Commission: Sherborne House Arts Inland Sealand
Co-commissioned by Sherborne House Arts (SHA)
The splendours of the Jurassic coastline are becoming increasingly well known. Images of glowing cliffs and spectacular coastal forms grace many books and magazines – from tourist guides for coastal caravan parks to geological guides – as well as in scientific research journals. It is at this edge, where land meets sea, that the geology is exposed to view, continuously eroding, releasing new clues – offering up an open book for the study of the story of our earth. But the inland geology is more discrete.
Travelling inland, the strata continues unseen, yet determines the nature of the landscape and it’s use by the communities that live in it. By reading maps one can determine the geology underfoot by the patterns of settlements and the networks of the subsequent paths and roads. The Inland Sealand commission was devised to offer an important opportunity to pursue new perceptions and understandings of this particular section of the Dorset landscape, to explore and map a geological journey to the sea directly linking an inland area with a coastal one, during a period when primary focus will be on the cultural activity in the Weymouth area.
Simon Callery is a painter whose work challenges established notions of landscape-based painting. His work has been shown widely in the UK and internationally. Exhibitions include: Art Now 19, Tate Britain, Paper Assets, British Museum and Sensation, Royal Academy of Arts, London. His work has recently been included in Within/Beyond Borders, selected works from the European Investment Bank Collection, Luxembourg; at the Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens and, in February 2012, a group painting show at Galerie B55, Budapest.
In developing new approaches to landscape based art, Callery has worked in collaboration with archaeologists from Oxford Archaeology and the Institute of Archaeology, University of Oxford, over a number of years. This has resulted in the development of new forms for contemporary painting, which aim to engage the viewer on a multi-sensory level, akin to our experience of the material landscape.
Simon undertook a five-day walk from Sherborne in the north of the county to Portland, Dorset’s southernmost point. This continuous walk, stopping only for each overnight stay at a local B&B, enabled him to have a truly immersive experience of the landscape. He experienced and noted the changes in geologies on route – the distinct characteristics of the higher chalk downland contrasting with the limestone and clay beds of the Blackmore Vale.
Further research involved delving into the archive stores of the Dorset County Museum looking at ancient pottery produced on site from local clays, in contrast with investigating some of the small private quarries in inland Dorset, that give us our only opportunity to really see what is beneath our feet.
Using a large scale OS map for navigation and meeting few people on route, Simon realised that it was the names of farms that helped him locate himself. Many of these names reflected local landscape features appearing to reference characteristics relevant to the rock below ground.
Simon established a valuable collaborative working relationship with earth scientist Sam Scriven, from the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Team. They share an interest in the impact of geology and our understanding of, and response to landscape, which has led to the idea of them jointly producing a form of ‘walking guide’ that specifically aims to resensitise us to the particularities of the inland geology.
Each layer of the strata below ground provides the history of the geology – whilst on the surface the road and house names give clues to what lies below – White Sheet Hill, Black Down, Rockpitts Barn, Redhole Coppice.
For ExLab, the chalk downs and inferior oolite beds have inspired Simon to consider these references to local geology both above and below his feet, as he walked between Sherborne and the coast. The physical characteristics of Simon’s work for this commission derive from these two specific and diverse geologies. Drawings and photographs provide an intimate counterpoint to the paintings, clearly establishing the geological context of the exhibition and Simon’s research.
To some degree, these works are the result of a need to find new forms for painting to reflect an experience of the Dorset landscape. They also initiate a development in my practice to pair paintings with photographs.
Simon’s work requires us to let go of the conventions of landscape painting as we know them. His physical paintings seek a balance of the senses and do not prioritise the visual over the material. They are informed by the action of walking the landscape, and tempered by an encounter with its diverse geology.
Encountering Simon’s paintings and other works in No.33 Newland will echo this experience. As you walk through the house, feel the relationship between the paintings and the place, allow the edges between them to dissolve away in your mind and your body – enter as if you are entering a landscape.
Simon Callery would like to thank the following for their help and support:
Sam Scriven (Geologist), Susan Ray, Paola Piccato, Richard Breward (Dorset County Museum), Fiona Robinson, Sue Green, John Sutherland-Smith, Sarah Whittick, Jeremy Barker, Macintosh Antiques, Andy Elliot and the Dorset County Council GIS Team.
Commission managed by Amanda Wallwork and Andrew Stooke on behalf of Sherborne House Arts.
copyright for all images lies with the artist