|1994–1995||MA Painting||Chelsea College of Art and Design, London|
|1985–1988||BA (Hons) Painting||Chelsea College of Art and Design, London|
|ONE PERSON EXHIBITIONS|
|2019||Downstream||CHARLIE SMITH LONDON, London|
|2015||Bare Foot Prophet||CHARLIE SMITH LONDON, London|
|2012||Jerusalem||CHARLIE SMITH LONDON, London|
|2010||Lucifer Rising||CHARLIE SMITH LONDON, London|
|2010||Mycelium||The Arts University College at Bournemouth|
|2009||In the Country of the Blind||Galerie Schuster, Berlin|
|2001||Recent Paintings||Clapham Art Gallery, London|
|2000||Contemporary Romantic||Clapham Art Gallery, London|
|1998||New Paintings||Cadogan Contemporary, London|
|SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS|
|2019||10 Years||CHARLIE SMITH LONDON, London|
|2018||Fully Awake (curated by Ian Hartshorne and Sean Kaye)||Dyson Gallery, Royal College of Arts, London|
|2018||Inaugural exhibition (curated by Dean Melbourne)||Width of Circle, Black Country|
|2017||Black Mirror: Magic in Art (curated by Dominic Shepherd)||TheGallery, Arts University Bournemouth,
|2017||In Memoriam Francesca Lowe||Old Truman Brewery, London|
|2016||Strange Worlds: The Vision of Angela Carter||RWA, Bristol|
|2015||The Fantasy of Representation||Beers Contemporary, London|
|2015||Das Unheimliche (curated by Zavier Ellis)||CHARLIE SMITH LONDON, London|
|2015||Die English Kommen! New Painting from London (curated by Zavier Ellis)||Galerie Heike Strelow, Frankfurt|
|2014||Saatchi’s New Sensations and THE FUTURE CAN WAIT (curated by Zavier Ellis, Simon Rumley & Rebecca Wilson)||B1, Victoria House, London|
|2014||Cultus Deorum (curated by Zavier Ellis)||Saatchi Gallery, London|
|2013||Saatchi Gallery & Channel 4’s New Sensations and THE FUTURE CAN WAIT (curated by Zavier Ellis, Simon Rumley & Rebecca Wilson)||B1, Victoria House, London|
|2012||Saatchi Gallery & Channel 4’s New Sensations and THE FUTURE CAN WAIT (curated by Zavier Ellis, Simon Rumley & Rebecca Wilson)||B1, Victoria House, London|
|2012||Black Mirror (with John Stark)||Galerie Lichtpunkt - Ambacher Contemporary, Munich|
|2012||Polemically Small (curated by Zavier Ellis & Edward Lucie-Smith)||Orleans House Gallery, Twickenham|
|2012||Critical Dictionary||WORK, London|
|2012||The Perfect Nude (curated by Phillip Allen & Dan Coombs)||CHARLIE SMITH LONDON, London|
|2012||The Perfect Nude (curated by Phillip Allen & Dan Coombs)||Wimbledon Space, London|
|2012||The Perfect Nude (curated by Phillip Allen & Dan Coombs)||Phoenix Gallery, Exeter|
|2011||Saatchi Gallery & Channel 4’s New Sensations and THE FUTURE CAN WAIT (curated by Zavier Ellis, Simon Rumley & Rebecca Wilson)||B1, Victoria House, London|
|2011||Charlie Sierra Lima||CHARLIE SMITH LONDON, London|
|2011||Beyond the Commission||The Arts University College, Bournemouth|
|2011||Polemically Small (curated by Edward Lucie-Smith)||Klaipeda Culture Communication Centre, Klaipeda|
|2011||THE FUTURE CAN WAIT presents: Polemically Small (curated by Zavier Ellis, Edward Lucie-Smith, Max Presneill & Simon Rumley)||Torrance Art Museum, Torrance|
|2011||Polemically Small (curated by Edward Lucie-Smith)||Garboushian Gallery, Beverley Hills|
|2010||THE FUTURE CAN WAIT (curated by Zavier Ellis & Simon Rumley)||Shoreditch Town Hall, London|
|2010||Territories||Galerie Schuster, Miami|
|2010||Papyrophilia||CHARLIE SMITH LONDON, London|
|2010||DEMONOLOGY||CHARLIE SMITH LONDON, London|
|2010||New British Painting||Gallery Kalhama & Piippo Contemporary, Helsinki|
|2009||THE FUTURE CAN WAIT (curated by Zavier Ellis & Simon Rumley||Old Truman Brewery, London|
|2009||New London School (curated by Zavier Ellis & Simon Rumley)||Galerie Schuster, Berlin|
