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Clare Woods: A Tree A Rock A Cloud - the New Welsh Review Blog

BLOG Katya Johnson

NWR Issue 109

Clare Woods: A Tree A Rock A Cloud

Clare Woods’ touring exhibition ‘A Tree A Rock A Cloud’ has been making a number of scenic pit-stops around the country. First shown in Newtown, border country not far from where Woods lives and works, and then onto the Llŷn Peninsula in the western fringes of Snowdonia, the exhibition finishes its tour at Oriel y Parc in St Davids where the exhibition runs from 6 December to 6 March. I caught up with ‘A Tree A Rock A Cloud’ when it was being hosted by the neo-Gothic art exhibition space Oriel Plas Glyn-y-Weddw in the village of Llanbedrog. Situated on a hill commanding views down to the bay and beach, hidden-away Plas Glyn-y-Weddw was a highly atmospheric setting for this touring exhibition. For an artist working in the landscape tradition, one feels that these display contexts amount to more than coincidence – the settings participate in the meaning of the artworks themselves.

Clare Woods is a painter who makes frequent allusions to the natural world in her work – especially tree and rock forms. Perhaps due to her background in sculpture, she pursues highly innovative methods in researching and composing her paintings, including using digital source material and photography to overlay and ‘stitch’ together large oil and acrylic canvases. The overall impact of Woods’ composite images and non-naturalistic colour palettes is very modern: more like computer graphics than Constable.

Though Woods’ artwork is inspired by nature and indebted to the British landscape tradition, including works by artists such as John Piper and Graham Sutherland (from the collection of Amguedda Cymru – National Museum Wales) that she exhibits alongside, this isn’t immediately obvious from the paintings included. In fact, at first sight her glossy, oil on aluminium-fronted canvases, seem more formally related to the human body, certainly the human head than to mountains and woodland. The canvases hung around the Jacobean staircase of the gallery interior demonstrate this paradox. For example, while one canvas entitled ‘Handsome Devil’ (2015) depicts a rather nightmarish Francis Baconesque head picked out in crimson and mauve, another facing it, ‘The Handcuff King’ (2015) resembles a cyborg with a swollen, pixelated cranium. Other paintings contain fragments of still more surrealist figuration: an amniotic egg on bloody stilts dominates the foreground of ‘Splendid Ground Beetle’ (2015), a dragonfly whirrs about in ‘Sunken Line’ (2015) and the macabre outlines of a pair of skinned rabbits are strung up eerily in ‘Fannie’ (2014) and ‘Annie’ (2014). One might well ask, aside from the exhibition title, where is the landscape in all of this?

The answer to this question is deliberately complex. In fact, we begin to see that Woods’ faux-naïve exhibition title reminiscent of of Richard Long’s action-based landscape art, ‘A Tree A Rock A Cloud’, creates an expectation of literalism that she consciously withdraws through the works themselves. Though it is true that the art-process she employs instigates a discussion of ‘solid form and hollow space’, these unsettling and highly abstract paintings clearly mark a deliberate departure from conventional landscape portraiture. Instead, by insisting on a corporeal or human presence, she seems to point towards the anthropomorphised nature of the landscape, how it is constructed and re-authored by us. We are reminded of the fact that many post-war British artists to have influenced Woods, especially Sutherland, have quarried ‘landscape’ for symbols and ciphers of modernity’s discomfort, pain and existential angst.

Even if Clare Woods’ concept-heavy exhibition isn’t for you, the augmentation of her works alongside other well-known artists such as Piper and Sutherland ensures that there is something to suit every taste. The downstairs galleries of Oriel Plas Glyn-y-Weddw’s autumn season exhibitions are also well worth a look: displaying radiant oil and pastel studies of Snowdonia by local artists Gwen Jones, Keith Bowen, Alwyn Dempster Jones and Aled Prichard Jones. Even if art isn’t enough to tempt you out during the exhibitions's last few weeks at Llanbedrog, your sense of adventure should be. The journey to one of Wales’ most westerly and rugged peninsulas took me three hours in a 1991 Volkswagon polo. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

Katya Johnson is a postgraduate candidate of Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University.

Clare Woods: A Tree A Rock A Cloud runs until 29 November 2015 at Oriel Plas Glyn-y-Weddw, Llanbedrog, Pwllheli, Gwynedd LL53 7TT and then moves to Oriel y Parc, St David’s, from 6 December 2015 until 6 March 2016. The exhibition was launched at Oriel Davies (Newtown) in September 2014 and is a touring exhibition with Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales and the independent curator Mandy Fowler, with support of the Arts Council of Wales. It evolved out of an engagement with traditions of historic painting - portraiture, still life and landscape from the collections of Amgueddfa Cymru. The exhibition at Oriel y Parc (St David’s) will include new work made by Woods in response to paintings by Graham Sutherland. Clare will be in conversation at Oriel y Parc (St David’s), about her work with Nick Thornton (Head of Fine Art at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales) on Saturday 5 December, 6.30pm, with the exhibition opening an hour later.

Oriel Glyn y Weddw exhibition photo Mandy Fowler


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