“The Outside World,” Richard Learoyd at Fraenkel Gallery, Art Practical

OD10. Gordale Scar, black cloth, 7/29/13, 12:28 PM,  8C, 11988x15984 (0+0), 150%, Josh Lehrer cu,  1/25 s, R87.7, G62.2, B70.9

OD10. Gordale Scar, black cloth, 7/29/13, 12:28 PM, 8C, 11988×15984 (0+0), 150%, Josh Lehrer cu, 1/25 s, R87.7, G62.2, B70.9

“For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue.”

―William Wordsworth, Tintern Abbey, 1798

For his new exhibition at Fraenkel Gallery, Richard Learoyd has ventured out of the studio for the first time in years, building a portable camera obscura for the endeavor. Known for his large-scale staged portraits, Learoyd has kept the scale (and sometimes even the staging) but focused on The Outside World, as the title of the exhibition states.1 The results, whether obviously or subtly manipulated, seem to reach for something more than literal or even merely beautiful. There is a drama to each of the landscapes and nature scenes that recalls the nineteenth-century Romantics’ sublime—something less prim than beauty, more chaotic than religion. This perspective offers an honest reckoning with the natural world, acknowledging that nature is magnified, not diminished, by its integral parts of death and danger.

Gorsdale Scar‘s (2013) blurry tufts of windswept grass at the foot of a ravine craggier than Auden’s face, the obscure depths connoted by the vanishing lily pad stems in The River Stour from Deadman’s Bridge near Flatford (summer) (2013), the multitudes of distinct blossoms in Hawthorne that both invite and mock an attempt to examine each one, even the gnarled bodies of dead birds bound and stapled together in the unsentimental A Murder of Magpies (2013)―all hint at that thing that can “chasten and subdue.” These are not photographic Constables but dramatic portraits of nature as a profound, forbidding personage. (continue reading)

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