El­e­men­tal en­coun­ters

An­thony Gar­ratt’s ex­pres­sion­is­tic can­vases cap­ture the sense of what a land­scape feels, sounds and smells like. Mary Miers braves a storm to watch him at work

Country Life Every Week - - Exhibition -

The artist An­thony Gar­ratt has taken en plein air paint­ing to a new ex­treme. hap­pi­est when the weather is wild, he re­gards the un­pre­dictable ef­fects of the el­e­ments as cen­tral to his work and is un­per­turbed when a sud­den squall dis­solves his lat­est com­po­si­tion into run­nels of coloured wa­ter. ‘My pic­tures are about the raw weather: its im­pact both on the land­scape and my own ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing phys­i­cally im­mersed in it,’ he says, glanc­ing up at the bank of black cloud rolling in to­wards us over a stormy sea.

We’re on Selsey beach south of Chich­ester in West Sus­sex, me scrib­bling fran­ti­cally as the ink blotches and runs, An­thony whistling as he wres­tles with a large can­vas that he’s an­chored onto the shin­gle with a PVA glue bot­tle.

The sea turns grey-green as the wind picks up and Pagham re­cedes into a faint blur be­neath a smudge of grey-green light. Shoul­der into the weather, I watch as An­thony ap­plies and then reap­plies his ini­tial lay­ers, splat­ter­ing, scrap­ing and scor­ing. First, he sloshes on some ma­genta, then marks out a loose per­spec­tive in black us­ing an old kitchen knife—‘it be­longed to my grand­dad; if I for­get it I’m lost’—be­fore sweep­ing Payne’s Grey over the sky with a wide brush. he tilts the sat­u­rated can­vas and ev­ery­thing trick­les down, then scratches the line of staithes back in and adds some yel­low. More scor­ings, then some sur­face tex­ture in charcoal.

Out­doors, he uses a com­bi­na­tion of wa­ter-sol­u­ble oils and acrylics for a loose, spon­ta­neous brush- stroke and ease of dry­ing. In bet­ter weather, he can com­plete a paint­ing in situ, but, to­day, dry­ing is im­pos­si­ble and he’ll re­work it in his stu­dio. No mat­ter that the orig­i­nal daub­ings will mostly have been rinsed off; the fact that it be­gan out­doors is the key: ‘Just be­ing out there, ab­sorb­ing the abun­dance of sen­sory in­for­ma­tion, is part of the whole process; the lay­ers are there, even if they’re not vis­i­ble.’ each paint­ing done out­doors prompts a se­ries of more ab­stract stud­ies made later from mem­ory.

A grad­u­ate of Chelsea and Fal­mouth Col­leges of Art, An­thony trained and worked in de­sign be­fore mov­ing to Bris­tol in 2005. At first, he was part of an artists’ col­lec­tive at the Ja­maica Street Stu­dios; now, he’s a full-time painter with a stu­dio barn in the woods near Back­well in Som­er­set and also teaches ex­per­i­men­tal land­scape cour­ses at New­lyn School of Art.

Per­haps best known are his in­stal­la­tions, which chal­lenge or­tho­dox no­tions of how land­scape paint­ings are viewed. ‘Whereas sculp­ture is dis­played in many dif­fer­ent set­tings, paint­ings tend to be re­stricted to gal­leries and rarely seen in the en­vi­ron­ment that in­spired them,’ he ob­serves. ‘Show­ing large-scale works out­doors makes them ac­ces­si­ble to a wider de­mo­graphic, as well as help­ing peo­ple feel part of the land­scape in an age when so many have lost the abil­ity to con­nect phys­i­cally to the nat­u­ral world.’

Youtube videos show An­thony at work in the wilds—bare­footed on the Cat’s Back, wind-sheeted in the heart of Snow­do­nia, fling­ing a hand­ful of earth onto a can­vas and mix­ing it with wa­ter, splash­ing, smear­ing and flick­ing with aban­don. His ‘Al­fresco’ project on Tresco (2014) in­volved leav­ing four mas­sive can­vases in situ for more than a year at the sites where they were painted.

Worked in a mix of acrylic, oil, ra­di­a­tor paint and var­nish, these pic­tures re­mained sta­ble, but could be ex­pe­ri­enced in dif­fer­ent ways as the light and at­mos­phere changed around them. ‘That would never hap­pen in a gallery. Stum­bling upon some­thing like this unexpectedly is very dif­fer­ent to mak­ing a con­scious de­ci­sion to go and see it; your mind­set is dif­fer­ent.’ An­other in­stal­la­tion, High and

Low (2016), in­volved sus­pend­ing a 5m (161 ⁄2ft) can­vas in a dis­used Welsh slate cav­ern, where it’s still de­com­pos­ing, the iron and copper dust ap­plied to its sur­face slowly ox­i­dis­ing into rust. Its pair, also in­spired by the re­gion’s min­ing her­itage, was painted on the re­mote shore of Llyn Lly­daw, then floated out and an­chored in the lake for seven months.

Mean­while, a body of re­cent paint­ings in­spired by the West Sus­sex land­scape can be seen at the Mon­crieff-bray Gallery in a joint ex­hi­bi­tion with John Hitchens, who first in­tro­duced An­thony to Selsey sev­eral years ago. John still uses the beach hut built by his father, Ivon Hitchens, and has been paint­ing this stretch of coast for decades—four ex­am­ples, from the 1970s, are in the show.

There can be few places that look as des­o­late in Fe­bru­ary as the English seaboard south of Bog­nor, with its de­serted re­sorts and concrete break­wa­ters, bedrag­gled palm trees and dead bud­dleia and those strange, semi-derelict gar­dens with their totemic ar­range­ments of drift­wood, peb­bles and shells. Ev­ery­thing is wind-and-salt-scorched; the trees burnt um­ber and sculpted into haunt­ing forms.

‘I love the chal­lenge of mak­ing some­thing beau­ti­ful out of some­thing so bleak,’ An­thony en­thuses. ‘No­body can build on the salt­marsh or con­trol it, it’s a land­scape that can still make hu­mans feel vul­ner­a­ble—and that ap­peals to me.’

‘Ex­plor­ing the Land: two ways of see­ing—works by John Hitchens and An­thony Gar­ratt’ is at Mon­crieff­bray Gallery, Woodruffs Farm, Egdean, Pet­worth, West Sus­sex, un­til June 17 (www.mon­crieff-bray.com; 07867 978414). An­thony’s bian­nual solo show will be at the Thack­eray Gallery, 18, Thack­eray Street, Lon­don W8, from Oc­to­ber 10 to 27 (www.thack­er­ay­gallery.com; 020–7937 5883)

Next week: ‘Gilded In­te­ri­ors’ at the Wal­lace Col­lec­tion

Ships’ lights are im­plied as they pass through a rain storm in Port Lights, West Wit­ter­ing (2017)

The down­land land­scape of Pet­worth Park (2017)–one of sev­eral views

Salt­marsh, Pagham (2017), oil and rust on can­vas

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