SCARLETT SEGAL: A Sense of Place

The Gallery Green and Stone

30 May to 3 June 2023

Scarlett Segal – ‘Path in the South Downs’

Scarlett Segal’s exhibition, A Sense of Place, is briefly on display at Green and Stone in Chelsea. Before the show opened I enjoyed a visit to her studio in a village nestled in the South Downs, not far from the Long Man of Wilmington and equidistant from Seaford and Eastbourne.

This location is worth mentioning for its varied and quick changing geographical diversity of well kept fields, ancient patches of woodland and dramatically shaped, grass covered chalk hills. Within a short day’s wandering a healthy walker could find themselves enclosed by thickets of ash, beech and oak trees, tripping on stony ground or slipping on soaked grassy banks. There are plenty of dark, leafy copses, leading on to more open local vistas that coax and challenge further investigation. Steep stretches of smooth hillside that beckon the traveller upwards towards local summits can be enclosed in mist or clearly contrasted against clear blue skies. These climatic changes can take place within a day, let alone from season to season. For those who reach these various hilltops the views of the South Downs will stretch far and wide to invite aerial perspectives and to scale up vision. To the south, where the gaze can detect the sea view so surprisingly close by, there is a big enough hint to confirm the island upon which we can still sometimes lose ourselves in – a place of safe solitude, perhaps, despite the recent pandemic. To the landscape painter it’s a small paradise that can stretch as far as the eye can see, to beneath one’s feet, or to the finger-tips in search of the distinctively tactile.

We first spoke to each other after a presentation of Julian Le Bas’ paintings exhibited at The Star Gallery in Lewes. As with Le Bas, if you live in this wonderful corner of the county and you have an interest in painting, you cannot avoid the land and sea as subject matter. Historically Eric Ravilious, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant (at Charleston) plus Jean Cooke and Harold Mockford, amongst many others, have responded to and extracted and invented something from this chalky Downland that engages with the English Channel, or should I say La Manche, as Segal is a French citizen who will therefore not take this landscape for granted.

Meeting in an artist’s studio is always a special pleasure, and, with an interview a handy precursor to a formal exhibition presentation. Many of the paintings for A Sense of Place had been unwrapped and temporarily displayed in the library, mostly perched on shelves in front of the art books and French novels. The paintings were simply but effectively framed in white moulding which more than adequately served the purpose of completing the works for hanging in future homes. From seeing some of these paintings on the gallery website beforehand there was a degree of familiarity with the imagery, but the digital image can never substitute for the real thing. Colours and surface qualities have to be considered in the flesh – and a composition such as ‘Path in the South Downs’ came across as far more varied in painterly and scratchy, drawn textures and subtle tonalities than on the computer screen. At just 26X34 cm it is quite small, but the composition and paint handling evoked sensations of both the physicality of the terrain and the implied movement of the walking observer who will perceive the changing scenery as a time-based phenomenon.

I was intrigued by the art history books, but was curious as to how Segal had found herself in East Sussex and, as a painter myself, in her daily working practice.

Scarlett Segal – ‘Before the Storm’

GH: You originate from Paris and have lived and studied in London, so how have you found yourself in rural Sussex?

SS: I needed a change of scene literally and a reset button. I am a big city person at heart but the lockdown took the advantages of city living away.  The culture had gone overnight and so did the possibility of socialising with friends.  I have always liked to replenish in the countryside.  My family had a country house in Normandy, which we always went to at weekends and on holidays.  I also lived and raised my family in Surrey for many years.  It did not feel rural enough and therefore I took the leap.  Sussex is gorgeous with its hills and the sea nearby.  It is a stones throw away from London.  And it has its perks.  I have also discovered the Towner and the glorious Charleston Trust.  What is there not to like? I once wrote in a journal years ago that I needed to be in isolation in the calm and quiet to build a brand new body of work.  And I did just that here. I am very adaptable and flexible.  If money were no object I would live between London and here, and between England and France.  I could certainly do with more sun and blue sky!

GH: What is your way of working? Do you have a routine?

SS: I am very self disciplined and a hard worker which does not prevent me from having fun and procrastinating somehow. I justify it as my thinking mode. I work most days and even on walks I look and sketch and think. I would read on a train journey. For me art is a way of life and thanks to it I learn valuable skills such as problem solving and perseverance.  There are skilled artists. Talented ones even, but in order to make it, it is sheer hard work and resilience. I am fortunate that I can now devote my time entirely to a passion that originated in childhood. And even though I came to it later on in life I can now put all my energy and life experience into it. So yes, I draw most days and paint relentlessly.  No routine as such but I make sure I go to my studio every day. To paint, to read, to tidy up. To prime surfaces which I love experimenting with. Boards are my favourite at the moment. I love being there. I love the smell of the various media. I feel time stands still except when there are important deadlines. I find solace and the more you do the easier it gets. I paint in both acrylics and oil and want to experiment with mixed media. But for landscapes I definitely prefer oil paint. I use very high quality pigments because it makes life easier and the process is so much more enjoyable. I use a limited palette and mix all of my colours.

