Lucy Bell Gallery St Leonards, February 11 – March 18, 2023
Emily is giving a talk on Saturday 11 March from 5-6pm tickets are £5 or £3 for students, via email@example.com.
You need to look at the whole image, peer at the finer details, and step back again; complex and highly constructed, it’s worth every minute.
Emily Allchurch’s new landscapes (2021 Closer to Home) requires a slower concentrated reading, like a well written literature piece. She combines fine precision work with visual comment in a profusion of recognisable local landmarks, contemporary signage and references to works by Hiroshige, Eric Ravilious, and Holman Hunt. To understand her work, you need to look at the whole image then get drawn up close and peer at the finer details, then step back again to re-read her message. Form and content add equal weight to the final work. Complex and highly constructed, it may take a few viewings but it’s worth every minute.
With fine layering of subtle signifiers, directional signage, and framed by distracting foliage of ferns, flowers and weeds in the foreground, the viewer is drawn within her landscape to peer at the small indications of human detritus. Beer cans, dog poo bags, discarded gloves are all signifiers of human presence, plus the ubiquitous way-mark and litter signage that implies control, are all placed within a calming natural landscape. Even her colouring is fairly muted, like a watercolour wash. But the message is not calming, it is meant to disrupt.
Allchurch produced this series during the Covid lockdown period in 2021, when confined to her home in East Sussex, she explored the local landscape with her digital camera. Gathering thousands of images, she used her usual method of collating and considering her images, then carefully cutting these to fit her concept, using Photoshop. She sketches out ideas to follow, then proceeds to skilfully manipulate and shape her digital collage. It’s a very long and organic process, taking up to 3 weeks to finish one picture but she told me: “it’s meditative too, and joyful to create. What takes a long time is the cutting up of each little item, then the arrangement and modifying the colour, the contrast”. She has a concept in mind before the Photoshop process, but using her sketches, her original concept can take shape in an organic way and it always bears her “signature”, the subtly subversive message that conflicts with the seemingly peaceful backdrop of her landscape; the contemporary comment combined with the traditional aesthetic. Lucy Bell, owner of the Gallery, remarked “Emilys attention to detail, also her aesthetic, creates the dynamic of her work”.
Allchurch also disconcerts us by using the unfamiliar vertical portrait format for her landscapes. Indeed, while I wandered round the Gallery, one visitor remarked: “I’d like landscapes to be landscape shaped, not vertical!” She obviously did not ‘get it’. My own favourite is her November image “Long Man of Wilmington”. Allchurch’s foreground framing here are the bright red autumn colours of Maple leaves above two thick tree trunks on either side of her vertical image format. Hostile barbed wire across from the two trees frame the bottom next to a way-mark sign on the tree trunk entitled “Cuckmere Pilgrim Path” with the Pilgrims Way icon of a shell pointing precisely to the path that is barred with wire. Carved into the distant chalk hill stands the iconic Long Man himself: the mysterious guardian of the South Downs that has baffled historians for hundreds of years being Europe’s largest portrayal of the human form (dating back to the early 1700s, the Long Man is visible for miles and is free for the public to access being on a favourite hiking route). Allchurch has included two tiny figures hiking across the hills, with the Long Man towering above them in a menacing stance. There is both danger and beauty implied here, both equally compelling to us.
Emily Allchurch’s ‘Closer to home’ is well recommended, and continues until March 18.
Further reading: Article in Hastings Independent Press by Gareth Stevens
“Emily Allchurch’s ‘Closer to Home’, is a tenderly crafted love letter to the East Sussex countryside and the antecedent artists who have shared her preoccupation with landscape.”
2020 Podcast: Emily Allchurch – Interview with ‘Considering Art’