I've written elsewhere: 'I’ve been trying to figure out what part landscape painting might have in contemporary practice. Or whether by doing what I’m doing I am, in fact, barking up the wrong (because thoroughly dead) tree.' Andrews ('Landscape and Western Art') has a view on this: 'As a phase in the cultural life of the West, landscape may already be over.' If, however, there are contemporary artists actually making landscapes then it may, as a matter of fact, not be all over. What small knowledge I have of art history leads me to believe that the announcement of the death of several genres (portraiture, figuration, painting itself) has sometimes been premature, so I'm not without hope.
I concluded an earlier post ('Politics', 09/12/18) by asking 'Who is making landscapes these days?' I'm definitely on the lookout for these people. The acclaimed Tacita Dean says she does it, as does Turner Prize winning Charlotte Prodger, but I've yet to look at their work seriously. My initial uninformed reaction is to say that I don't immediately 'get it'. I guess I'm still hoping that there might be painters and printmakers out there.
George Shaw calls for my attention (I inadvertently picked up a small catalogue of his in a charity shop some time ago, so warmed to his work before I knew it mattered). Also, there's a host of amateur artists (e.g. my Instagram chums) whose motivation, at least, I'm inclined not to dismiss, if only because I suspect it's the same as mine.
I'm being helped in my search by my son, Samuel, who knows a thing or two about paintings. He's given me the catalogue of a current show by Ilse D'Hollander. Some of her works, made in the early to mid-90's, are abstract with more than a hint of landscape and some are manifestly landscapes, albeit abstracted. Do these paintings that depict places receive a thumbs-up from the contemporary art world? Well, yes they do. The fact that the Victoria Miro gallery is representing D'Hollander makes that point clearly enough, as does the reception of (for example) the Observer's art critic, Laura Cummings, who clearly rates the show saying nice things like: 'Small, calm and balanced, these landscapes are exceptionally beautiful,' and 'It is the romantic tradition – emotion recollected in tranquillity – reprised for modern times,' and again 'The world, and the way she sees it, are fused in these dense sonnets'. So here, at least, is an example of landscape painting hanging on in there.
D'Hollander's paintings have much to commend them. The gallery's take on what she did is clear enough: 'In her short life, Ilse D’Hollander (1968–1997) created an intelligent, sensual and highly resonant body of work that continues to find receptive new audiences in the decades since her death. This exhibition, the gallery’s first solo presentation of D’Hollander’s work since announcing its representation of the artist’s estate, focuses on the rich dialogue between abstraction and representation in her work, giving special attention to the ways in which she coaxed evocations of place, light and weather into her modestly-scaled canvases and works on cardboard.' Images of real places they may be, but rather more than that, too, it seems.
The tension between abstraction and representation is always interesting to me. The business of employing ambiguity, but incorporating enough that's recognisable, is what I want to explore, I think. My work is barely abstracted at all - and then quite clumsily I fear - but it's undeniably this territory that D'Hollander occupies and this that captures my attention. Laura Cummings recognises the same when she says the works 'invoke the countryside... in all the rich greens of spring and summer', when she says they are 'as if remembered through both weather and time,' and (without ambiguity) when she declares: 'Each image leans towards abstraction, but is deeply rooted in reality.' That's a key feature: rooted in reality. Nothing free-floating here.