GH: There must be ‘off days’?

SS: Of course – some days are just not meant to be. There are also the happy accidents and the times when everything falls into place. It is an ongoing learning curve. I feel so fortunate I can do what I love and express my emotions. If viewers are moved or reminisce or travel through my work then I am a very happy artist indeed. I never quite know what the next work will be and this makes the process exciting. The dream I have is to make a difference and collaborate with community projects. 

GH: Art History is clearly important to you, as you have studied at Christies, Sotheby’s, The Courtauld Institute, and continue to do so at Charleston. Does this academic background affect and inform your painting practice in any specific kind of way? Does it help, or is it an academic hindrance?

SS: It certainly does help. I think the discourse is changing drastically right now and it is very exciting for female artists who have been so cast aside for centuries. Somehow I don’t think it had ever been questioned before Linda Nochlin’s essay (“Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”) in the 1970s. Since then, we have had women such as Judy Chicago, Siri Husvedt and Katy Hessel, among others, to thank for that. When you think that widely read and influential art historians such as Vasari and Gombrich could only name one woman each! So, yes, history of art informs my work through research but like all artists I am a magpie and will study real masterpieces in order to use what appeals to me. I love visiting galleries and I am sure I must be irritating to other museum goers as I love standing close to understand how a certain effect was achieved. I must confess that it can take the fun away which is why I tend to go to exhibitions often more than once if I can and take friends too. You cannot learn from books reproductions or art critics. And to see the brushstrokes of Cézanne or Morisot in the flesh brings tears to my eyes.

I am very aware of all the arts movements and their historical context. I wish I knew more about cross disciplines such as literature and music. I remember a splendid exhibition at the V&A a few years back called Opera: Passion, Power and Politics. The curator (Kate Bailey) had done just that putting all the facts together per city, where there was an opera house, on a blackboard. I remember thinking this is the way we should be taught before being taught the formal way of analysing works of art and the themes to look out for. It feels forced to some extent but you need a toolkit.

Cézanne, the Father of Modernism, is one of my favourite painters and we are so fortunate that his works are so easy to access. I also love Corot and Turner. My work is inspired mostly from Modernism, including Abstraction, and as such it is inevitable to have a very good understanding of what happened before, since Modernist artists pushed boundaries and endeavoured to break all the rules.

Scarlett Segal – ‘Autumn Reflection’

GH: Your exhibition at Green and Stone, A Sense of Place, has essentially a landscape theme. Are you moving on from your geometric/abstract work or do the two practices work alongside each other?

SS: Yes, it is actually all landscapes but not only – hence the title of the show. The works are painted in a varied style or language. Some move totally towards abstraction even. It comes back to what I was just saying. It is difficult to justify that you can do both and want to do both. Galleries will accept that you paint portraits and still lifes, or still lifes and landscapes, but not representational and abstract. I find this infuriating and short sighted. I think the explanation lies both in the difficulty of branding different looking aesthetics, or what could commonly be referred to as a “Jack of all trades”, and the classification and hierarchy of genres imposed by the Academies.

In the history of art timeline, artists evolved towards semi abstraction and abstraction from the 20th century until now. Very few reverted back to representational art. Vanessa Bell did try it all. The need to label and compartmentalise everything is a sign of our times whereby instant gratification and ready-made explanations are sought. But this is exactly what artists have always done (think of the Bauhaus or the Bloomsbury Group) and must carry on to do. Anyhow, conventions and limitations have always been imposed. Think of Gainsborough who painted portraits for a living but only ever wanted to be a landscape artist. Nothing new. Artists have free rein to express the way they see the world and seek to make a difference.

So to answer your question, yes I would like to find a way of making the two practices co-exist and look coherent. In my eyes they already are and show an evolution from Space to Place. This is just commercially difficult to explain.

Scarlett Segal – ‘Gone is the Long Man, Wilmington’

GH: There is quite some emphasis on water in many of the paintings in this new exhibition, with the Cuckmere river, streams and the coast nearby this is inevitable for a landscape painter living in this part of the county. Plus there’s snow in ‘Gone is the Long Man, Wilmington’ and ‘White Stillness’, plus mist (‘Misty River’) and the loaded, soaking, atmosphere in ‘Before the Storm’. Should the viewer read anything into this?

SS: I find water soothing. Its noise. Its rhythm. Its fluidity. And I love swimming. I am drawn to reflections, as I also like how it changes our perception of what we see above. It is like being confronted by two realities, one more transient that the other. I have also always been fascinated by the myth of Narcissus. I see water as a mirror of our soul.

GH: I am also intrigued by several of your titles, particularly ‘Let Go’, ‘Looking Up’ and ‘Serene Promise’. It suggests to me that a sense of place is more than a view or visual record. I feel a sense of time, particularly on a personal level, where one might acknowledge that sense of a lifetime journey. Am I reading too much into the titles?

