Gallery: Pékin Fine Arts
Artist(s): Phénix Varbanov
Opening / Event Date: 28 Jul, 2023
Closing / End Date: 30 Sep, 2023
Double Q Gallery is pleased to present Fantastic Landscapes, a group exhibition bringing together four contemporary artists who are related in various aspects to the European roots of landscape painting. Curated by Mónika Zsikla, the exhibition features new works by Laura Berger, Kate Bickmore, Sholto Blissett, and Pierre Knop.
Over thousands of years of art history, landscape as a specific representation of the human environment only became a notable movement in European art during the last few centuries. This is true even though scenic depictions as subordinated elements were present almost from the very beginning in various genres. In fact, the tradition of landscape painting has a strong link to Far Eastern Art, particularly Chinese painting, within the framework of “shan shui hua” (山水畫)— translated as the “art of mountains and water” — which was already a genre in its own right in the 7th and 8th centuries. In contrast, landscape as a genre did not begin to emerge in European paintings until the 15th century, as seen in the paintings of Hubert and Jan van Eyck which included deep, magnificent landscape backgrounds made possible by their breakthroughs in the technique of oil painting.
Modern realistic landscape painting was born in the 17th-century Netherlands, while ideal landscape painting became associated with French masters working in Rome, such as Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin. Subsequently, there were two important “technical moments” that ushered in a new phase of landscape painting in Europe. The first was the invention of the metal paint tube, which made it possible for artists to carry paint conveniently and escape the confinement of the studio. For the first time, artists could take their canvases into the sunlight and create a new, experience-driven mode of painting – plein air – which led directly to Impressionist landscape painting. The second was the evolution of photography and the camera in the late 1800s. Innovation in photographic techniques made cameras more accessible, allowing artists to expand their ideas of realism and experiment with greater freedom to create bolder shapes and colours as well as unusual perspectives, culminating in passionate landscapes that draw on personal experience.
The rapid stylistic changes that characterised the 19th century also had an impact on landscape painting. Romantic artists were first and foremost captivated by the mystique of nature and often projected their inner visions and state of mind onto the vista. The trees and natural phenomena in their paintings often embodied man, expressing human emotions, moods and thoughts. Over the centuries, man’s relationship with the landscape has changed, and with it, the practice of landscape painting. But two axioms have remained constant: firstly, that the depth of perspective is a natural element of the landscape, and, secondly, that the vitality of the landscape is provided by air, which is accompanied by the dissolving of form.
Today, landscape painting has become one of the most active genres in Western art with contemporary artists using a wide array of media, including oil paint, acrylic, watercolour or photography, to capture fleeting moments or idyllic scenery not found elsewhere. The four artists in the exhibition explore the possibilities of landscape in their own fantastical style to portray far more than beautiful scenery. In Laura Berger’s paintings, the image of nature is fused with the appearance of an interior landscape of individual sentiment. Kate Bickmore’s simultaneously realistic and fantastic painting, Recollections of a Past Self (2023), is inspired by the famous camellias in the conservatory at Chiswick House in London, which were brought to London over 200 years ago from its native China. Sholto Blissett’s paintings hark back to Leon Battista Alberti’s 15th-century idea that a painting is “an open window through which the subject to be painted is seen” and question humanity’s sense of place within the surrounding environment. For Pierre Knop’s picturesque mountains and seascapes, photography is an important starting point for his imaginary landscapes rife with expressionist and post- impressionist influences.
– Mónika Zsikla