London Lantern

Putting the Spotlight on London

Heather Pocock and Lil Tudor-Craig at Francis Kyle Gallery

20/01/2008, By

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For her third exhibition with Francis Kyle Gallery Heather Pocock ( born London 1954) has brought together paintings produced over some five years which have their origin in time the artist spent in two profoundly contrasting environments: on the Isle of Mull off the north west coast of Scotland and in Namibia in south west Africa. In both settings, in almost every extreme of climate, the artist has found fresh ways to pursue her overarching engagement with the elements of nature and our relationship with its increasingly fragile equilibrium. At the heart of her dense and richly textured compositions hover as always various species of the wildlife she untiringly stalks, whose habitats form her true subjects.

Exploring the Namib Desert, which stretches alongside the coast for some thirteen hundred kilometres from Angola to South Africa, Heather Pocock walked in the vast Sand Dune Sea of Sossusvlei, learning to recognise and track the region’s wildlife. ‘In so many places,’ she comments, ‘I could have been a hunter-gatherer.’ The lively rock paintings of this desert’s earliest inhabitants, the San Bushmen, form the subject of one of her works. It is the wildlife, however, with which she is primarily concerned. The tension of contact with her prey finds expression in small, densely worked paintings infused with a mood of lyrical expectancy, along with an alert watchfulness which mirrors the reflexes of her wary living subjects.

Further north and inland among the Naukluft Mountains, inhabited by the rare Hartmann’s Zebra, or in the well-watered grasslands of the Etosha Pan (cheetah country) she has exercised to the full her ability, sometimes compared to that of Franz Marc, to convey animals essentially through an evocation of their natural habitat.

Such skills are no more clearly in evidence than when Heather Pocock finds her subjects by the sea, whether it be oyster catchers skimming the waves off the Atlantic coast near Swakopmund or back at her home base in Mull where she has lived for the better part of seventeen years. It may, indeed, be that in a palette of mid-winter, revealing harmonies of colour which give full rein to her predilection for browns and iridescent blues, with now and then a flecking of gold, she rises to her most lyrical heights with her paintings of snow cushioning high crags or flights of cormorants wheeling over rocks above a turbulent northern sea.

Heather Pocock was born in London in 1954 and educated at St. Albans College of Art and Sheffield College of Art, gaining a travel bursary to study in Italy, where she focused on the artists of the early Renaissance. She went on to take a postgraduate degree at the University of London. From 1978 onwards she has divided her time between painting, travelling and teaching, initially working as a fitness instructor at an outdoor adventure centre, an experience which has stood her in good stead in her later, demanding travels.

From 1986 she travelled for some three years continuously, first in India, then through Asia, down to Indonesia and on to Australia, New Zealand and finally the United States. Since that time she has continued to teach and travel during the summer months, spending the winters painting at her base on the western coast of Scotland. Heather Pocock has been represented by Francis Kyle Gallery since 1994. In 1997/1998 she participated in the Gallery’s Saxon Shore project, first in Maddox Street, then in the exhibition’s second public showing at the Arts Centre at King’s Lynn, Norfolk, in Roma (2002) and in Lair of the leopard: twenty artists go in search of Lampedusa’s Sicily (2006). One-person exhibitions with Francis Kyle Gallery in 1998, 2002 and 2008.

Lil Tudor-Craig (born Suffolk, 1960) for her first exhibition with Francis Kyle Gallery is showing a series of some twenty paintings of plants and the wildlife, these sustain closely observed on the East Anglian coast, an undertaking which has consumed all her energies for the better part of the last five years. Trained formally in farming and wildlife conservation, Tudor-Craig has been committed to painting since the early 1980s. She paints with an agenda: to show those modest plant species native to the British Isles which grow wild and tend in the obsessive pursuit of tidiness to be dismissed contemptuously as ‘weeds’, but which in reality provide nourishment as well as refuge for our wildlife. ‘Many insects,’ Tudor-Craig reminds us, ‘depend on a single plant species. Without the caterpillar’s food plant, there will be no butterflies. Brambles and stinging nettles especially support large numbers of butterflies and other creatures, some of which live only on these plants. In my paintings I seek to represent these relationships, this inter-connectedness.’

To realise her objective and to bring the viewer closer to ‘the natural world on our very doorstep, which sometimes is not obviously beautiful, but which holds delights, magic and importance and can be greatly healing for us,’ Tudor-Craig has developed and honed her distinctive approach. She fleshes out her core subjects, be it nettles, reeds or hogweed, in sympathetic detail to give each composition its structure, providing a moody evocation of water/sky as background. In the foreground, in contrast, the various species of birds, butterflies and other insects appear in a stylised and highly precise form, so that no aspect of their plumage or markings goes unrecorded, a reminder that in the 1990s the artist spent some years as an instructor in wild plant identification.

Together these two approaches coalesce to provide compositions as graceful as they are informative, sharing some of the qualities of a Chinese screen or scroll painting, or it may be the harmonious interweaving of finely observed plants and wildlife characteristic of Roman domestic frescoes such as those from the Villa of Livia Drusilla in Rome. In these delicate works in tempera on gesso, respectful as they are of truth to nature, there is a lively, poetic dimension which brings to mind certain exquisite Persian miniatures from the Safavid era. While no more precise subject could be imagined, these are paintings in which, as is characteristic of Thoreau’s observations in Walden or some of Richard Jefferies’ writings on wildlife, a sense of the universal perceived in the particular prevails and gives such impact, such a sense of caring to these deceptively simple nature studies.

Lil Tudor-Craig was born in Suffolk in 1960 and brought up among artists and writers, her father being a museum curator, and her mother the distinguished art historian Lady Pamela Wedgwood. Friends from childhood included Judith and Simon Verity, artists and stone carvers and the architect Oliver Hill. After her father’s death in 1969 the family moved to London and soon after Lil began to develop her continuing passion and concern for sustainable, humane and wildlife-friendly farming methods. At eleven she joined the Soil Association and the National Society for the Abolition of Factory Farming. Leaving school at seventeen, she worked on various farms before gaining a National Certificate in Agriculture in 1979.

In 1981 Lil Tudor-Craig was taught briefly by Cecil Collins who encouraged her to pursue a career in painting, drawing and printmaking, with subject-matter mostly drawn from the natural world. In 1984 she moved to Suffolk to live and work on a boat and also trained in navigation. In 1990 she gained the Advanced National Certificate in Wildlife Conservation, specialising in biological surveying and for some three years taught wild plant identification. She also worked on the National Rivers Authority, River Corridor and Coastal Plant surveys in Suffolk and Essex. In 2000 Lil Tudor-Craig began to work exclusively on her paintings, at this time producing in egg tempera the first in the present series. Besides her principal body of work, born of ‘nothing other than my own passion and conviction’, Lil Tudor-Craig has carried out occasional commissions for murals and watercolour paintings and has held one-person exhibitions in Aldeburgh (1986), Aldgate, London (1987) and Lewes (2001). Lil Tudor-Craig has been represented by Francis Kyle Gallery since 2006.

13th February to 13th March
Francis Kyle Gallery
9 Maddox Street
London W1S 2QE
44 (0) 20 7499 6870
Monday - Friday: 10am - 6pm
Saturday: 11am - 5pm

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