SS: No you are not at all. It is true. Some works are drawn to certain memories and are very personal. Landscapes can be self-portraits too. I actually think you can dig deeper and express more this way without being obvious and imposing a reading of the work. I am a strong believer that once you finish a painting you need to let go and accept that some people will perceive other emotions than the ones you intended. Hearing the explanations given to some Old Masters’ and contemporary works sometimes make me laugh. I think of course that was not the intention, but who knows? If it gets people thinking and talking this is a great thing! I like the openness in a way. I dislike pedantic talks about art though. Art should not be elitist. It should be accessible to all. But knowledge is power in any field.

Scarlett Segal – ‘Serene Promise’

GH: A serious and a tongue in cheek question: Why not just photograph these landscape locations? Isn’t the genre of landscape painting quite outmoded nowadays?

SS: Well if you want to look at and frame a photograph then you can. It is a work of art in its own right. Photography has in fact forced painters to paint differently. Would the Impressionists have existed without its invention? Most unlikely, or not to that extent.

GH: Well photography probably created Realism (in France), from which Impressionism developed that sense of the now and the everyday. Monet is the classic example. I don’t equate your paintings with the camera at all.

SS: Even though I use my own photographs, I do not paint directly from them. I would find this boring and limiting. There would be no creativity. One could use grids or paint by numbers! Joking apart, I always work on compositions through sketches, and rebuilding photographic worlds in Photoshop or Procreate. And I really think my heavily constructed abstract geometric works made me work this way. Nothing is random or completely organic. I see myself as an architect of worlds. By contrast, the landscapes start with a mapped composition but evolve organically with shapes of colours. So no, a photograph could never achieve this in my view.

GH: As I said earlier, your work suggests a sense of place and the experience of perception in that place – far more than a view or visual record.

SS: I personally see shapes and colours dancing in front of my eyes all the time. I thought everyone did. It certainly makes drawing easier. It might be a form of synaesthesia or something else; I am not sure what the correct term would be. This perception informs the way I paint. Painting for me is recapturing the experience of seeing and feeling.

But I should add that I do not think that landscape painting is quite ‘outmoded’. Quite the contrary, in fact. I think landscape painting has a very long tradition for sure but that its ubiquity has been sidelined by more spectacular art forms such as Conceptual art, Installation art, Performance and Land Art, even. But I have noticed a resurgence of interest for landscape painting as demonstrated by the latest publications on contemporary landscape artworks. I find the works by David Hockney, Peter Doig (exquisite show at The Courtauld by the way), Anselm Kiefer and Luc Tuymans, to name but a few, very current.  They have all reinvented the idea of landscape according to their artistic needs and the times they live in.

GH: That’s an extremely positive point to end on, to acknowledge that landscape related art is continuously reinvented. Thank you, Scarlett.

Scarlett Segal – ‘Stormy Stormy Weather’


If you miss the show you can contact Scarlett Segal directly via her website –

Exhibition at Green and Stone –

GIORGIO MORANDI: Masterpieces from the Magnani-Rocca Foundation

At Estorick Collection of modern Italian art

6 January – and now extended to 28 May 2023

“Remember, remember, this is now, and now, and now.”

Giorgio Morandi – ‘Still Life’ 1936

Visually primed from visiting the Cézanne exhibition at Tate Modern the day before, it was surely appropriate to move on to the Giorgio Morandi show the next day. Through his work Cézanne may have been saying, stop and look at the world (often the landscape) and construct it directly through the dynamic act of perception – but take your time. Calmly experience what is in front of you, he may have added, with the incomplete narrative of the here and now. Morandi appears to take this lesson from the master of modern art and subsequently devotes his painting mission to this, his unrelenting lifetime project.

The literature on Morandi confirms that he was interested in Cézanne’s work (especially in Morandi’s own still lifes of 1914-15 onwards) and the viewer will sense it in many of the examples from future works in this marvelous show at the Estorick Collection in London. The exhibition has travelled from the Magnani-Rocca Foundation in Mamiagno in northern Italy – not so far from Bologna where Morandi lived and worked for the whole of his career. Normally for the UK based artist or keen gallery visitor, to see and contemplate Morandi’s works the opportunities are severely limited as there appear to be less than a dozen paintings in public collections. Outside of London, visits would be required to such places as Norwich, Birmingham and Edinburgh but one would only see individual works. The best and most obvious option is a weekend trip to Bologna to visit the collection in the Museo Morandi, part of the Museum of Modern Art of Bologna (better known as MAMbo). Fortunately, as the Magnani-Rocca Foundation undergoes some refurbishment, the Estorick has the honour of displaying seventeen paintings and 33 works on paper, including etchings, for four months.

