Dimensions: 210 x 210
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Isolation can foster introspection; it can also breed innovation. Both have sustained Norman Ackroyd since the beginning of lockdown in March 2020, when he was in isolation not completely on his own, but in the company of his sketchbooks and (thankfully) his etching press. Norman’s solitude allowed him to mentally revisit his favourite locations around the British archipelago; he also used these introspections to innovate; creating works and re-working old memories to create new, fresh and beautiful etchings unlike any that we’ve seen from the artist before.
Usually each summer Norman embarks on an expedition by boat and land, visiting various locations around the British Isles to sketch with pencil and watercolours the awe-inspiring scenes of sunlight, spray, and stone. We might have worried that this year’s restrictions would mean that there would be no new work coming out of Norman’s studio in 2020. But, as an artist who has been working for decades, Norman fortunately has an impressive collection of sketchbooks containing drawing after drawing of his favourite places, and these sketchbooks have enabled him to create many new etchings for this September’s exhibition. Some of the watercolours from these trips are included in the exhibition, and we can imagine the pleasure that these sketches would have given Norman while confined to his home in London.
A watercolour like Caithness Near Hey has such specificity that it would have allowed Norman to recall each blade of grass on that coastline. The atmospheric green and grey wash of Stac an Armin and Borray is less detailed, but it is precise in its depiction of the bright lashing of rain and wind on that walk.
This show is a recognition of our memory’s ability, with the help of visual aids, to take us back to far-flung places and times. Even when we can’t travel, our minds – and art – can transport us to a boat on a roiling sea, or to the top of a peak on a sunny summer day. This is a celebration of free movement in a time of stagnation; of the outdoors at a time of confinement; and of timeless nature in a moment of fleeting difficulties.
In addition to more recent watercolours and etchings inspired by sketchbooks, there is a boxed set from 1973 available in this show. Landscapes and Figures, created in collaboration with poet William McIlvanney, comes to us from Norman’s archive and he has enjoyed re-visiting and contemplating this in recent months. He told us that it had been some years since he last looked through this set but was delighted to explore it and re-live the work again. The etchings in this collection depict urban architectural settings quite different from the screaming gannets and wind-splashed waves to which many of us at Eames Fine Art are more accustomed. This series is eerily prescient, as Norman’s monochrome palette and diffused and abstracted swathes of black ink suggest a deserted cityscape. Norman’s Oxford Street etching hints at the barrenness of central London that has been the reality of our last six months.
One other main theme of this show, which acts as a counterbalance to the darker palette of the deserted cityscapes of London, Newcastle, and New York is the rainbow. Norman has always been fascinated by rainbows, and we have previously exhibited many examples of Norman’s rainbow etchings in the gallery from as far back as 1968. But this year, Norman’s aesthetic interest in the meteorological phenomenon took on an additional social relevance, and these Lockdown Rainbows have a markedly different aesthetic to those that he has worked on in the past. The rainbows that Norman created during lockdown are analogous to those that peppered our streets and windows to signal that the schoolchildren stuck at home were not giving up their hopes for a return to normality. Norman’s show therefore – in addition to being about the beauty of the British Isles and the importance of nature and freedom – is also about hope. It’s about a belief in the future and the importance of memories of the past to keep us going in the uncertain present. The colours that rim the murky diamond of Lockdown Rainbow No. 1 - Eclipse, named for one of Norman’s favourite places, remind us that there is light at the end of the tunnel, that one day we will be able to return to our favourite places, and that there is joy to be found even on the darkest of days.
Christine Slobogin, August 2020