|2008||THE FUTURE CAN WAIT (curated by Zavier Ellis & Simon Rumley)||Old Truman Brewery, London|
|2007||THE FUTURE CAN WAIT (curated by Zavier Ellis & Simon Rumley)||Old Truman Brewery, London|
|2007||Dominic Shepherd & Julian Lee||Galerie Schuster, Berlin|
|2007||Meeting Place||Russell Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, Bournemouth|
|2006||Town & Country||Francis Hair Fashions Gallery, London|
|2005||Between Dog and Wolf (with Emma Bennett)||Clapham Art Gallery, London|
|2005||Bournemouth University Art Loan||Bournemouth University, Bournemouth|
|2004||Forever Beautiful||Clapham Art Gallery, London|
|2004||John Moores 23||Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool|
|2004||Dominic Shepherd & Liza Campbell||Michael Naimski Gallery, London|
|2002||Print UK||Manhattan Graphics, New York|
|2002||If Pressed||Sherborne House Arts|
|2000||Defining the Times||MK G, Milton Keynes|
|1999||Made in England||Vasby Kunsthall, Stockholm|
|1998||Winter Show||E1 Gallery, London|
|1997||Art in the 90’s: Pure Fantasy||Oriel Mostyn, Llandudno|
|1996||Gilchrist Fisher Memorial Award||Cadogan Contemporary, London|
|1995||SBC European Art Prize||Smithfield Gallery, London|
|1995||7th Oriel Mostyn||Oriel Mostyn, Llandudno|
|AWARDS & RESIDENCIES|
|2004||John Moores 23, Visitors Choice Prize|
|2000||Oppenheim-John Downes Trust Award|
|1999||Oppenheim-John Downes Trust Award|
|1998||Artist in Residence||Oriel Mostyn Gallery, Llandudno|
|1995||Liquitex Excellence in Art Award|
|1994||Portugal 600 Travel Award||Portugal|
|1993||South East Arts Training Award|
|1993||Artist in Residence, Shave International Artist’s Workshop||Somerset|
|1992||SEA Young Artist of 1992|
|1989||Artist in Residence||Koursalo Island, Finland|
|1988||Henry Biddulph Travel Scholarship|
|2014||Black Mirror 0: Territories, editorial introduction by Dominic Shepherd||Fulgur Esoterica|
|2013||The Golden Age: Between Wilderness and Utopia, Dominic Shepherd||The New Pastoral Issue, Architectural Design|
|2011||The Saatchi Gallery & Channel 4’s New Sensations and THE FUTURE CAN WAIT||Ellis Rumley Projects & Saatchi Gallery|
|2011||Critical Dictionary, edited by David Evans||Black Dog Press|
|2010||Mycelium, Gavin Parkinson||Text + Work|
|2008||THE FUTURE CAN WAIT||Ellis Rumley Projects|
|2007||Meeting Place||Exhibition Catalogue|
|2007||Critical Dictionary 12 & 14||criticaldictionary.com|
|2005||Bournemouth University Art Loan||Exhibition Catalogue|
|2005||Hansel & Gretel||Volume 1, Issue 3, Tales Magazine|
|2004||John Moores 23||Exhibition Catalogue|
|2004||The Labyrinth of the Gaze, edited by Gavin Turk||Five|
|2000||Dominic Shepherd & Clapham Art Gallery, Oliver Jones||What's On Magazine|
|1997||Art in the 90's: Pure Fantasy, Susan Daniel||Exhibition Catalogue|
|1996||Seventh Mostyn Open, Mel Gooding||Volume 3, Contemporary Art|
|Paula Granoff, Providence, Rhode Island|
|Steve Shane, New York|
|Markus Winzer, Untersiemau|
|Private collections in Australia, France, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, United Kingdom & United States|
|Emma Bennett, Daniel P. Carter, Nadine Feinson, Maggi Hambling, Florian Heinke, Sam Jackson, James Johnston, Susanne Kühn, Concha Martinez Barreto, George Shaw, Dominic Shepherd, George Stamatakis, Rose Wylie|
|Curated by Angela Koulakoglou|
|PRIVATE VIEW: Thursday 16 January 2020 6:30-8:30pm|
|EXHIBITION DATES: Friday 17 January – Saturday 8 February 2020|
|CHARLIE SMITH LONDON is delighted to invite curator and collector Angela Koulakoglou to present Words that transform, vibrate and glow: 13 paintings inspired by the lyrics of Nick Cave.
