- The Gallery at Romney Marsh Visitor Centre Dymchurch Road New Romney Kent TN28 8AY Friday to Sunday 10.00am - 4.00pm
- South East England
Place is a curious notion. It occupies a perceptual position somewhere in between the personal and the collectively known and perceived. Inevitably Art that deals with place and landscape, be it mimetic, elucidatory or dilatory in strategy has an over arching challenge to overcome. How does it deal with place in a ‘fresh’ manner and avoid all the dismissive ‘seen it all before-ness’ that besets this noble quest.
Familiarity as the adage goes ‘breeds contempt’. And for me art needs to feel ‘fresh’ for the dual sanity of its audience and creator alike. By fresh I guess I mean less predictable. Perhaps I could even supplement this call for freshness with a further notion of ‘refreshing’ and all that that can imply.
A work can be highly mimetic and yet fresh, taking something familiar to us, but catalyzing some kind of re-appraisal through its less familiar treatment. At the other end a body of work can also be highly dilatory and tangential, yet lacking in other redeeming features. So for me the depiction of the landscape in 2 dimensions necessitates a multi pronged attack.
One way to avoid the pitfalls of the literal is via abstraction. But this is easier said than done as meaningful abstraction is a very tough nut to crack. Particularly when dealing with place. How does work keep a connection with subject when extrapolated? When you look at the impressive contents of this show, you quickly realise Michelle Keegan is a sincere enough artist to rise to this challenge.
These prints are subtle, but not subtle to the point of invisibility. They are charged enough to make you look and to look slowly. And as your gaze lingers their elegance and poetry rises gently to the surface. This work, like much work of sincerity, is by definition the antithesis of ‘in-yer-face’ art making.
The artist takes forward the time tested ground of the grid structure to create a layered sense of place. Shapes, and forms, which appear at times to evoke the imagery of direct rubbings, are meticulously etched and printed into carefully nuanced lines which overlap to create a sensual essence of texture and interweaving.
This is where the original departure points taken from breakwaters, pylons, and drainage dykes, start to breath a new life within this abstraction. Not as literal depictions of a place deep within the memory banks of the artist’s childhood. But as suggestion. As ghosts of a place, both ‘sort of’ familiar, and also elusive. Abstraction for me can be seen as a composting process, where the original form mulches down and emerges as something else.
The most disappointing thing for me would be to see a marriage of a show and a place which merely re-iterates its origins. Shows in this kind of locality can frequently be banal. Indeed it is a bold step to find such a show of contemporary art set in a Wildlife Site. But while this show is physically sited amongst its departure points, this work is far from mere replication in its methodology.
These works through their lack of referential scale, (in relation to their original inspirational departure point of subject matter), enable a joyful fluidity between the landscape as viewed from a hot air balloon and the microscopic. Suggesting in part the internal landscape of the human body or other organic structures on a sub cellular level. Dark blobs suggest pools of non-specific visceral liquids, carefully toned striated patterns could be read as both distant wheat fields or hair cells up close. This dilatory approach is rewarding as it keep you lingering at the image.
These are also executed with high levels of precision and skill, by an artist who respects her media and the integrity of the wider discipline. What this means to us as viewers, is that we can enjoy these bewitching forms and structures and undergo a transcendental landscape fix, without being derailed by shoddy distractions or the overtly literal. With many artists varying degrees of crude workmanship are part of their governing aesthetics. These meticulously executed prints show Keegan as a artist wholly in charge of her creative arsenal, and as an artist with a highly attuned understanding of both abstraction and what it means to make ‘good’ work in a holistic sense.
Visit this show and you can get a dual fix of bewitching landscape in the real, and a rewardingly complex and highly attuned engagement with the complexities of place and landscape as subject. These prints treat curiosity and dislocation of place with the respect it deserves.