an exhibition of Sally Cole’s work at Thompson Spare Art, Tunbridge Wells, and Stables Studios, Barley Lane.
30th June – 1st July.

‘a mass of beauty harvested from grand materials’*

Review by Simone Witney

The experience of viewing Sally Cole’s latest show is one of the paintings coming ‘continually upon the spirit with a fine suddenness’.* Its source is her engagement with her subject matter, which is fearless and intense. She will follow wild ponies along their trackless paths; she will sit beneath hedges; pick up branches or feathers to make marks with, sit on a cliff top working while the weather engulfs the light beyond the point when it’s too dark to see, or carry the imagery she absorbs back to the house, or even to her studio in Hastings where she continues working.

Good Morning Alice by Sally Cole
PICTURE: John Cole

Each morning on her visits to Pembrokeshire, or New Zealand, she makes a visual note in her concertina sketch books, an instantaneous record of the reciprocity between herself and the landscape. These recorded moments are beautifully abstract fragments. They are part of a process of re-acquaintance; she will spend hours, days, rediscovering a level of meditative connection. Her knowledge of the land is therefore literally diachronic, and philosophically so too, for her work is about its mobility over time, the constant tension between toughness and fracture.

Her monochrome prints with their sheared forms, their svelte blacks and back-lit whites, convey the schisms which underlie the deceptively stable, tufted, chalk-crumbling surface. The schisms are cellular; the land permeable; the sense of time cosmic. In other images, the monumental symbiosis of weather and land shocks as both merge in abstract swathes of colour. Mark making is fluid, unhesitating, born of long consideration. This is especially so in ‘Good Morning Alice’, a large work in which the dawn glows volcanically through the darkness of a storm. The sky is scudded with black, the inky land fissured and cracked, and beneath it is an area of light, a purely imaginative space showing fracture lines like the exposure of leaf veins, the arterial structure of the cliff in all its eon-length frailty.

Keats speaks of his ‘sympathetic imagination’, of seeing a sparrow and feeling himself to be scratching about in the gravel. In ‘Hedgerow’, one finds the essence of hedge: its airy, scratchy, tangled shards of life. Stains of ochres, some feathering towards olive, blackberry, crushed and faded,  bark-brown charcoal, shreds of cloudy turquoise sky: the constituents of the hedge have given up their life blood for her palette.

Keats felt sometimes that he lost himself in acts of sympathetic imagination, but with Sally Cole’s work one feels that her contact with nature so informs her own internal landscape that they have become equal participants in the process. Her mastery of technique and freedom of expression convey to the viewer a personal strength and ever more refined vision. Her practice recalls Keats’ phrase: ’ a mass of beauty harvested from grand materials, by the finest spirits, and put into ethereal existence for the relish of one’s fellows’ (letter to Thomas Keats 27 June 1818, 200 years before this exhibition).

*Keats writes in a letter to Benjamin Bailey ( 22.Nov.1817)

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