Canals, Canaletto and Non-conformists


LAND by Antony Gormley

  Antony Gormley’s statue, Sound II, in the crypt of Winchester Cathedral, was one of the first of the artist’s works that I saw and I was immediately captivated by the quiet contemplation it encouraged. So, as soon as I heard that Gormley had been commissioned by the Landmark Trust to produce a site-specific piece of work to celebrate their 50th anniversary I knew I wanted to see it. The piece is, entitled LAND and it comprises five sculptures situated across the UK. Gormley says “in searching for positions to site the five body-form sculptures…I have found the most potent places to be where the horizon is clearly visible and that has often meant the coast”. Indeed four are in coastal locations but one is situated by a lock on the South Stratford Canal. It was at this latter site that I found myself on a warm Sunday in May. It has some of the same restful qualities of Sound II and I was naturally drawn to want to stand next to this iron clad human form and just be still.


London: The Thames from Somerset House Terrace towards the City by Canaletto

From the canal it was a short drive to Compton Verney, an award winning arts venue near Stratford-upon-Avon. It seemed entirely appropriate that they were showing ‘Canaletto celebrating Britain’ having just been by the canals. Canaletto stayed in Britain between 1746 and 1755, an exciting period of architectural development across the country. Canaletto’s oil paintings on display here show exquisitely detailed pictures of London during the construction of many landmarks we now take for granted, such as Westminster Bridge and the Horse Guards building and parade.The show’s curator and the director of Compton Verney, Steven Parissien, comments that, “Canaletto is astonished by what he sees … in his paintings he is saying Britain is the new Venice; it is what Venice was a couple of centuries ago. The architecture is eclectic, it is a Britain no longer in thrall to Italian fashion and Italian music.” Also showing is Martin Parr’s photography exhibition ‘The Non-Conformists’. This too looks at Britishness but from 1975-1980 in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire, capturing a changing time with fabulous detail. All 75 of the photos are black and white. Parr recalls that he wouldn’t have been taken seriously at the time if he had shot in colour. The photographs show affectionate portraits of chapel goers, pigeon fanciers and one which I was particularly drawn to, ‘Greenwood’s auctioneers’. Click here to see why!


‘Kern Baby’ by Faye Claridge at Compton Verney

Compton Verney is also renowned for its stunning permanent collections including one dedicated to British Folk Art. Inspired by this collection, artist Faye Claridge has positioned in the park a five metre high corn dolly, entitled ‘Kern Baby’. This can be viewed until 13 December 2015. LAND is available to view at all the sites until May 2016. Canaletto in Britain transfers to the Holbourne Museum in Bath on 27 June 2015 and runs there until 4 October 2015. Books on Gormley are at 730.92 GOR, and on Canaletto at 750.92 CAN.  Books on Parr are at 770.69 PAR including the exhibition catalogue of ‘The Non-Conformists’. Catherine Polley, June 2015