Oddly, as I felt compelled to write about this exhibition I also had a contrary sense of there being no necessity to do so. What more can one say about such a relatively straightforward range of imagery. Morandi’s works, especially the oil paintings, are so matter-of-fact painterly that they are surely just what they are, no more, no less – or as Dan Flavin the American minimalist sculptor once said: “It is what it is and it ain’t nothing else”. So I hesitated for a couple of weeks or so, during which time I happened to read Italo Calvino’s ‘Six Memos for the Next Millennium’ and came across some ideas that could be applied to considering Morandi’s paintings – most especially the still life compositions. For example, Calvino writes about the transition from word to image and vice versa as a crucial aspect of writing for novelists. So I wondered if Morandi, perhaps instinctively, takes the viewer from image to image, but in the same work. That is, as an inseparable combination, conjoining the material object (the oil painting) and the mental image (the viewer’s) as one phenomenon. Referring to St. Ignatius, Calvino also wrote of the “…visual contemplation or meditation”. This viewing approach is crucial for any work of art, but especially so for Morandi. This point also reminded me of Giotto’s frescos in Assisi and most especially to the palette that Giotto had access to. This link, however pertinent or not, was realised as I flicked through an old copy of ‘Forma e Colore – Giotto Gli Affreschi di Assisi’ by Roberto Salvini (1965) that a friend had recently passed on to me. There’s probably more detail in Giotto’s work, and a clear religious narrative of course, but the overall sense of the essence of form and a restricted palette renders an insistence on contemplation, both spiritual and commonplace for both of these pre-eminent Italian painters.

Giorgio Morandi – ‘Still Life’ 1953

In a more modern sense (post Freud and Jung), Calvino brings psychological experience and time into the creative equation: to the individual or collective unconscious, for example, or to time regained through sensations that rise up from lost time, or to epiphanies or concentrations of being in a single point or moment.” Such experiences may be rare unless programmatically sought through meditation and so do we learn from Morandi that time, by extension, returns the viewer to a concrete notion and an awareness of now? His still-life paintings appear to acknowledge the past as present, even beyond his own lifetime. Or, to put it another way, Morandi realises the metaphysical nature of perception of the world without recourse to limiting or tying himself to the illustrational or imaginary aspects of Metaphysical artists such as Carlo Carrà and Giorgio di Chirico, both of whom he knew personally in his formative years. Morandi’s imagery is utterly solid and direct: he sees the wood for the trees.

Morandi must have dedicated countless hours of actively looking whilst painting, just as Cézanne did. We might wonder what Morandi may have been thinking about his restricted subject matter that was essentially local to Bologna and to his studio tabletop for so many years. Perhaps many days were necessary to make one small work, one more little addition to all of the pictures in the world. But the apparent narrative of the imagery, as there is always a context, returns to the moment when, typically, a group of objects that have been arranged to be studied, for no other reason than to make a painting that replaces the original objects, the lighting conditions and the local colours. This may suggest a very limited artistic programme, bordering on the absurd, for recording the instant in paint at least, requires great time and effort even to conjure something so simple. Would a photograph have sufficed? The problem with a photograph might be that it is, literally, an instant, albeit a split second, but a painting comes loaded with at least a notion of commitment to a long-winded task that can appear ridiculous considering the time and effort required to reach some kind of conclusion – again and again.

Giorgio Morandi – ‘Flowers’ 1942

Painting can be unashamedly romantic too. Does Morandi seduce the viewer? The artist is doing no more than selecting, composing, looking, recording and painting his direct experience with an implied narrative of light, colour and form overtly realised in a particular arrangement of an apparently small collection of very ordinary objects – though sometimes a small bunch of picked flowers will appear. But Morandi shows us that the human gaze can rest upon something as simple, as pedestrian and as everyday, as a few mundane bottles, jars, and vases – and utterly captivate the viewer. Anticipating Object Orientated Ontology and contemporary metaphysics, Morandi’s paintings might be convincing the viewer that these objects and/or the paintings will exist eternally whether we are there to witness them or not – despite the contradiction that the paintings, his collection of domestic items and the occasional building from his window views were designed, made and contextualised by humans in the first place. The sound of the falling tree may not need a witness after all.

Returning to Calvino, pictures are starting points (imagined or real) and he makes reference to the playwright and author Samuel Beckett “…reducing visual and linguistic elements to the bare minimum…” This reductive tendency could equally be applied to Morandi’s imagery. His still life paintings in particular need no extra content than that which has already been selected, arranged and recorded. The viewer can look and wait knowing that Godot will probably never arrive after all. But we are here with the painting, nonetheless.

Giorgio Morandi – ‘Courtyard on Via Fondazza’ 1954.

Just before, eventually, writing this essay I had the speculative thought that Morandi’s work might be of interest, his paintings in particular, because there is no overt or political narrative? Due to the omnipresence of the media and rolling news streams, notwithstanding the politically correct themes and causes that arts organisations have to embrace to secure funding, the curator and the viewer might sometimes lose sight of the aesthetics of the image? This is not to suggest that issues and contemporary subject matters are unimportant or unnecessary, but I sometimes fear that the immediacy of the painted image, including its inherent materiality, the appropriate choice of physical application and visual content becomes secondary to a particular narrative that ticks a societal, and therefore political, box.

