Grevel Lindop

Poet, biographer, critic, essayist and writer on just about everything

Julian Cooper at Brantwood: Carrara Marble, Cumbrian Slate

While we’re all buried in snow, let’s catch up on some of the things I’ve wanted to write about while my internet connection has been down!

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Brantwood, home of John Ruskin

First place definitely goes to ‘Mother Lode’, the magnificent exhibition of landscape paintings by Julian Cooper, currently showing at Brantwood, Ruskin’s house overlooking Coniston Water in Cumbria. No chance of getting there through the snow at present, but I’d very strongly recommend a visit once the roads are clear.

Julian Cooper is probably Britain’s most original and accomplished landscape painter. His particular interest is in mountains and rock surfaces (naturally enough, since he’s a keen climber), and over recent years he has developed increasingly brilliant and intense techniques for painting the patterns, textures and – if I can put it like this – the meanings of rock, the way it communicates itself to the hand, the eye and the memory.

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Exhibition opening: Cooper with Amanda (left) and Cumbrian poet and novelist Angela Locke (right)

From open-air painting in the high Andes, he moved on in the 1990s to superb semi-abstract and highly-textured paintings of the Himalayas, often focusing not on the summits and profiles of mountains (which have been endlessly explored by previous artists) but rather on rock and snow faces, their textures, patterning and forms.

He’s now taken this a step further, to paint industrially-worked rockfaces which are literally the interface between man and nature. The Brantwood exhibition shows paintings from two such arenas: Cumbrian slate quarries from the Langdale and Coniston areas, and the Carrara marble quarries – the historic quarries from which Michelangelo took his marble and which are now quarried on a terrifyingly industrial scale.

Admiring 'Fantiscritti Portal', one of the most remarkable Carrara paintings

Admiring 'Fantiscritti Portal', one of the most remarkable Carrara paintings

Julian’s paintings are exhilarating and massively impressive. No one has ever painted rock like this before: the huge clefts and portals of vast stained marble surfaces, dwarfing tiny, insect-like industrial plant; the angled, many-coloured slate blocks, with angular light from a cave-mouth dripping over them. Julian’s work can look like realism, but compare it to any photograph and you see a miraculous added depth, an extra dimension of radiant experience. Looking at ‘Sawyers Wood’for example I can feel my own lifetime’s experience of scrambling around in and on such places, somehow embodied and singing out from the canvas.

Adventurously, some paintings are spotlit in a darkened room, which suits them perfectly. Cooper silhouetted here against 'Sawyer's Wood'

Adventurously, some paintings are spotlit in a darkened room, which suits them perfectly. Cooper silhouetted here against 'Sawyer's Wood'

The rock in these pictures speaks to us in its own strange language and asks us what we’re making of it – sensuously, industrially, envrionmentally. It has an ominous and seductive beauty.

This is a whole new take on landscape and if you love the Lakes, or nature, or painting, you should go over to Brantwood as soon as the snow clears and enjoy some of the best landscape painting of our time. Not to mention Brantwood’s excellent restaurant, and the fascinating memorabilia of Ruskin himself, the great Victorian artist, social activist, prophet of climate change and a deep thinker about the interconnections between geology and art.

The exhibition has been arranged in collaboration with Michael Richardson, director of Art Space Gallery, London, who represent Julian Cooper and where the exhibition can be seen during September, 2010. For further details contact [email protected] or visit www.artspacegallery.co.uk

Brantwood sunset

Brantwood sunset