Remaking the Present | Selection


Jeremy Gardiner’s paintings draw together ancient and contemporary features of the landscape, producing and art of simultaneous vision in which past and present share the same visual field. In ‘Moonlight, Charmouth’, these two elements meet head –on in the middle of the paintings two and a half metre length. To the left, the silhouette of a headland and bay is formed from curved blocks of colour – blues, whites and charcoal greys – over and between the contrasting depths that Gardiner has created by cutting into the wooden panel. To the right, in juxtaposition, is a wide flat, angular expanse of pale blue. This provides the setting for a fossil cast, a twisted dendritic form that seems to underlie the plane of the picture. The overall effect is disturbing, uncanny: the moonlight of the title could come from the eclipsed moons of Paul Nash’s ‘Totes Meer’ (Dead Sea) (1940-41) or Blake’s engraving ‘The Blighted Corn’ (1821). The abrupt boundary between the two elements is a type of Caesura, a pause or cutting in the painting’s line, and it carries with it the risk that the line will fall apart. But the join holds, and the past, in the form of a fossil, irrupts into the present.

“Swanage has a strange fascination”, Paul Nash once wrote, “like all things which combine, ugliness, and the power to disquiet”. Whilst the rest of the Dorset coast may not summon up the spirit of de Chirico in quite the same way as Swanage did for Nash, it remains a place with uniquely surprising twists of natural geology and man-made pits, quarries, barrows and follies. Using montage to investigate such a landscape seems fitting, and brings a necessary energy to these paintings even when the meeting of past and present is more subtle, as in ‘Sunrise, Eype’ (2006). Here a black line serves as a as a formal barrier between a fossil-bearing section and the fluid, cubist influenced forms that map the coastline. Gardiner’s processes physically mirror the effects of time and human activity on the landscape, building up a wearing down layers of paint as the rocks built up and eroded, and cutting into the surface in a way that reflects the area’s two-thousand-year history of quarrying. In combining multiple perspectives that go beyond the immediately visible, Gardiner’s painting connects to a spiritual tradition in British landscape art, as suggested by the colours of ‘Sunrise, Eype’ (2006). The excoriating yellow of the dawn sky evokes Graham Sutherland, whilst the deep, luminous brown points further back to Samuel Palmer.

Jamie Wilkes