The viewer might find some unexpected joy in visiting this exhibition. Luigi Magnani, the collector of these works said himself that Morandi’s “…works have no content”. So by not fulfilling a manifesto with which to frame the work Morandi does not appear to take sides or to insist upon a message. The work has to speak for itself, or as Stefano Roffi writes in the catalogue: “Just like angels, the works Magnani chose had to possess a soul, be characterized by essentiality, purity, formal perfection, a lack of agitation, of vain philosophizing; to convey silence rather than clamour, peace rather than anguish.”

Giorgio Morandi – ‘Still Life’ 1960

In writing this purposely ruminatory essay, and in not being bound by a publisher’s deadline, I was also able to ponder and let the work sink in further, albeit from my own photographs and others kindly provided by Alison Wright (PR) on behalf of the Estorick. As a painter myself I have a conscious bias of concentrating on the paintings in the exhibition, but I chose not to discuss any particular work on display in this instance. But as I check my scribbled notes from the day I visited, I am reminded that I returned to view three works on paper before I headed for the bookshop to buy the catalogue. Each titled, ‘Still Life’ (from 1963, 1959 and 1963) they verge on the edge of abstraction with a minimalist aesthetic. The viewer could indeed start from the final works and study Morandi’s visual journey in reverse chronological order to find that he was a proto-minimalist after all. As, perhaps, Cézanne was too.


Review title from: “Remember, remember, this is now, and now, and now. Live it, feel it, cling to it. I want to be acutely aware of all I’ve taken for granted.” (Sylvia Plath, letter to Eddie Cohen, 1950)


The Estorick Collection –

The Magnani Rocca Foundation –

Bologna Museum of Modern Art –

All artwork images images – Fondazione Magnani-Rocca © DACS 2022

JULIAN LE BAS: Studio Visit for Spirit of Place

Star Brewery Gallery, Lewes

4 to 12 March 2023

“Plein air painting on a large scale has heightened my sense of involvement. My use of colour is instrumental in expressing my feelings about form and light within the landscape. Inspired by some new subjects, a shift in my work has transpired.”

(Julian Le Bas, 2023)

In preparation for Julian Le Bas’ much-anticipated exhibition at the Star Brewery Gallery in Lewes, I was asked by Sarah O’Kane (Sarah O’Kane Contemporary Fine Art) to write about Julian’s work, as she knew I was a follower of his career and had written about his show at Berwick Church for Lewes Artwave 2022. I made a visit to his studio last November to talk to him and to see completed canvases and a few works in progress for the exhibition in Lewes. Some of this new text has been included in the catalogue for the show and a suitably edited version is published on her gallery website.

With Sarah’s approval, here is the full version of the exhibition:

A Studio Visit

Julian Le Bas is a painter, perhaps the contemporary painter, of the Sussex section of the South Downs. His work bares witness to this characteristically splendid and captivating geography of chalk hills, meadows, woodland and the adjoining coastline. The Sussex landscape possesses a subtle drama that does not provide the instant awe of, say, the Peaks of the Yorkshire Dales or views from Snowdonia, but the chalk cliffs that stretch eastwards from Brighton and Seaford towards Eastbourne are unique enough to provide a painted image with the visual impact of location not always provided so explicitly in other locales.

If you know Sussex reasonably well you will be aware of Chanctonbury Ring, Black Cap, Mount Caburn and Firle Beacon, and will recollect on how these geographical landmarks change in mood and appearance depending on the weather, the season and the time of day. On a more micro-level you will know that as you travel around, away from the A roads, you will expect to see characteristic churches in the villages, such as at Berwick and Southease. You will also know that there are marvellous trees in the various churchyards, or alongside the fields that produce crops or are home to the cows and the pigs. Look closer still with this consummate painter and, depending on the time of year, see the bluebells, snowdrops or a defiantly red rosehip amongst the winter brambles. In other words, there is no hierarchy of place or incumbent: be it animal, mineral or vegetable.

I wonder, also, if the paintings are a form of storytelling. Many of these visual tales will find their way to new homes, perhaps above the hearth, in a bedroom, a study or in a corridor leading to the kitchen. The point being that the paintings will find, literally, a home to prompt a recollection of a known and familiar landmark, embedding an internal conversation not necessarily or exclusively about rural Sussex, but also beyond to landscape revealed through the act of painting. Prompted by various locations, painting as gesture, as abstraction and as colour obsession – in an era of the digital and the virtual that can loose the immediacy of a physical and mental interaction with light, form and space.

These many places visited by Le Bas, often with the imperative ritual of walking to them, are invested with powerful colour effects and combinations of brush marks too. The viewer might be convinced that they are as improvised as much as they are consciously planned and controlled. Le Bas balances these two complimentary aspects of the act of painting, which is so important for what I interpret as reflection in action, as a matter of course. He produces visually potent and efficacious oil paintings that retain this sense of having a heart beat, of being visually fixed but alive somehow and which have to be authentically realised in situ. These studies can only be so faithfully achieved, by necessity, out of the studio environment.

