Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Make It New


This painting by Stanley Spencer popped up on my Twitter feed recently, and elicited an instant thrill of recognition. Spencer is best known for his paintings set in and around the Berkshire village of Cookham, where he was born and spent much of his life, but in 1939 he was lodging in the Gloucestershire village of Leonard Stanley, and that's where he painted this landscape of rolling fields breaking against the edge of the Cotswold escarpment. It's a view of part of the territory of my childhood: the treeless spur on the far left is Selsley Common, one of my playgrounds. I attended the little Primary school in Selsley village; my childhood home was at the base of the spur's steep rise. But while Spencer's version of this landscape evokes a strong sense of place and memory, it's also transformed, like his images of Cookham, into a vision of a verdant Arcadia. Fields are smoothed into sensual curves; forested slopes are as lush and exotic as one of Henri Rosseau's jungles. A lovely example of the metamorphic power of imagination, evoking the familiar and simultaneously making the viewer see it afresh, aslant.


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