Where the wild things are…

…Force of Nature: Picturing Ruskin’s Landscape at Millennium Gallery, Sheffield

Having been born in Sheffield I can account for the beautiful wild spaces which surround the city and define the local area. Though nearby Chesterfield, my home town, is known as the “Gateway to the Peak District” this huge expanse of rugged hills, rocky outcrops, moorland and copses is a stone’s throw away from the city as well and seems to match the weathered, down-to-earth disposition of its inhabitants. The greenness that rewards the eyes, the height of the peaks, the fresh air and the smell of damp spring foliage in the rain are all things I miss now I’m in London; this exhibition is a welcome reminder of what is great about this part of the country.

John Ruskin, Matterhorn from the Moat of the Riffelhorn (1849).  ©Museums Sheffield

John Ruskin, Matterhorn from the Moat of the Riffelhorn (1849). ©Museums Sheffield

Slightly put off by the title I was pleasantly surprised at the breadth and range of works which were on display. Ruskin dominates as the artist with the most works in the show, but there is a mix of contemporary and classic with Turner, Constable, Blackadder, Brett, Opie, Holdsworth present as well as local artists like Emilie Taylor. Not all of the landscapes originate from the Peaks either, this is an exploration of the relationship with artists and nature, a celebration of the land and of looking. Ruskin wrote extensively on the intimate bond which can be formed with nature, the wonderful gifts and sights which she’ll reveal if you take the time to get to know her properly. This idea is as relevant now as it was in his day, if not more so, with each of us so far removed from the real “outside”.

John Brett, Mount Etna from Taormina, Sicily (c.1870). ©Museums Sheffield

John Brett, Mount Etna from Taormina, Sicily (c.1870). ©Museums Sheffield

I had some favourites. There were a couple of small but stunning Turner watercolours lent by the Tate and a pretty glass vase demonstrating the skill of artist Peter Layton in Turquoise Glacier Standing Form. Dan Holdsworth’s Andoya, a pattern of human light against a snowy backdrop, looked like a Christmas film still or an advertising photograph, while Kathy Prendergast’s Land tent was a definite talking point. I was most pleased to be introduced to the earthy pots of Emilie Taylor, at first glance Grayson Perry-esque minus the bright colours. On closer reflection these ceramic vases also share figurative details and form with much more classic designs, and the surface illustration is much less crowded than a Perry work. Taylor’s work is very much about her city, her landscape, her relationship to her surroundings; summing up the exhibition quite neatly.

Emilie Taylor, So High I Almost Touch the Sky (2013), detail.

Emilie Taylor, So High I Almost Touch the Sky (2013), detail. ©Museums Sheffield

The exhibition closes today (June 23rd 2013) at 4pm.



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