Writing included in 12 Pages issue 9 Terror edited by Laura Elizabeth Davidson. 2013.
Prepared etching plates sit on the desk beside me as I write and are drawn onto in an almost absent manner whilst I consider the composition of the paintings I happen to be writing about . Later the plates are bitten in acid and hand printed using carbon paper, sections are then rubbed out and removed and the image is drawn into and over, the final work often bearing only a passing resemblance to its original reference, becoming abstracted and imbued with spectres of other images and disparate compositions, memories of walks, or fleeting or blurred encounters whilst travelling on trains through similar landscapes.
This series of drawings acts as tentative enquiry into the role sites of industry hold within the Romantic imagination. The journey to the 'North' became for the English Romantic landscape painters an essential pilgrimage begun with Girtin's tour of the north in 1796 and Turner's trip the following year, these were usually coach trips taking in views of key industrial sites as part of a planned itinerary. This body of work considers the composition of the paintings in light of the mobile encounters of these artists with their subjects, and what this transient or itinerant form of looking might have to do with the visual representation of industry within Sublime discourse and the shift within the late 18th centuries conception of mills, mines, forges etc as benign points of intrigue and excitement ( ie in the works of Paul Sandby P.S Munn) to the profane and troubling 'blot' as exemplified in John Martin's later scenes of terror.1 The Great Day of His Wrath 1851-3 is said to have been painted in reaction to a journey he made through the industrial smogs and kiln fires of the black country at night which profoundly moved him(see Klingender's Art and the Industrial Revolution page 196, Royal publications 1947). This provides an interesting key in psychoanalytic terms to the artists reaction to the site of trauma and the sublimatory mechanisms present in its subsequent re-animation as a fantastical and somewhat ludicrous visual narrative of apocalyptic proportions.
These drawings then, are interested in offering some small counterpoint to the mechanisms of the Sublime which contain the pre-requisite shock and awe, an aesthetic of vastness, or a totalising image, tropes which exist within the works of John Martin and are continued as legacy within discourses surrounding the 'Post Industrial' or technological Sublime'2 and the works of visual practitioners such as David Burtynsky. In offering Palimpsestic re workings of 18th and early 19th century paintings and lithographs I hope to open up a kind of Lacunic space within the original reference, which may contain movement and distortion characteristic of the artists original itinerant encounters or furthermore to make comment on the role that 'transient looking' may play within the more interesting residues of Sublime theory available to contemporary artists; the notions of ambiguity obscurity and ambivalence.
1 Klingender sites the start of the French Revolution (1798) as the beginning of an 'age of despair', a general malaise in British intellectual life which represented a move away from the excitements concerning science and technology characterising the 18th century. Suspicions over innovations and improvement were perhaps compounded by Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, an emblem within the popular imagination of the fear that technology may develop agency beyond the control of man. (See Chapter five The Age of Despair;Poetry and Science in Art and the Industrial Revolution, Francis Donald Klingender Royal Publications 1947.
2 Feelings of majesty, awe and anxiety conjured up by large scale manifestations of technological prowess. The term ' Technological sublime' is first attributed to Percy Miller (1905-1963) in his essay The responsibility of mind in a civilisation of machines.1961 and followed soon after by The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the pastoral ideal in America by Leo Marxs 1964 and later David Nye's American Technological sublime 1994.