Rye Art Gallery until 30th August.
Review by Simone Witney

“I have walked out of the body and into the mountain. I am a manifestation of its total life, as is the starry saxifrage or the white-winged ptarmigan.”

This is a quote from Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain, a celebration of the Cairngorms. It’s a book which Sally Cole takes with her in all her journeying. She shares with Nan the will to address, as all great art must do, that oscillating conflation between inner and outer, a fluid territory we all inhabit with its eternal pull between the natural and the symbolic. The dramatic landscapes to which Sally is drawn are an apt metaphor for the internal world. Their apparent solidity shifts through light and weather, mirroring the mobility of perception and sensation. In the mountains one’s sense of time and distance, the very familiarity of the ground, can be disrupted in an instant and work upon the imagination in ways which release and transform.

Carn Llidi Winter by Sally Cole

The title, Embodied Land, expresses Sally’s sense of deep engagement with the territory both of the huge Piha bay in New Zealand, accessible only through the Waitakere mountains, where she spent a month on a residency through the organisation, ‘Earthskin’, and in Pembrokeshire. She paints courageously from a tiny cottage on the beach exposed to the thunder of the most terrifying surfing waves in the country; or in a shepherd’s hut on a cliff edge battered by gales; or crouched in the back of her car, adapted to be a mobile studio, in a lay-by – as the storm she has been watching for rages around her.

Unlike Nan Shepherd, who is much concerned with the close observation of beasts, flowers and humans upon the mountains, Sally’s landscapes are impervious to small existences. Her focus is on the seismic shifts which form the land through time and on the eternal conflicts played out though weather and light and sound. Working in the rhythm of wind and sea, she has absorbed it until it is as unconscious as breathing, and the tensions between sounds have become imbued in her work. In Splash, the hairline white schism is like the exact point of poise between rise and fall, while even the paintings whose lambent palette is redolent of the particularity of place, Carn Llidi Winter, or Piha Evening, for example, have something percussive about them: a kind of Pre-Cambrian music of the spheres.

I have walked out of the body and into the mountain. I am a manifestation of its total life, as is the starry saxifrage or the white-winged ptarmigan

While a frost can freeze a flowing stream into observable stasis, the very abstraction of Sally’s aesthetic with its pliancy and force, expresses the mobility of a landscape buffeted by the violence of the cosmos. This comes to a peak in Newgate Storm and Piha Sounds, whose sea-born conflagrations thunder from the walls: “air shattering itself upon rock. Cloud-bursts batter the earth and roar down the ravines,” to quote Nan Shepherd again. 

Splash by Sally Cole

Her technique has become consummate. While in earlier works she would make use of a chance effect, now all is driven by intent. There is nothing accidental, nothing unconsidered, nothing rough. The precision of her web-slender marks carries the forces she is entangled by and orchestrates on the canvas.

Her paintings hang in the serene atmosphere of Rye Art Gallery like turbulent deities observed through a fissure in the quotidian as they forge their implacable path.

Rye Art Gallery has public safety practices in place.


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