The exhibition was conceived over a year ago and its timing is prescient; Cave’s latest album, Ghosteen, was released with a hallucinatory painting as its cover in October 2019. Unprecedented in their visuality and striking in their ability to conjure apocalyptic landscapes, all the songs on Ghosteen are visions. As Cave embarks on a world tour in 2020, a conversation between his lyrics and painting becomes all the more relevant.
‘I can’t write a song that I cannot see’, Cave once stated in an interview. Having started his career as a painter, he soon turned to song writing and over several decades has produced a body of lyrics unparalleled in their consistent richness, unforgettable imagery, and unique combinations of darkness, humour, despair and hope. Drawn from songs written throughout his career, from the famed Peaky Blinders signature tune Red Right Hand to the early and more obscure Release the Bats, the thirteen paintings included in this exhibition are testimony to the fertile but often unexplored territory that lies between the arts. Three of the artists present are musicians: James Johnston was in fact a member of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds between 2003-2008; Emma Bennett is the bassist for Dear Thief; and Daniel P. Carter, who also hosts BBC Radio 1’s Rock Show, performs with metal group Krokodil.
The participating artists represent different generations, backgrounds, and ethnicities and they approach their art in different ways. Each one has ‘seen’ their painting in Cave’s lyrics in a reverse trajectory to that of the poet. Connecting word to world, the paintings in this exhibition occupy the space in between, opening up new imaginative possibilities. Deeply personal, unexpected and moving, poetry meets image in these thirteen powerful paintings that stretch our sensory and spiritual boundaries.
Please contact gallery for images and further information
|PRIVATE VIEW: Thursday 12 September 6:30-8:30pm|
|EXHIBITION DATES: Friday 13 September – Saturday 12 October 2019|
|GALLERY HOURS: Wednesday-Saturday 11am-6pm or by appointment|
|CHARLIE SMITH LONDON is delighted to present ‘Downstream’, Dominic Shepherd’s fifth solo exhibition at the gallery.
Shepherd is known for his all-over symbolic painting, seen most emphatically from his early career psychedelic phase until circa
2014. Since then, Shepherd has painted singular scenes that are advertently more subtle, but which retain the ongoing core
interests of the artist: mythology, dream, nostalgia, the occult and Englishness. Following on from his 2017 exhibition ‘Old
England’, where he painted mostly intimate water scenes as a means to obliquely investigate national identity, Shepherd focuses
entirely on waterscapes in this exhibition, and to a heightened level.
Ranging from intimate paintings at 21x24cm to substantial pieces at 92x115cm, Shepherd presents us with a technically
superlative combination of swimming figures; those at water’s edge; and water studies. They are celebratory paintings, where the
subjects immerse themselves freely in nature, but are also ritualistic. ‘Circle Round the Sun’ and ‘The Source’ suggest the
ceremonial and reverential; and are deeply meditative paintings. In fact, the whole series carries an advisory note: slow down and
seek stillness in ever changing waters.
Shepherd also uses water as a signifier of alternate states. Dream, hallucination and role play have always been at the heart of his
work, and the distorting effect of bodies in water suggests transformation. Pools or lakes might become liquid portals or gateways,
but to where might they lead? A magical realm? The afterlife? Shepherd, as ever, implies but always retains ambiguity in order to
allow the audience free interpretation according to the desire of one’s own imagination.
Please contact gallery for images and further information
|Dale Adcock, Emma Bennett, Kiera Bennett, Sara Berman, Jelena Bulajić, Tom Butler, Paul
Chiappe, Adam Dix, Susannah Douglas, Tessa Farmer, Tom Gallant, Florian Heinke, Sam
Jackson, Simon Keenleyside, Thomas Langley, Wendy Mayer, Hugh Mendes, Sean Molloy,
Alex Gene Morrison, Tamsin Morse, Gavin Nolan, Dominic Shepherd, Carolein Smit, Barry
Thompson, Gavin Tremlett
|PRIVATE VIEW: Thursday 11 July 6.30-8.30pm|
|EXHIBITION DATES: Friday 12 July – Saturday 10 August 2019|
|GALLERY HOURS: Wednesday-Saturday 11am-6pm or by appointment|
|CHARLIE SMITH LONDON is delighted to announce ’10 Years’, our anniversary exhibition produced to celebrate a full decade’s
operations in Shoreditch.
