Day 3 – Thinking wild at The National Gallery.
My best friend Shaun and I spent this morning wandering around London, accidentally taking in loads of landmarks. On the tube I’d spotted a poster for an exhibition at The National Gallery called ‘My Back to Nature’ by resident artist George Shaw. I thought it looked really interesting so we headed to Trafalgar Square and popped into the gallery. Although going to an art exhibit in the capital city might not seem particularly wild, I hope you will appreciate why I’ve chosen base this post around the visit…
The first exhibition we went into was called ‘Dutch Flowers’. It was a collection of beautifully detailed still life paintings of flora, by a variety of Dutch artists. The flowers were gorgeous but the addition of wonderfully precise invertebrates, including bumblebees, ladybirds, caterpillars, butterflies and beetles are what interested me the most. Perfect!
We made our way through to the George Shaw ‘My Back To Nature’ exhibition – the result of Shaw’s two year residency at The National Gallery. We watched a short video in which Shaw explained some of his motivations along with his musings on his residency and his thoughts on other painters in the gallery. He comes across as a really genuine, down-to-earth person surprised by his own success. Shaw uses Humbrol enamel paint as a medium to create narrative woodland landscapes inspired by his memories of the wooded areas around Tile Hill, Coventry where he grew up on a council estate. The enamel paint looked blocky and thick up close but taking a step back brought in a perfectly suited level detail and texture for his realist approach. Some of his paintings are of picturesque trees while others feature woodland littered with adult magazines, tarpaulins and lewd graffiti; the reality of many suburban woodlands.
As Johnathan Jones wrote in his review for the Guardian (warning: contains adult themes), ‘Three discarded bottles become a rustic still life‘. And it’s true. To see so much litter in real life, in the forests that I adore, would make me despair! But Shaw’s paintings were perverse and intriguing and made me think about the environmental impact my generation is leaving behind – physically as in litter, deforestation and plastic oceans, but also in terms of a message to people of the future. In the video, he spoke a bit about the absence of people in his painting (in direct contrast to the vast majority of other paintings at The National Gallery) and used the term ‘ghosts’ not in the spiritual sense but as ‘something that has gone but continues’. Shaw’s depictions of littered woodland show that someone was there and something happened. There is some kind of story behind every painting and viewers can make their own interpretations based on their personal memories. I was reminded of a little poem I saw on a sign out walking a few years ago;
Take only pictures,
Leave only footprints,
Kill nothing but time.
George Shaw’s ‘My Back to Nature’ says to me that everyone should be able to enjoy our wild spaces. These places mean so many different things to so many different people: from private refuges to social or educational events; from first experiences to family traditions. Make your own stories but be mindful of leaving your surroundings in the same (or better!) condition then when you arrived.
Also day 3: Millpond & Cows
We rushed back from London to meet our best friend Denley and old friend Chris who was visiting Cambridge from Australia for the first time in seven years! After so long apart we were at a bit of a loss of what to do so decided to go to our old haunt around the millpond and reminisce. This plan failed though, as it was pretty wet and we had forgotten about the cows that roam there leaving big mucky presents behind for unsuspecting visitors to step in. We grabbed part of a fallen tree for a make-shift bench and I felt so happy to be back in the wild places we used to hang out at as teenagers. I was glad to see there wasn’t any litter around and that the area had hadn’t changed (except for the addition of a dream catcher hanging on a tree) since we used to sit there with beer, picnics and BBQs on warm summer nights all those years ago. Today however, wasn’t that kind of night and before long we were on the move to find somewhere warm and dry.
All images subject to copyright. All opinions expressed on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent the view of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust for whom I volunteer, or any other organisation.