For the uncompromising en plein air painter the idea of the studio is, potentially, a notional one, as four walls do not restrict the site of production. So when I visited Le Bas’ studio in the back garden of his home in Seaford I was not sure what to expect. At 12 X 10 feet the space was significantly more than big enough for the lawn mower, gardening tools and cracked flowerpots that one might normally expect to come across, although thankfully there were no such items stored here. But this was more than simply a storage area for dozens of canvases of various sizes. The wicker chair and cushion, just the one, was evidence enough to reveal a space for the artist to sit and ponder on his latest day’s work. Space too, to rethink and assess the necessity to return to a particular location to complete a canvas not yet considered fully realised, hence the provision of three viewing walls. I asked Le Bas if he sometimes continued the paintings here, away from the subject. A simple ‘no’ was the answer. I need not have asked, for his many collectors and supporters will know that he is a purist of sorts; passionate and uncompromising in the most positive sense and completely at one with the traditions associated with the landscape/seascape painter who will go out in all weathers to attain their goals – and to constantly surprise themselves at the inexhaustible range of subject matters and moods that wait to be seen and experienced.

Such an approach is Le Bas’ unspoken manifesto. He just gets on with the task in hand, albeit as a healthy compulsion loaded with drive and sheer enthusiasm. The work is so memorable that it speaks not only for itself, but also for the inexhaustible landscape related encounters that somehow await the viewer’s comprehension, though intriguingly via the work itself. The paintings may well function as signposts, imploring the viewer to get back out there and look again, but they are more than mere signage of course. The canvases, as carriers of physical imagery, embody lived experience and a sense of time, where to pin down the visual realisation of a particular place, set in some notion of the abstractness of duration, is reliant on the paint medium and its expert treatment. Time and light is fluid too, which poses a contradiction to the solidity of form, of the interaction of colours and the myriad relationships that constitute fixed composition. Le Bas’ works bring the observer and observed together so that the works also realise the shared experience of seeing, through the manifestation of consciously formulated structures constructed by this communal gift of sight.

There is an inherent democracy at work, wherein the drawing content, the range of mark making, the colour range are all carefully balanced so that if anything dominates it is the difficult to define ‘spirit of place’. Le Bas can apply such an abstract notion in any aspect of the landscape environment, whether nearby or far away. Interestingly, the historical picturesque can be discounted in his approach to composition and content, as there is an honest acceptance of what is simply there. What lesson we might learn from Le Bas’ life-long project is that every day and every scene presents a seemingly revived landscape offering a new vista, and a fresh encounter, with the apparently commonplace. These landscapes are tirelessly offered up, re-imagined, for continuous engagement and revelation, so long as the viewer will give over their own time to enjoy and contemplate the imagery.

Le Bas’ paintings celebrate, exalt and revere the various locations and unequivocally express awe at the natural world. The role of shamanic consort, expressing the elevating metaphysical aspect of the everyday through the ordinarily magical presence of the landscape is his task. The work continuously appears to convey this sense of the uniqueness of the quotidian and the local which changes in appearance, not only due to time of day or season, but is subject to the artist’s own crucial engagement at any particular time. This notion of self, however, is not selfish as these paintings help the viewer to see afresh and to experience beyond subject matter.

There is an extrovert inclination in these paintings and drawings, revealing an emotional involvement steered by rigorous and disciplined draughtsmanship. This engagement with the physical qualities of medium, from compressed charcoal or chalk pastel in his drawings to oil paint on canvas, Le Bas’ works are somehow a summation of perceived experience that lives beyond his initial encounters in the landscape. High key colour combines with earthy local colour. His engagement with the glorious power of colour reveals both a romantic and a matter-of-fact connection with the landscape experience.

There is, I suspect, some deliberate exaggeration in Le Bas’ practice. A visual proclamation in his use of colour and insistent mark making, which is intended to bring the viewer into the work, and to make a lasting impression, reminds us that the landscape is still a worthy and increasingly important genre. Not solely for the sake of decorating our walls, or as a reminder of those places we love to visit, but as ecological imperative. For, as our burgeoning awareness of environmental issues develops for all the wrong reasons, Le Bas’ representations of the landscape may be reminding us that Arcadia is on our doorstep and, by implication, we need to stop trashing it a.s.a.p.

Geoff Hands


Sarah O’Kane Contemporary Fine Art

Edited version of the essay –

Julian Le Bas website –

Star Brewery Gallery –

Visit Lewes –

BILL LYNCH: The Exile of Dionysus

At Brighton CCA, University of Brighton

From 6 August to 15 October 2022

This was an exhibition I had to visit twice and I may have been once more by the time this rumination has been written.