During this time we have presented 88 exhibitions within the gallery, defining CHARLIE SMITH LONDON and gallery director
Zavier Ellis’ unique curatorial vision. The gallery has also established itself as a discovery zone by being the first to exhibit many
acclaimed young artists via its annual graduate exhibition Young Gods. Beyond the gallery walls, the gallery has participated in
over 30 art fairs in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, UK and USA. Zavier Ellis also launched the monumental annual
exhibition THE FUTURE CAN WAIT with Simon Rumley, a ten-year project that was presented in partnership with Saatchi’s New
Sensations for four years and culminated in helping organise the seminal fund-raising exhibition In Memoriam Francesca Lowe.
Ellis has also curated or co-curated gallery, museum and pop up exhibitions in Berlin, Frankfurt, Helsinki, Klaipėda, London, Los
Angeles, Naples and Rome. And, perhaps most notably, the gallery has placed millions of pounds worth of artwork into collections
globally, working with many of the most prominent international collectors, and enabling artists to continue to do what artists do
best: making work.
This exhibition consists of some (but by no means all) of Ellis’ favourite artists who have shown over the years at CHARLIE SMITH
LONDON; some whom he has been tracking and wanting to show; and gallery artists. We hope you can join us on July 11th to help
us celebrate 10 Years!
Please contact gallery for images and further information.
|Context: Gallery Artists & Collaborators|
|Peter Ashton Jones, Emma Bennett, Kiera Bennett, Tom Butler, Dan Coombs, Florian Heinke,
Sam Jackson, Reece Jones, Kate Lyddon, Eric Manigaud, Wendy Mayer, Hugh Mendes, Alex
Gene Morrison, Gavin Nolan, Dominic Shepherd, John Stark, Geraldine Swayne, Barry
Thompson, Gavin Tremlett
|EXHIBITION DATES Friday 23 February – Saturday 31 March 2018|
|In our first exhibition of the year, CHARLIE SMITH LONDON is pleased to offer a unique opportunity to view our gallery artists and
key collaborators in context. Gallery Director Zavier Ellis states:
“In some ways a gallery artists show is a pretty dull and unimaginative thing to do. But, on the upside it enables our audience to
digest our stable in context. We are mostly a painter’s gallery, albeit with a curatorial emphasis that embraces every medium when
appropriate. The artists we exhibit are technical, but this is nowhere near enough in itself. You will find that each one of them
makes work with an intense emotional, philosophical or psychological charge, and so their work operates in a challenging,
These artists are lateral thinkers who know that the trajectory of history is not as linear as is often presented, and that everything
operates in a complex, non-hierarchical, interconnected way. Embracing doctrines and tendencies from the modern and
postmodern periods, as well as near and deep history, they conduct their investigation without irony or sentimentality, but rather
with positive affirmation, intelligence and deliberation.
Added to the gallery artists in this show, we have invited others with whom we collaborate regularly, who work in paint, pencil,
charcoal and installation. So in actual fact, a potentially dull and unimaginative idea becomes an intriguing and engaging
proposition. This is not for everyone, but those that get it will be rewarded for their conviction.”
|Dominic Shepherd | Old England|
|EXHIBITION DATES Friday 23 June – Saturday 29 July 2017|
|In his fourth solo exhibition at the gallery, Dominic Shepherd continues to marry a deep and ongoing interest in mythology with a
personalised, idiosyncratic worldview. Made as part of the series Old England, the paintings in this exhibition reach beyond the
personal and historical to the political.
“Britain, surrounded by water, is a haunted isle. Colonialism; slavery; conquest; feudalism; reformation; democracy; civil war. Every
locus is invested with ghosts of the past, a misty and sentimentalised landscape.”
In a climate where nationalism has gained so much traction globally, Shepherd addresses the relationship between actual and
nostalgic notions of received traditions, opening onto a consideration of the complex relationship between Romanticism, folk,
patriotism and nationalism. Viewed in the shadow of fundamental political change, Shepherd has been forced to confront his
interest in English folk and Englishness, and ask where, and how, these themes have been recontextualised. Being aware of
nationalism’s tendency to mine and appropriate folk traditions, and a new sensitivity towards the localised and regional, Shepherd
allows these concerns to permeate beneath the surface.
