Clare Woods explores the relationship between people and landscape at Harewood House

By Richard Moss | 18 July 2013

Exhibition Preview: The Seven Eggs - works by Clare Woods, The Terrace Gallery, Harewood House, Yorkshire until Sunday October 20 2013.

a painting of an alabastor head
Clare Woods, Shirley.© Clare Woods, 2013
At first glance the epic works of Clare Woods may seem to map a naturally formed landscape, but then the contours and lines of human features soon begin to emerge.

Woods’ latest exhibition, part of Harewood's ambitious contemporary art programme, sees the painter draw inspiration from local topography and history for a new series of work which includes four monumental lithographs that fuse landscape and faces to explore relationships between nature and people.

This merging of forms is something Woods has been developing in her paintings for some time. Her large canvases are often inspired by photos of the micro details of foliage such as knotted vegetation and undergrowth, or by human-like forms in rock fromations.

The result is a body of work that seems full of a strange beauty and sometimes a manifest gloom that has been described by the Guardian as a “dark malevolence”.

Here the four vast lithographs, entitled The Seven Eggs  relate to the medieval church at Harewood and its alabaster tombs. The title comes from the local name for the dilapidated 18th century folly set in the grounds, now reclaimed by nature and transformed into a picturesque romantic ruin.

an abstract painting of a face
Clare Woods, Sheila.© Clare Woods, 2013
Woods spent time in the house and grounds looking at the objects in the collections and found herself “drawn to the representations of the past inhabitants of the Harewood Estate”.

“They have all left their mark on the landscape,” she says, “creating vistas, lakes, walled gardens, follies and pools. I am interested to work with the representations of these people.”

Having studied the alabaster figures of the church’s mausoleum the resulting works are perhaps more recognisably figurative than some of her previous paintings. Her carefully drawn lines and bold brushes of colour may seem like the undulations of the local terrain but they are inspired by the veining of the stones. 

There are all kinds of reference points in these ambitious one-off prints, which she has disarmingly named Suzanne, Shirley, Sylvia and Sheila – song titles by Leonard Cohen, Billy Bragg, Jarvis Cocker and The Smiths.

They continue Woods’ fascination with the wonder and horror of the human head, but visitors may also discern a strong sense of mid-century abstraction that recalls two of the locally born artists she so admires; Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.

In her recent show at the Hepworth Wakefield, tellingly called the Unquiet Head, her characteristic paintings mutated between local landscapes and faces and were accompanied by pieces by Hepworth, Paul Nash, John Piper and Graham Sutherland.

There may well be elements of the work of these and many other artists in the paintings of Clare Woods, but she is developing a style and a vision that is very much her own.

More pictures:

a print of the head of a statue
Clare Woods, Sylvia.© Clare Woods, 2013
a detail of an abstract painting of a figure
Clare Woods, Suzanne.© Clare Woods, 2013
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