Sylvan Solitude

Sylvan Solitude (studio collection)
14 x 14 x 2.5cm, watercolour, gold leaf, pigment dye, wood, 2018

Sylvan Solitude: series one, 1-12
14 x 14 x 2.5cm, watercolour, gold leaf, pigment dye, wood, 2018

Sylvan Solitude considers the dark-light of cultural imagination in relation to forest space. The paintings explore the framing of an atmospheric sylvan scene – filtered sunlight, small clearings and green shadows.

As an extension of networked painting ideas – a body of work motivated by the Syllabus II experience – I made twelve small paintings for the Syllabus II partners: Donna Lynas, Chelsea Pettitt, John Eng Kiet Bloomfield, Kirsty Ogg, Louise Hutchinson, Holly Grange, Ruth Claxton, Gavin Wade, Laura Harford, Nicola Wright, Helen Legg, Georgia Hall.

Sylvan Solitude (series one, 1-12)

This project explores the articulation, distribution and reception of painting. The paintings are a ‘thank you’; and also, a continuation of the circular dynamic of things. In his writing on the gift economy, Lewis Hyde describes this sentiment well, “As in the case with any other circulation of gifts, the commerce of art draws each of its participants into a wider self. The creative spirit moves in a body or ego larger than that of any single person”.

SYLVAN SOLITUDE – the earthly realm and the infinite

A direct translation of the word ‘Waldeseinsamkeit’, Sylvan Solitude is a key term of German Romanticism. The indeterminate space of Romantic painting was a rejection of linear perspective – the fixed view of analytical geometry overwritten by the foregrounding of light, colour and atmosphere. Without fixed-point pictorial composition, viewpoints dissolve into surroundings and we are reminded of the romantic imperative of absolute immersion in nature. Chinese landscape painting from the sixth century onwards is inspired by a central Taoist principle – the solitary contemplation of nature. In Eastern poetic metaphysical landscapes, the soul is synonymous with the scene. This meditative immersion is beautifully described by poet Jules Supervielle when he reflects that in our peaceful moments we are “habitants délicats des forêts de nous-mêmes (sensitive inhabitants of the forests of ourselves)”.

Historically and culturally, forests have been a primal symbol of abundance and life whilst simultaneously deep and mysterious. Immersed in the dark-light of a forest these contradictions emerge as wholly interdependent – forest space offers both shelter and exile. Robert Pogue Harrison describes forest as “an outlying realm of opacity” that allows “civilization to estrange itself, enchant itself, terrify itself”. From the inside, forest solitude is gentle illumination, filtered sunlight, small clearings and green shadows. Counter to this is the forest experienced at a distance, where the remote forest of the imagination is unknowable in its infinite depth. As allegorical construct, the forest is a place of magic and malevolence, enchantment and fear – it is, both darkness and light.