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Exhibition takes a new look at Lakeland landscape

Lakeland gathering by Alan Thompson

An exhibition is about to open in the heart of the Lake District which looks at the Lakeland landscape in a new and startling way.

Unpicturesque, which challenges some traditional notions of landscape art, will open in Grasmere this month.

The exhibition at the Heaton Cooper Archive gallery features the work of seven eminent painters and photographers – Martin Greenland, Alan Stones, Rebecca Scott, Alan Thompson, Julian Cooper and John and Rosamund Macfarlane – who all live and work in Cumbria and the Lake District. It aims to extend and complement the notion of the picturesque in both art and landscape.

It is being curated by Julian Cooper who is bringing artists together in a critical stand against the “picturesque” view of the Lakes, in the gallery founded by his artist-grandfather.

Alan and Kathryn on a rock by Alan Thompson

The term originated in Italy in the 16th century and referred to non-classical subjects in painting, with the French painter Claude Lorraine in particular embodying the picturesque ideal in landscape painting. The Lake District assumed its own identity as a distinct region after becoming a vehicle for ideas of the picturesque imported into English cultural debate by William Gilpin in the 18th century. For tourists the landscape was to be enjoyed as a series of leisurely ‘views’ from particular standpoints, preferably seen through a Claude glass.

“This way of viewing the Lake District survives largely intact through contemporary paintings, film, photographs, and publicity material promoting the tourist industry,” says Julian Cooper, whose father William Heaton Cooper, and grandfather Alfred Heaton Cooper, both painted more traditional scenes of the Lakes.

“How we see profoundly affects the way we think, and seeing this and other landscapes as beyond ‘scenery’ and more as a dynamic layering of natural and human systems, all connecting to each other, may help in adjusting our attitudes to the benefit of all who live and visit here, whether they be human or non-human.”

Julian Cooper’s two works on show will include his earlier paintings of abandoned slate quarries, a subject which was part of his exploration of mountains and rock-faces. They were a rich source of possibilities in both form and colour, as well as an exploration of the interaction of natural and man-made worlds. In Torver Quarry  the wall of sun-dappled rock leads down to the dark entrance of a cave, with band of coloured iron oxide running across the bedding layer, suggesting fracture and instability. The painting Overhangs, Hodge Close Quarry  tries to convey the subtle abstract conjunctions of form and colour of rough and smooth slate typical of old Lakeland quarry walls.

Other artists represented are Martin Greenland, Alan Stones, Rebecca Scott and Alan Thompson. There are also photographs by John and Rosamond Macfarlane, whose son is Robert Macfarlane, the internationally bestselling, prize-winning author of Landmarks, The Lost Words and The Old Ways and whose latest work, Underland, has just been published.

The exhibition, which is free, will run from May 13 until the end of September. www.heatoncooper.co.uk

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