Richard Billingham's Constable Photographs At The Town Hall Galleries Ipswich

By Richard Moss | 15 May 2007
a panoramic photograph showing a flat landscape of fields a river and distant trees

(Above) Richard Billingham 2007 © the artist

Constable Country, the small area along the River Stour straddling the borders of Essex and Suffolk, has for years attracted thousands of visitors, each of them enamoured by the paintings of John Constable.

Constable produced some of his most famous paintings in the area, notably the Haywain, and many of them have become some of the best-known images in British art.

Now the Town Hall Galleries in Ipswich is hosting an exhibition featuring the latest response to these iconic locations with a series of photographs by lens-based artist Richard Billingham.

a black and white photograph showing a winter tree by a lake

(Above) Richard Billingham 2007 © the artist

Constable runs until June 16 2007 and is the first stage of a larger body of work in progress, which Visual Arts Ipswich intend to develop in collaboration with the artist and firstsite in Colchester.

Taken over the past year, Billingham’s personal interest in Constable Country has resulted in a series of large-scale photographic studies that act as contemporary interpretations of the environment favoured by the Romantic painter.

Where many of his contemporaries tended to an interpretation of the English landscape in a formalised and picturesque way, Constable sought to capture the true spirit of the British landscape in a way that many artists and critics today regard as avant-garde.

a black and white panormaic photograph showing a marshy landscape

(Above) Richard Billingham 2007 © the artist

“There is something to be said for his sheer dogged determination to do something original and particular,” says Billingham of Constable “Even though it did not make him rich.”

It is this spirit of freedom and informality that has inspired Billingham to capture these now famous locations using his customary cheap 35mm cameras – bought in the main from charity shops.

The resulting photographs are designed to not only reflect the 18th century painter’s choice of subject matter but also his attitude to picture making and his determination to represent the natural environment in its truest form.

a colour photograph of wintery trees in a meadow by a lake

(Above) Richard Billingham 2007 © the artist

Constable made many preliminary sketches that are today highly regarded by contemporary artists and critics and on one level, Billingham’s photographs show a similar approach, existing as preliminary studies for possible future works.

Billingham originally studied as a painter but rose to prominence through his extraordinary photographs of his family. Some of these were published in the acclaimed book Ray's A Laugh (1996). He was awarded the Citibank Photography Prize in 1997 and was nominated for the 2001 Turner Prize. Currently based in Brighton he is a studio member of Phoenix Arts Association.

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