Coming face to face with Linda Ryle’s painting ‘Show Me the Moon’ a few days ago was a shock: I’ve been so used to seeing it as a 13 by 17 cm cover image on my book Luna Park that I’d forgotten quite how big it really is. Meeting it again in this new exhibition at the Heaton Cooper Studio, Grasmere, was a pleasant surprise.
The painting – even more fascinating at its full size, naturally – draws you in hypnotically, with its affectionate yet slightly eerie rapport between woman and cat, and the tiny glimpse of the new moon in a limpid, radiant sky.
The sense of mystery, of magical meanings only half-revealed, is typical of Linda Ryle’s work (she’s also know by her married name as Linda Cooper), and this retrospective exhibition, Time Regained: 1975 – 2016 reveals these qualities as connecting elements running through some quite diverse work.
There are landscapes, figure paintings (with animals) , still lifes – often incorporating ancient Egyptian or Roman sculpture and other artefacts – and most recently detailed, almost trompe-l’oeil studies of little corners of domestic interiors: a spice cupboard; a flight of old, deeply-worn stone steps; a crucible burning with fierce flame and backed by black smoke.
There’s even a display of the wonderfully vivid and imaginative belts, hand-painted with animal forms, which Linda supplied to a King’s Road fashion boutique in the 1970s, and which were acquired by (amongst others) Elton John, Bianca Jagger and Britt Eklund.
What connects all of these works, along with a love of detail and an evocative use of colour, is a sense of symbolism, of contemplative and often disquieting meaning hidden within each image. It’sa world not unlike that of Leonora Carrington, who similarly loved to blend pagan imagery with encounters of animals and humans who had a more than normal rapport with one another. I’m inclined to think Linda deserves a place in the rich but elusive category of female surrealists, though the subtlety of her work is far from the simply bizarre or aggressively disruptive effects we might associate with mainstream (usually male) surrealism. Linda Ryle has a deep interest in Jungian psychology, and her work was exhibited last year at the Association of Jungian Analysts in London.
Strikingly, to me the most powerful works were the most recent. The meticulous representations of details of her eighteenth-century house in Cockermouth, such as a staircase leading down into a cellar, are extraordinarily suggestive: the apparently ordinary becoming a powerful symbol of something psychologically profound and (I think) more than a little disturbing. These are beautiful images; but don’t be surprised if you feel the hairs on your neck rising a little. In Linda’s work, the everyday becomes the slightly uncanny. It’s a remarkable achievement.
Time Regained: an exhibition of past and present work by the painter Linda Ryle runs at the Heaton Cooper Studio, Grasmere, from July 14 until the end of October. Details from 015394 35280.