I had been aware for some time that there was a contemporary art gallery near Robertsbridge; friends have recommended it; I follow it on Twitter; fellow MA student Jenny Edbroke, whose work I wrote about in July 2015, exhibited there last summer; Susan Fynes who graduated this summer, see last week’s post, is to exhibit there soon. I had even thought I had noticed a discreet sign to it on the A21. But Robertsbridge is about half an hour’s drive away, not a particularly onerous journey admittedly, but still not next door. So, it was not until a couple of days ago that I finally decided to investigate. I ignored the Robertsbridge turning, found that I had been right about the sign and drove up narrow country lanes and finally arrived at what looked at first sight like a group of farmyard buildings. All most improbable.
What is perhaps even more improbable, as many people dream of starting a gallery, is that owner and director Kenton Lowe has clearly made it a huge success. His eye for interesting and collectable artists mean that buyers are prepared to make the journey to find London quality work in the heart of the country. Look up Black Shed on a map and the red place marker is in the middle of sea of green, but the number of red dots on the corners of paintings, suggest that those who come keep their credit cards at the ready.
The current exhibition was certainly worth the drive. Artists Bent Holstein and Alan Rankle are described as having a conversation about landscape painting. I am not usually convinced by this idea of a conversation between artists. Too often it is used loosely to justify grouping together people who have only the most tenuous links. In this case I really felt it worked; the approaches were very different yet there was a genuine connection; the colour palettes of the two artists complemented each other. While Danish artist Holstein had a more abstract style, Rankle’s work also included an abstract element. Indeed, you could imagine the paintings discussing the place of abstraction.
Before going I was not acquainted with either artist. At first it was Holstein’s work which attracted my attention. I liked the subtle tones and the gentle impressionistic style that takes you into his mysterious landscapes so that you imagine more than you can actually see.
But as I looked round the exhibition, it was the works of Rankle that grew on me. When commentators talk about works being semi abstract they normally mean that you can kind of make out what it is that the artist is painting. Indeed I would have described Holstein’s works as being just that.
Many of Rankle’s paintings are semi abstract in a completely different way. In part they are very precise; in his working of trees, he reminded me of Constable. Originally educated at Goldsmiths, it turns out that he had gone on to study classical techniques, particularly the Dutch Old Masters. So here you can have a tree as well-painted as as the most ardent fans of realism could desire; you can make out the leaves; if you are good at that kind of thing, you could identify the species. But in the piece below you also have the bold splash of yellow providing mood and emotion. The two elements could almost have come from different paintings but Rankle’s skill is demonstrated by the fact that they worked as one.
Contemporary art should challenge our ideas and see help us to see things afresh. If my first reaction to these unexpected explosions of paint was “I’m not sure about that”, it quickly gave way to admiration and wanting to see more.
The Black Shed Gallery is open on from Tuesday to Friday 10.00 am-4.00 pm and on Saturdays 10 am to 4.30 pm.