The Brighton Centre for Contemporary Arts is a relatively new gallery hub in Grand Parade and Dorset Place, which is situated at the University of Brighton. As such a large community of artists live in the city, many graduating from the university itself, the institution might now be expected to lead the way in highlighting contemporary themes and developments in the broad area of fine art. The Grand Parade gallery was reopened (and rejuvenated) in 2019 after several decades as a general gallery space that often showcased student work from the visual arts and design courses at the university. The last exhibition I saw there, at the beginning of this year, was Lloyd Corporation, a thought provoking (‘research lead project’) on material accumulation and social space, with the inevitable installation and slide show presentation. The show certainly made me review the garbage still stored in my attic at home, but as a painter who writes the occasional review, I have felt some disappointment in the possibility of new initiatives and expositions from the visually creative communities in Brighton to exclude, or at least downplay, painting. We appear to live in an age where issue-lead forms of  ‘information’ and ‘message’ are a key requirement for supportive funding too. Video, photography, installation and text-based works, in particular, have been on trend for some time now. So a painting show, by an artist new to me, provided a good excuse to get out of the studio. A five star review of The Exile of Dionysus, the first major show of paintings by Bill Lynch in the UK, from Laura Cumming in The Observer was also a powerful prompt.

Bill Lynch: The Exile of Dionysus

“In these pictures everything is alive and communicating wildly. Lynch’s connection to subjects and landscapes, both in life and painting, was empathic: a flower or tree branch sings just as strongly as any bird; … and he listened acutely, transcribing their conversation so you could hear it too. Their secrets opened up to him. Everywhere is meaning. Surrounded by his work, you can’t help but be struck by this vibrant language; his sincere belief, his love.” (Michael Wilde, White Columns, September 2014)

Déjà vu: to my unexpected surprise, as I first wandered (and wondered) through this immediately memorable exhibition of Bill Lynch’s paintings, I was reminded of the viewer experience from the Brett Goodroad: Toe Buoy exhibition held at the Phoenix Art Space here in Brighton in 2018. In both instances a relatively unknown North American artist, for a UK audience at least, brought a fresh voice and personalised vision to picturing, and actively celebrating, the world around him. Both artists’ respective projects augmented and amplified ‘reality’ with a sense of reverie and submersive attachment to the subject matter. Goodroad often explores a drama of figures in landscape settings, whilst Lynch more often highlights aspects (and objects) of his environment, for example, depicting flowers, trees and birds from nature or bowls, fruits and vases from more personal spaces. He was deeply interested in Chinese ink drawing too, hence a clearly affected visual language and subject matter in many instances of his work.

Unfortunately, Bill Lynch is now deceased (he died in 2013 from throat cancer aged just 53) and had mental health issues (schizophrenia) and these facts may well add to the inherent pathos of the works. The viewer cannot help but be affected by some aspects of autobiography (van Gogh being the classic case) when seeing an artist’s work, even in reproduction. But whilst a certain amount of knowledge and context of an artist’s work is necessary to understand and find a way into their artwork there is an argument for going straight to the work itself – inevitably accompanied by one’s own contexts and prejudices. This purist attitude is not one to always prevail, and we might seek to eschew habit, but it’s a conscious way in – most especially to such directly affective and demanding imagery. Theses are paintings that are impossible to ignore.

No doubt, every viewer will be struck by Lynch’s use of salvaged plywood as support. It’s a common material to use in place of canvas, solid wood or aluminium panels. It’s far from usual to use this base as found material and form (hence a variety of sizes and an acceptance of imperfections such as bashed corners and cut intrusions) without a backing frame and carefully primed and prepared grounds. The use of paint and the visual language is raw too. But Lynch did use oil paint and the subject matter fits into the tradition of landscape painting, notably influenced by an eastern (Chinese) tradition that celebrated nature.

Installation view in South Gallery

There may be an unsophisticated irony at work here too, although I doubt it. Lynch was an art student in New York in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, although he lived “on the fringes” and did not succeed on the gallery scene. Irony, as a post-modernist conceit, came a little later, and Lynch’s work appears beyond parody or intellectual conceptualism. One reading might be that Lynch was (metaphorically speaking) sticking two fingers up to the art world establishment. The works certainly have a feeling of individual strength and reveal a desire to stay tuned to painting as a way of mediating with the world, and oneself, irrespective of fashion or gallery pressures. Perhaps painting was a balm for his personal troubles, a way of coping with and of celebrating being alive.

His imagery, whether influenced by Chinese painting or not, has that sense of direct engagement with the subject. This of course includes the imagination, based on a story-telling kind of attitude, alongside concrete experiences and observations. The works are unashamedly ‘rough and ready’. They look like first drafts, but go beyond sketches or rough plans. The physicality of application of the paint matches the honest acceptance of the medium too, as if to suggest the illusion of visual reality as being quite matter of fact – a form of philosophical irony steeped in Buddhist traditions.

Installation view North Gallery

The Exile of Dionysus is divided into two main spaces, plus a reading room at one end. The North and South Galleries house the works. The former has some suffused natural light, which was strangely welcome despite the noise of the traffic from outside. But from the main entrance into the building the visitor enters a high ceilinged space containing ten of the fifteen works selected. Here the internal walls are painted green, which oddly reminded me of the National Portrait Gallery in London. We are so used to white walls now that colour can come as a shock. But the works bedded in well and the green was congenial and not dominating. Intended or not, this gave a sense of being in a rather special, natural, kind of space. I mention this, as any gallery environment imposes an unavoidable immediate context for the work. White would have been okay, but the use of a colour brought the paintings together, whilst in the adjoining setting the five other works felt separate. As a space with the additional construction of surrounding walls the traffic sounds were heavily muffled. A chair or bench to sit and ponder Lynch’s painting would have been most welcome too, not only to discourage the common gallery walk through, but also to facilitate an even more contemplative experience. But, no matter, for the works will make the visitor stop and stare.