Shepherd employs water as a newly dominant motif. Figures are found submerged, wading or crossing bodies of water that he
encounters daily in the wooded estate where he lives in Dorset. Sinuous rills, lakes, dew ponds, streams, storm drains, culverts,
canals and weirs are permanently transitory and allude to the hidden:
“To contemplate water is akin to viewing the painted surface; a mirror that reflects the viewer’s standpoint; an intricate surface
formed by tortuous rules; underwater lurk the unseen, the ghosts.”
These paintings continue an evolution in Shepherd’s practice where meaning and presence have become increasingly oblique.
The ghosts to which he refers are those of the past, who populate a civilisation’s historical narrative, or an individual’s memory or
unconscious. As figures navigate idealised land and waterscapes in contemplation, trepidation or with unknowing ease, this
hearkening for a paradigmatic time and place should serve as a warning that nostalgic longing can also harbour unseen threat and
|DOMINIC SHEPHERD | Bare Foot Prophet|
|Exhibition Dates : Friday 15 May – Saturday 20 June 2015|
|‘To make sure of what I already suspected, I leaned out over the water and I lifted the lantern, and out of the black watery mirror a face peered up at me, a face with severe and solemn features and grey eyes, an old knowing face, and it was I.’
Hermann Hesse, ‘Flute Dream’
The bare foot prophet lives in the wilds, against the mainstream. Proto hippies such as Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach and Gustav Nagel lived by their own codes, intentionally positioning themselves against convention. Embracing nature; rejecting the institutional; reinterpreting the commonplace, the bare foot prophet finds truth in nature and formulates his own mythologies.
In this exhibition Dominic Shepherd responds to the progress of our times, channelled via his own idiosyncratic circumstances. Edging towards the end of an idyll, where development has come to interrupt a fifteen year reverie, the artist states: ‘this new body of work has been made to the sound of chainsaws and burning of trees that glow in the night’. Shepherd’s paintings during this period have become a personal record of an attempt to live apart from everyday contemporary society, where the woods have provided a canopy wherein have lain dream, imagination, fantasy and contemplation.
Shepherd’s method is to fuse life and work, refracting information from the ages with prismatic effect. Folkloric and cult cyphers are blended with the personal as Shepherd freezes time, casting his masquerading subjects in a fictionalized place that might just be real. There is a slippage of time and place where it becomes impossible to unravel reality from illusion. Shepherd’s paintings combine to elucidate a personal mythology populated by his very own deities, heroes, ancestors, and progeny.
Please contact the gallery for images and further information
|DOMINIC SHEPHERD | Jerusalem|
|Exhibition Dates : Friday November 23rd – Saturday December 22nd 2012|
|The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom
In William Blake’s poem ‘Jerusalem’ the 18th century visionary asks whether Jesus Christ once visited England, as legend has suggested. And he asks, ‘was Jerusalem builded here, Among these dark Satanic Mills’? In doing so Blake condenses over a thousand years of history by visualising Jerusalem - or heaven - in the contemporary landscape of early industrialisation, and in England. The phrase ‘dark Satanic Mills’ belies Blake’s concern about the development of society, where relentless industrial and capital progress became a clear and prevailing threat to the individual and the spiritual. The perceived loss would be the pastoral, idyllic lifestyle defined by natural simplicity. At least, this is the view that returns in cycles throughout history and is recalled again by Dominic Shepherd.
Shepherd’s paintings represent a contemporary visualisation of the Golden Age, that idealised, mythical time in Arcadia of innocent pleasure. As with Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’, it is a place similar to Eden, that resonates with any individual who longs to remove himself, as Shepherd has done, from the flux of city life – from the industrial and technological. But the Latin phrase ‘Et in Arcadia ego’ warns us that ‘Even in Arcadia, I [death] am there’. And similarly Shepherd shows us that fear and loss also inhabit these mythical, idyllic worlds. Drawing on folklore and the transference of wisdom through festival and ritual, Shepherd depicts his subjects performing such rites. ‘The ghosts of England’ - Pearly Kings, Morris dancers, romantic poets, gurus - occupy his paintings, ‘working, singing or dying to create a New Age of Romantic pastoralism’. However, these pastoral revivalists twist and implode in the midst of Epicurean hedonism and counter cultural zeal.
