives on in veins and in groups of artists right through to the present day and the artists who are here today. Again and again, artists want to evoke the transcendent atmosphere that pervades the world.
In design, there was Pugin who saw the stucco fronts of Georgian houses as untruthful and reached back again to the Gothic ideas of architecture and honesty of design that were later picked up by William Morris and the arts and crafts movement. That same reaching back for honesty and a new voice can be seen in Petter Southall’s furniture all around us.
Taking the cue from Petter’s work, I see this as a Romantic gallery. Romanticism is a rural movement, a reaction to industrialisation, to commercialism and I think to the feeling that everyone and everywhere is becoming homogenised. That doesn’t mean a rejection of buildings, of the man-made or new. Emma Stibbon, one of the most evidently romantic artists here, does much of your work about the built environment, particularly in Berlin. Alex Lowery and Simon Quadrat incorporate buildings as a crucial part of the composition of your work, although in Alex’s paintings the manmade is contrasted with the infinite and immeasurable, the cliffs, the sea and the sky.
Through this evening we will come at the word romantic from different angles and try to encapsulate what it implies. To me, in selecting artists for Sladers Yard, it is about poetry, whether that is in the texture of the paint, the use of materials, composition, subject matter or in the feelings a piece of work evokes.