'These peopled landscapes contain the stuff of dreams and yearning, archetypal stories of the past, folk tales, and my own self; all this took part in a journey through the unconscious, when no physical journeying was possible.’
‘This inward/outward quest into the imagination had a literary image - the ‘Wood between the Worlds’, that green and fertile nexus of place and time from The Magician’s Nephew by CS Lewis.’
– Flora McLachlan
Flora McLachlan is well known for her etchings that explore hidden realms, bringing to life the legends buried beneath our feet. Tiny foxes in thistledown nests; unicorns glimpsed in dappled glades; fairy and folklore is ever present in her work, always alluded to but tantalisingly out of reach.
Her new exhibition here at Sarah Wiseman Gallery takes its name from a chapter in CS Lewis’ ‘The Magician’s Nephew’. The Wood between the Worlds is a pond-filled forest, each pond a portal into another world, or place in time.
As if leaping headlong into one of the darkened pools, Flora’s work for this exhibition has taken on a new urgency of expression. During last year, Flora was in the midst of her MA at Aberystwyth University, when the Covid-19 pandemic arrived. She found herself turned out from her studio and having to work from home, away from the stimulus and atmosphere of the art-school studio. Grabbing as much etching plate as she could carry, Flora began a concentrated period of experimentation, exploring the forest metaphor more deeply, wandering into the unknown.
Her home and studio in the middle of the Welsh countryside is a constant accompanying note to her work. She reads the forests and hills that surround her as a familiar and beloved place but also an ancient and unchanged world ‘roamed by guardian spirit-like animals, shadowed by woods where the holly springs green amongst the bare oaks and beeches.’
Settling on a theme of the transformative power of the forest, we encounter protagonists set to work cutting wheat or at the spinning wheel. Previously rarely exhibited, Flora will reveal a series of paintings that explore these ideas, for the first time populated with human figures.
She says, ‘I’m interested in fairy tale tasks - spinning straw into gold, weaving shirts from nettle-flax in silence, as metaphors for the making of art, in magical terms.’
In her printmaking, she has sought to bring in this new painterly expression. ‘I made a series of etchings in early 2020 in which I used a very free-flowing painterly ground to resist the acid, so that I could scry into the drifting marks.’
In the exhibition we are treated to a collection of monotype variations, where Flora has worked into her etching plates with colour to draw out different themes. The monotypes confirm that when looking at an image the eye accepts what it first sees. Through the use of colour Flora explores the hidden depths of her work, in the same way that she delves into the forest, uncovering hidden treasure.
The large lithographs are a response to her residency at Stiwdio Maelor in Corris. ‘Firstly I started to reflect on the nature of residency, what it means to come to a place and make work. I needed to understand the place, see it through my own eyes, so I began making a series of sketches of the town. These sketches became the foundation for the lithographs over which I laid my own story, infused with myths, fairy tales and dreams of the forest.’
The dreamlike final images are a haunting glimpse into the artist’s mind, as we float through her subconscious discovering what it is like to be in this place with her and her thoughts.
'The Wood Between The Worlds' is a wonderful journey through Flora McLachlan's imagination, her connections with the natural world entwined with ancient myths and folklore.
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