Shepherd’s recent reintroduction of the tondo and of trompe l’oeil frames painted within the picture plane serve to help the illusion of observing this other world. We are quite literally given windows – or perhaps mirrors – that invite us to witness the rituals within his elaborate alternative reality. Personal memory, cultural and political history, dream, imagination and the hallucinatory are drawn on to form symbols, obscure meanings, suggested narratives, and allusion to the arcane. This invented domain is the artist’s New Jerusalem.
|DOMINIC SHEPHERD | Lucifer Rising|
|Exhibition Dates : Friday November 5th – Saturday December 4th 2010|
|CHARLIE SMITH LONDON is delighted to present Dominic Shepherd with his first one person show at the Old Street gallery.
In Latin Lucifer means ‘light bearer’, and came to refer to the planet Venus, otherwise known as the ‘Morning Star’, which can be witnessed an hour before sunrise in the skies of the east and an hour after sunset to the west. Lucifer then, signifies first light, the time when the darkness and mystery of night turn towards the clarity of dawn. It is at this point with its shifting nuances where Dominic Shepherd’s most recent paintings operate.
Shepherd invites us into a time and place that is in-between, a place of mystery and the imagined. Calling to mind John Fowles’ ‘The Magus’, Shepherd envisions a place populated by magicians, solitary wanderers, messengers, lost poets, artists and musicians, a place that is between reality and sur-reality where the macabre and the frivolous walk hand in hand. This imagined place is prompted by Shepherd’s own immediate environment, where cottage and studio sit isolated in a clearing within dense Dorset woods. Stepping into these woods at night one feels simultaneously stimulated and threatened, but one is urged to embrace the shadows and the illusion that lie therein, where the fictive obfuscates truth.
At night, perhaps, such experience is appropriate, during the time of revelry and ritual, magic and intoxication. All take place beneath the cover of darkness. But at the hour of daybreak, as the morning star rises, thresholds other than night to day are broken. Reality returns and with it a wistful awareness of a loss of the other. The dreamlike and hallucinatory are overcome by a confrontation of the self where one can emerge enlightened as with St John of the Cross or fallen as with so many romantic heroes from throughout history. Indeed, Shepherd’s canvases might be populated by lost icons and anti-heroes such as Hesse, Redon, Shelley, Blake or Wagner or more contemporaneously Jack Kerouac, Keith Richards or Charles Manson. ‘The sleep of reason brings forth monsters’, cautioned Goya and Shepherd outlines that escapism, individualism and heroism, and the drives of the intuitive and the unconscious can bring egotism, destruction and excess as well as beauty, magic and discovery, thus simultaneously enticing and forewarning.
|GAVIN PARKINSON | Festival, or, First and Last of England|
|Exhibition Dates: Friday November 23rd – Saturday December 22nd 2012|
|‘What is now proved was once, only imagin’d.’
William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (c. 1790)
After the Olympics and in advance of Scottish independence (probably), we English are looking at England again: the things we thought and think it was; what we believe it became; what its futures might be. What constitutes England today? The question is instantly intimidating; it seems mired in difficulties to do with sentimentality, modernity, economics, and politics. In fact, it is all ‘politics’ of a kind: our dying, revived, beloved (of some) folk traditions might be just the creation of an affluent middle class (the Fakesong argument); modern globalism might not allow space for independent, local, national cultures, which perhaps engender nationalism, parochialism, and racism anyway (the ‘little England’ argument); capitalist consumerism and the mania for profit potentially crushes the life out of local events and rituals, reducing them to a set of saleable clichés by the very act of turning them into ‘culture’ (what could be more consumable?). Might there be a set of activities and even a way of living – here in England and even in London – that is historically resonant and symbolically meaningful, permanent and transferable to a new generation yet carrying scope for development, pleasurable for all and not for profit, respected, admired by and inclusive of the non-English? Are we ready or willing, at the very least, to call ourselves English not British and feel that identification has some meaning beyond stereotypes? What does ‘England’ mean today? Is it – was it always – an illusion?
Well, yes: although no one would doubt that something like a geographical entity called ‘England’ exists (even though that, of course, was created by man not God), how ‘England’ signifies to the mind when the word is uttered is bound to be illusory in the sense of ‘not real,’ because it is a thing of the imagination and alters between individuals here and abroad. Say it to yourself and see what comes to mind. For England to mean something and not just ‘not America’ or ‘not France’ or ‘no foreigners’ or not whatever – even though it is precisely difference that we are getting at here: spirited yet cordial and civil independence – it is necessary to conjure a past of England that has some continuity today. This is not an academic or ‘cultural’ exercise, carried out to develop a career or to fill up the weekend. It is an act of daily pleasure, partly to do with taking in whatever buildings, weather, poetry, edgelands, dance, people, reservoirs, streets, music, beaches, suburbs, paintings, woodlands are available, and deciding what they mean here and now in England. It is an exercise of the imagination.
