How bright splashes of foliated lushness gladden the midwinter soul! The adaptive variety that maintains the natural world’s cycles of succession is mirrored in the way our own social, economic and creative systems prize diversity for survival. Morag Eaton and Dave Watson, based in Berwick-upon-Tweed and operating as ‘Foldyard’, gently explore aspects of this in respective exhibits divided between the two galleries at Queen’s Hall, Hexham.
Eaton’s work Another Field: Farming Diversity is downstairs. With prints and accompanying text she has condensed three case studies of farm business diversification from the north, gently ruminating on the shifts and uncertainities of rural livelihoods that these represent. This is a light-touch and respectful treatment of the chosen examples, without venturing into anything particularly deep about them, but perhaps thereby leaving more space for reflection. The stories are all positive, which is not necessarily typical, but at least the choice here makes the overall thrust an uplifting one, without being rose-tinted.
Some depth may be found instead in the parallel diversification of Eaton’s own printmaking practice that took place during this project. The results offer combinations of screenprinting, etching, monotype, stencil and collage effects, with cubist and pop art touches alongside echoes of Ravilious and Bawden’s more bucolic forays. This reminds us of the long legacy that underpins certain ways of farming the land, now re-coloured by a change in world contexts.
Upstairs, Watson’s Gardens and Uncultivated Spaces also examines diversity, this time in expressionistic modes of painting that explore degrees of abstraction and intensity of colour. There is more overtly emotional content here: luminous green landscape scenes are set opposite the large sombre verticals of his All at Sea (2017) abstracts, and a big canvas in the latter series overlays expanses of blues in a mixture of menace and glory, suggesting the turbulence experienced within the waters. A small adjacent ‘sketch’ is a compositional gem: both artists have a strong ‘design’ sensibility.
Although these two artists have a long-established creative collaboration, their separation on to two different floors in this exhibition makes it harder to look for areas of cross-fertilisation. The care and commitment involved in both artists’ decided purposes and studied immersion in their subject-matter nonetheless comes through; and they are evidently deeply devoted to the quality of their materials and techniques. The work in both galleries is aesthetically rewarding, if presented in a rather low-key way, and is accessible without being simple.
Queen’s Hall has chosen themes here of landscape-sensitive life that are apposite to its rural setting, yet the underlying issues are intrinsic and universal. We never needed imaginative responses more than we do now, and the binocular vision offered by these two accomplished artists makes a vital contribution that deserves a wide airing.
13 January 2018 – 3 March 2018.
Dave Pritchard is an independent consultant based in Northumberland.