Once the shock of the materiality of the works is accepted, the imagery can come to the fore. In the South Gallery I suspect that the almost, but not quite, light-hearted imagery of a human skeleton in ‘Untitled (Skeleton)’ will stand out first. A white shroud, suggestively the beginning of applying a primer to the board, slightly foregrounds the serious looking skeleton that is accompanied by a flowering plant between its legs, with part of a tree trunk and branches behind. Not that perspective as a necessary element bothers Lynch too much.

Bill Lynch – ‘No title (Skeleton)’ oil on wood

To the left of this relatively large work is, ‘Emperor’s Erection’, which depicts a vase with two ghostly wings (linear depictions of four legged animals in fact) that levitates the form against the board that has a pre-painted layer of varnish from a previous life as a piece of furniture. The still-life reference of the found board, like a piece of Cubist assemblage, accommodates the rather beautifully painted vessel decorated with plant forms. Lynch tends to draw with the paint, especially when getting a little more detailed and specific.

Bill Lynch – ‘Emperor’s Erection’ (1988) oil on wood

Nearby hangs, ‘No title (Vase with Blue and Purple Flowers)’ which, despite almost hiding in a corner, demanded my attention as much as any other of the works in the show. A Rothko-esque cloud of colour fills the top right-hand corner of the composition before a rather scraggly looking vase of flowers demands more viewer focus and attention. These may have been cut-plants in need of water as the stems are beginning to droop. I imagine they may have once existed in Lynch’s studio, or wherever he painted. Dotted across the board are knots in the plywood layers that suggest planets to the imagination, though they are more ‘real’ than any painted representation of anything. Around the base of the glass vase is a pair of wing-like forms. Or perhaps they are clouds of unknowing. On one level, this scruffy little painting might be considered as superficially trite, but holds a galaxy of potential meaning and viewer interpretation.

Bill Lynch – ‘No title (Vase with Blue and Purple Flowers)’ oil on wood

Before entering the North Gallery the visitor will certainly be stopped in their tracks by, ‘Four Corners Sunset’ from 1994, one of only three works dated in the exhibition, and the largest. I wonder if Lynch was so pleased to obtain such an expanse of plywood that it invited a glorious sunset, worthy of the attention of a 19th century Hudson Valley painter, inspired by the implied sublimity of a J.M.W. Turner sunset. The red circular forms throbbing in a suggestively psychedelic pulse line across the horizon, like a row of coloured spotlights from a rock concert, contrasts with the dark cratered lunar-like landforms below and to either side of the setting sun. The world can be a strange place indeed, though we need painters to remind us sometimes.

Bill Lynch – ‘Four Corners Sunset’ (1994) oil on wood

Lynch’s work, however, seems to be appropriately and healthily placed in the often commonplace. In the North Gallery one of the outstanding works is one of the simplest compositions in the show. ‘No title (Bird on Branch)’ depicts a bird perched on a tree branch, with leaves above and below on a single stem. The leaves are gently modulated with tone and shift in sequence from being closed in the top left, to open (in the middle), to dropping apart in the bottom right hand corner. One might sense the passing of time in this small painting, as the bird’s weight holds the branch in a diagonal position within the composition. I assume that the bird was copied from a reproduction, not that it matters. It’s an image that far surpasses its simplistic representation and it’s no big deal that it’s not painted on canvas. It is just about the end of the show at this point, although the green glade behind will pull you back in for another look.

Bill Lynch – ‘No title Bird on Branch)’ oil on wood

Laura Cumming may have been purposely, and journalistically, provoking the reader for attention in suggesting that Lynch was “…the greatest American artist you’ve never heard of”, but she was correct when she stated that, “Bill Lynch’s paintings on salvaged wood transfix with their dual power of primitive joy and high sophistication.”

This really is a show to visit and the arts community of Brighton dare not miss the spectacle. Painting can go far beyond the provision of mere information.

Text: © Geoff Hands, 2022

All images – © Rob Harris/ Brighton CCA (excluding the first image)

Artworks have been borrowed from The Approach, The Bill Lynch Family Estate and several private collectors.

Note: In the Brighton CCA reading room a wall-based text has been written by the poet Vanessa Onwuemezi in response to Bill Lynch’s paintings. Hear her read it here: ‘Lines of Chance’


Bill Lynch at Brighton CCA –

Laura Cumming review in The Guardian –

Bill Lynch at The Approach –

Roberta Smith in The New York Times –

White Columns exhibition –

Brett Goodroad at Phoenix Art Space –