The tondo or circular format for painting speaks directly towards certain cyclical ideas that have been a feature of life in England (and elsewhere in a different garb – the word derives from Italian) as long as historical memory. The most obvious is the cycle of the year, and the importance of regular rituals and festivals that once punctuated them. These helped people under often difficult conditions to alleviate austerity – the arrival of Christmas in the bleak midwinter being the obvious one, decked with holly, ivy, and rosemary to compensate for the lack of greenery – and rationalize and sustain passage through the seasons. The form is reflected directly in the events themselves such as the dance around the Maypole and in circles of stones and ceremonial and occultist circles.
Dominic Shepherd’s use of the tondo for his painting The Well seems directly inspired by such symbolism, but it receives an extra spin of the wheel by means of its multiple references to the English past (the so-called ‘well of history’). These are looked down and back upon like liquefied, ungraspable events, here, though in evoking the incomplete past in the mind’s eye, notice that we are also looking in upon ourselves. Shepherd’s remark on history in The Well seems to be that it is analogous to the activity of the seer or medium seeking the future by making sense of the initially indistinct figures in a crystal ball. We divine the future by plumbing our own memories, biographical and historical; we look into the past by looking into ourselves and vice versa so that past and present, personal and collective, up or down (the tondo having neither) cease to be distinct. The circular form of The Well and the fluid and watery rendering of its paint also recall the connected activity of divination through reading tealeaves or coffee grounds.
Additionally, the tondo calls up a temporality that is not linearly progressivist, as has been the norm in the West from Renaissance humanism through to Enlightenment optimism and nineteenth century positivism, to subsequent theological, philosophical, and economic systems, scientific theories, and political positions that insist upon a history of the advancement of civilization as a backdrop and justification for aspiratory, accumulative, utilitarian ends. Rather, the chronology that sections temporality into a past, present, and future is challenged by utopian ideas, which seek instead a Golden Age, Arcadia, or pastoral that exists through cyclical time. Working to overlap and interleave individuals, places, and events supposedly temporally distant, cyclical time aims at ‘creating connections to the past, establishing familial and locational ties,’ in Shepherd’s words.
His rejection of materialist progressivism and embrace of cyclical time and ritual gives onto an iconography of people involved in seasonal chores and bucolic undertakings in Shepherd’s paintings: ‘chopping wood, harvesting, riding horses, burning effigies, hanging out at festivals’ as he says. Beyond this, the collapse of linear time that brought about paintings like The Family allows encounters between Guy Fawkes and the Incredible String Band, Romantic poets and Morris Dancers, witches and hippies, William Blake and Pearly Kings and Queens, the New Model Army and the radical movements of the sixties, and, well, Levellers and the Levellers, at a metaphorical banquet or feast; or perhaps, better, a festival, in which the first and last of England meet in the imagination – where Shepherd himself meets his own predecessors Blake and Richard Dadd – though who is first and who last is impossible to say, depending always on the next spin of the tireless tondo.
5 November 2012
|Between the Viaducts of Your Dream|
|The psychedelic, acid-tab styling of Dominic Shepherd’s painting continues in current works such as The Shout (2019), thinly rendered over a light ground applied to linen that is allowed to show its tooth through the multi-hued strings, dabs and smudges of paint. Familiar themes are also present in the recent pictures, primarily those of the forest, the single figure in nature and the occultist, romantic, folklorish or traditional vision of a past and maybe future England. The ambiguity of place, period and person runs alongside some ambivalence. Contemporary politics, technology and culture are typically not in evidence and you can draw your own conclusions from that. What also continues in the current paintings and takes on a new concentration is the cue they take from diverse iterations of water in the natural habitat. It is true that bodies of water have been present in Shepherd’s previous work, especially those that featured in the 2017 solo exhibition Old England, to the point of constituting a sub-theme, but here their presence is constant and heightened to a major theme.
Shepherd takes an intuitive approach to his art, by which I mean that in the moment of painting a stream, waterfall or winter pond his aim may well be simply to depict with reasonable accuracy through the medium of his style what is before him or in his imagination. But associative thinking or metaphor is as innate to the mind as refraction is to water; the nature of the medium alters the direction of what passes through it. The pictures have immediacy as everything does – you might observe initially their size, shape, surface, colour or scenography – but the greater part of their heft comes from the imaginative register in association, when concentration flits wantonly towards (art) history, mythology, religion, literature and/or poetic symbolism (and maybe we should add autobiography: Shepherd’s pictures speak very directly to memory, dreams, hallucination and intimate life experience, particularly those of family). For this reason, it not only pays to write inferentially and contextually about them, but it is almost impossible not to.
