Richard Makin reviews Allan Grainger’s “Downland Gloaming”
Haiku poems by the artist
Fresh mown black hay
Dusk pales the field’s memory
Of past haycocks dry
Allan Grainger has walked the downland at night and recorded these journeys photographically: seven images of the near-dark, handheld eclipse culled from the past two years. These chromogenic colour prints are unpeopled remnants; the title cards are dimensionless, which is apt, for what is presented lies at the margins of interpretation, faithfully documenting the impossibility of arrival. Each sits in a slate-grey mount and frame, together forming a collective understatement, cornered in a library above genuflecting desklamps. An acknowledged spur is the poetry of Edward Thomas, who died during the Battle of Arras in 1917; the artist’s own haikus accompany each picture.
Now ends the lark’s song
As time melds into nightfall
The track empty now
A monolithic slab of shadow – ‘black hay’ – emerges from Haystacks, making a right-angle of the horizon. It’s pointless to peer into the surface of this nocturnal archive, all scrutiny is swallowed up in the gloom. Correspondences are irresistible: I found myself conjuring the minimalist painter Ad Reinhardt’s matt within matt abstractions. The visceral nature of these images acts directly upon the nervous system – they can be experienced but not fathomed, resist entrapment – all depth dissolves to a surface that petitions apprehension. Topographies emerge, only to withdraw and evaporate in the eye, an abandoned vigilance.
High on Clayton’s nab
A white windmill armless stands
A forlorn fox howls
‘Track empty now’ is yoked with The Tye, confirming the persona behind the lens as surplus to function. And on to Clayton Windmill: overlaid strata of half-life, beyond a fold of light where the ‘fox howls’, its spoor leading the walker’s feet and eye nowhere. Ditchling Dew Pond ‘Silvers the water’, where a pool of fluid pewter is pierced by the terse angle of a tree shank.
The pond dark and still
Autumn moon slowly passing
Silvers the water
Wilmington Hill safeguards rumour of giants. The map has been abandoned, so close to the territory it summons as to be redundant; every path is an indifference, nothing more than a barely perceptible shift of hue drawn to vanishing-point. The prehistoric hill fort of Chanctonbury Ring silhouettes a copse of trees – ‘black beech’ – darkening at the hill crest. Grainger traces untold steps upon these chalk pathways over millennia: ‘land holds memory’ – and memory, via the soles of our feet, adapts the terrain.
With one eye open
The giant sleeps alone tonight
On the gloaming hill
At Wilmington Dew Pond, a circular hollow of concrete overseen by fading light is steadied for influx – there’s ‘Fire over Beacon’, affirms the script. A climate of pathos diffuses each image, of homage and mourning barely disclosed.
Fire over Beacon
The dew pond patient for rain
A badger will drink
Eric Ravilious also wins an inspirational namecheck, yet these prints are set in counterpoint to the modernist’s bleached landscapes. The work of war poet Thomas – who wrote of downland solitude in synthesis with reflections on conflict – feels closer to Grainger’s agon with a nature tacitly denuded since neolithic footfall. Ravilious too was a war creative; both of the photographer’s illuminati fell in successive conflagrations, one upon the earth, the other plummeting from the air into the sea.
Dark copse on the hill
Through black beech trees the wind moans
An owl grips a branch
Downland Gloaming was on show at the Towner Art Gallery Library, Eastbourne until 10th November. Allan’s website is http://www.allangrainger.com/. Richard Makin also writes fiction, some of which can be viewed here.
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