Sunday, 10 July 2011

Edward Chell's 'Garden of England'

More from the ‘Edgelands’ book (yes, it does take me ages to read anything): this time the paintings of Edward Chell. His ‘Garden of England’ series of paintings are of particular interest. They depict the ‘Vague Terrain’ of the motorway verges on the M2: the wild, unobserved flowers and hardy plant life that live there. These sights have often interested me too, and I’ve often sketched some of the flowers whilst stuck in traffic, so it is fascinating to see another artist produce this amazing body of work inspired by these ‘edgelands’ locations that inhabit our periperhal vision as we speed by in our cars. Below is a statement from the artist about this work that I found on his website:

The Garden of England; paintings by Edward Chell exhibited at Turner Contemporary Open, Margate and selected Little Chef restaurants
June 27th to September 7th 2009

Driving down the M2 one summer’s day, I got stuck in traffic, rolled down my window and gazed out onto what looked like the corner of a foaming English meadow. I had travelled this way many times before, but had never stopped and seen the motorway verge close up. The way the embankment reared up steeply, the abundance of wildflowers with butterflies weaving between them and crickets whirring above the idling engines took me back to childhood memories of country lanes; a lost idyll.

This series of paintings of motorway verges in Kent, The Garden of England, grew out of this moment. For me these present a fascinating paradox. On one level, the motorway network presents a nightmarish vision of the asphalting of our green and pleasant land. But these roadside habitats, referred to by the Highways Agency as ‘Soft Estate’, amount to an unofficial national nature reserve of some 30,000 hectares, which provides precious havens for wildlife; vital corridors free from agro chemicals and human disturbance.

As I painted these motorscapes, I realised that these artificially created and sometimes carefully planted ‘natural’ environments connect to the great tradition of English Landscape, which reached its ‘golden age’ in the eighteenth century. At this time, designers such as Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown created gardens such as Chatsworth and Petworth to be experienced in motion, on foot or on horseback, and viewed as a tour during which the elements changed in their aesthetic relations, presenting different aspects, depending on which point they were seen from. Brown’s ideas went on inspire a whole swathe of English landscape painters.

Similarly, as we drive, our relationship to the sculpted ravines of motorway gorges, sudden lateral views and bridges changes; different vistas open out and suddenly shut down as we move through the landscape at high speed. My paintings interrupt this commonplace visual experience to give people a kind of laterally viewed clip of a landscape, normally encountered in milliseconds.
The sensation of flickering verges, a peripheral green blur, can contribute to the soporific effect of motorway driving. ‘Tiredness Kills’ says the slogan, ‘Take a Break’. It is at this point, when we pull off the road to break our journey, that we experience time differently, and our relationship to our surroundings is shaken out of its passivity.

In addition to the Turner Contemporary Open, these paintings are being shown in entrance vestibules or behind cashiers’ desks in Little Chef restaurants. I want people to see them on their way to and from their cars, like a sideways glance, a sly, half-seen half-stolen flirtation with untouchable places of ravishing stillness out of the corner of the eye. Little Chef, with its historic association with British motorways, seems a fitting place for people to experience these paintings and catch a glimpse, a fleeting vision of these places they might never have noticed, but which surround them on their motorway journeys.

Edward Chell 2009

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I had travelled this way many times before, but had never stopped and seen the motorway verge close up.
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