The medium of water has offered an immense fund of symbolism to writers and artists due partly to its highly suggestive, threefold register of depth, surface and reflection (of ourselves, the sky and so on). As well as its promise of a latent, concealed world – suggested in the cosmic dimension of Shepherd’s Dark Star (2019) – water manifests our own terrain in a mirror image. In this sense, the artist paints what is already a representation, carried on the surface of the lake. Water also draws swimmers, like those in Travellers (2019), to a world familiar to birds and fish, one fully of three dimensions rather than the limited three, which is more like two, that we humans normally inhabit, fixed as we are for the most part to the two dimensions of the Earth’s surface. This is the property of water and our relationship with it that lends itself so powerfully to dreams, stirring the unconscious profoundly.
Not much of this crossed the minds of pioneering modernists Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir when they invented Impressionism through studies of water, carried out at the floating restaurant and bathing place La Grenouillère west of Paris late in 1869. It is unlikely that Renoir ever thought in such terms. However, the decisive paintings of Monet and Paul Cézanne in the period of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century have been reassessed in recent years as less a project furthered by positivism and to do with the manipulation of materials on a flat surface than a project against the disenchantment brought on by modernity. In this interpretation, magic, prophecy and dream take precedence. Monet’s water lilies, especially the large canvases of 1914-18 at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, shod of perspective or any other conventional optical entry, assume a cosmic significance. Likewise, the early twentieth century bather paintings of Cézanne and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner are, respectively, oneiric and ritualistic, imagining a reversal of the clock of progress to a dreamtime of utopia, collectivity and natural healing. Beyond these, there is an entire canon of modernist pictures extending from the late nineteenth century up to the 1920s of which Shepherd is perfectly aware – of bathers, of women at the source, of women and men immersed in streams, rivers and baths – that whisper their presence behind paintings such as Downstream (2018).
Shepherd picks up the theme at different levels, in the bathers of Downstream, The Shout, Travellers and Toad Magic (2019), and in the more overt meditations on ritual and enchantment in the paintings titled Circle Round the Sun (2019) and The Source (2019). If the first three of these leave the viewer with much of the work to do in seeking out a mythic or metaphorical dimension, then the title of Toad Magic nudges us more explicitly in the direction of mythical metamorphosis and witchcraft. The final two, Circle Round the Sun and The Source, draw upon a longstanding iconography of solitude and the forest, particularly familiar across the long history of German painting (Albrecht Dürer, Albrecht Altdorfer, Caspar David Friedrich, Max Ernst), to steer their audience more in the direction of ritual passage, clairvoyance, divination and magical thinking.
Of course, Shepherd is sensitive to the tendency of a local forest lake to be also the bathing place of Diana and a river to be Lethe or Styx. To his credit, and possibly because of his wakefulness towards such things, he avoids one-to-one correspondences in his characterisations of bodies of water or through his choice of titles. These titles are rather like pedestrian paths created by footfall through the woods (also known as ‘desire lines’): you can follow them if you think they will lead to somewhere of interest, but there are plenty of other potential directions in which to roam. The intimate painting Black Dog (2019), looking straight out of a novel by Jack London, might be a record of an unexpected near-encounter, but it has an esoteric ambiance connoting chance and luck. The assumed solitariness of both seer and seen in an austere winter setting further evoke the ‘black dog’ of depression as Samuel Johnson called it, but previous references to folk and rock music in Shepherd’s work encourage a reading adjacent to Nick Drake’s late, sparse, disquieting song ‘Black-Eyed Dog’ (1974) or even conjure the Led Zeppelin classic ‘Black Dog’ (1971). It is also, the literalist on my other shoulder reminds me, a picture with a lone dog in it, but the inferential bait of the paintings is hard to resist.
In all of these cases, water seems to be taking on meanings of origin and birth, healing and precognition. Among the inferences allowed by the work, then, is a diagnosis of and prognosis for our disenchanted modernity, our divided societies and our failed politics. Shepherd’s new paintings immerse us in a medium where, consciously or unconsciously, the questions stirred remain the most profound: where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? They were never more urgent.