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A Letter to the Earth from Beatrix

Allan Bank, The National Trust, Grasmere
→ Soft Opening: 16th March - Early Summer 2022

with open access to artist working in progress, then completed murals for visitors

→ Hard Opening: 16th September - 15th December 2022

with complete installation of whole project, including exhibition, live performance, book launch and workshops
 

     Situated in the quiet woodland in the Grasmere valley, overlooking the serene village with rich history traced back to the Medieval time, against the Lake Grasmere surrounded by the ancient fells, Allan Bank stands as a key artefact in the heart of the Lake District owned by the National Trust. The house was built in 1805 by the Liverpool solicitor Gregory Crump and housed notable tenants such as the Romantic Poet Laureate William Wordsworth and his family, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, one of the Lake Poets, and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, one of the founders of the National Trust, with his wife Eleanor. It was a hub of creativity and reform. Wordsworth wrote the first edition of “A Guide through the District of the Lakes” at this place. In the later editions, the poet developed his criticism of the destruction of the natural environment through indiscreet human agencies. Sir Jonathan Bate, a biographer, critic, broadcaster and scholar, stressed the importance of how Wordsworth’s critical view as an environmentalist influenced others subsequently: John Ruskin, the Victorian art critic and social reformer, John Muir, naturalist and advocate of establishing Yosemite National Park, Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley as mentioned above, and Beatrix Potter, the children’s book author and conservationist, to name a few. Their collective voice and legacy resound ever louder in the current ecological crisis. 

     In this art project, I am exploring the themes mentioned above, focusing on Beatrix Potter as an icon of inspiration on many levels. Artist, researcher, celebrated illustrated book author, farmer, entrepreneur, conservationist, and enactor of the ambitions of Canon Rawnsley in the conservation of the Lake District. This was manifested in her financial and organisational agency in acquiring and then bequeathing large estates to the National Trust in its early days, forming the core of its 25% ownership of the present National Park. At the same time, Potter maintained and supported farming traditions, notably the Herdwick sheep breed, which is now a mainstay of the Lake District Cultural Landscape World Heritage Site. 

     The project comprises a large mural portrait of Beatrix and a series of murals on the theme of nature, transforming the internal walls of Allan Bank. The presence of a large mural portrait of Beatrix in Rawnsley’s home will signify a line of continuity between Ruskin, Wordsworth, Potter and Rawnsley in the development of the earliest landscape conservation movement. I aim to portray Beatrix at the age of early to mid-twenties, before she reached her full potential in her later years, in quest to immortalise her like a Muse so that her voice echoes in our contemporary society and beyond. Young Beatrix, depicted in a manner no artist has ever portrayed, is also designed to be relatable to young audiences, her burgeoning environmental awareness similarly relatable to the youthful leadership of the modern environmental movement. At the same time, my large-scale natural motifs will reference the Japanese traditional paintings, particularly those produced in the Edo Rinpa (School of Kōrin) style by Sakai Hōitsu and Suzuki Kiitsu, and recall the Japonisme of the cultural elite in which Potter grew up (a key artefact in the major Beatrix Potter exhibition at V&A is Potter’s late 19th century Japanese tansu cabinet, once part of her Kensington home and transplanted to Hill Top, her house in the Lake District.) The distinctly Japanese treatment – at once architectural and at the same time intensely graphic – will allude to the international nature of wealth, empire and aesthetics that underpinned what on the surface appears to be a deeply local, native and internalised culture of the Lake District villa. Alongside the mural paintings, I will produce a series of small works inspired by Beatrix's drawings, which will culminate in a solo exhibition in a dedicated room. I have named the project "A Letter to the Earth from Beatrix", imagining a youthful letter from Potter to herself as an older person, and also addressing future generations. 

     I will complete these works with the unique line hatching technique which I created and have developed over the past 16 years. This line hatching method is a fusion of inspiration from the concept of designo, established in the Florentine School during the Renaissance, with neurological studies, one of which reveal that the human visual brain perceives objects predominantly by oriented lines.   

 

     This project is generously supported by Arts Council England and will become part of the interpretation and curation of Allan Bank. The project will also be directly linked to the National Trust’s local response to the co-curated National Trust / V&A show in 2022.

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