“Take me someplace where we can be silent together. I would like to spend the rest of my days in a place so silent–and working at a pace so slow–that I would be able to hear myself living.”
So says the ascetic, mystical painter Ambrose Pike in Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel, The Signature of All Things. A handsome 19th Century artist with a distinctly romantic, spiritual and sensual side, Pike has much in common with the painter, Rupert Muldoon, a 30 year old Englishman whose has found, at Trafalgar Park, an 18th century house in Wiltshire, a place so silent and a pace of working so at one with nature that one senses he can perhaps hear himself living. Developing his own analytical stance towards landscape as a designer of the past 10 years, Muldoon has learnt how to map and read different landscapes, both urban and pastoral. He is also a gardener with contact to the earth and an understanding of plants and their seasons.
It is here, at Trafalgar, that we walk together alongside the river, which has inspired so much of Muldoon’s recent work, on show until the end of November. These water meadows were once painted by Turner and Constable and there is a very 19th Century quality to Muldoon. His face is like a portrait by Becquer or Ingres; his studio strewn with books on Claude Monet and Gustav Klimt. Yet Muldoon, with his digital camera strapped to his neck, is very much a 21st Century artist. His “shadowed water” canvases remind me, here and there, of David Stanley, Roger Colson, Len Chmiel and of course Bracha Ettinger and Gerhard Richter.
The river, reshaping the contours of the land and sustaining life itself, is the focus of Muldoon’s work. Walking through C18th parkland, the gate at the end of the ordered garden is the tipping point into the wild place of the river. Untamed, left to itself, mysterious, ever changing, its suggestive and endless reincarnation of itself quickly takes a hold of the imagination. Landscape in Muldoon’s painting becomes a metaphor for the inner states of mind we each seek out.
Muldoon shares Richter’s fascination for the power of images and painting's uneasy relationship with photography. Even today as we walk along the river, Muldoon is snapping away. Some of his photographs remind me of works by Axel Huette's Brasilian photographs. Muldoon’s view is that while either medium may claim to reflect or express reality truthfully, each ultimately suggests only a partial view of a subject. Yet it is not in Muldoon’s photographs, more akin to sketches or preparatory drawings, but in his blurred, luminescent canvases that Muldoon’s river becomes to quote Khaled Hosseni “a place with no ghosts, no memories, and no sins.”
Mysterious, subtle, theatrical and poetic, like Richter, Muldoon often blurs his subjects and embraces chance effects in his own painting process which often leads one’s attention to the oil pigment's dense, material nature. “When trying to remember a place I tend to refer back to my sketches and not photographs,” Muldoon tells me. “Perhaps the power of a painting is to not show all, providing just enough of a view to keep the audience interested and perhaps to encourage them to supply their own story.” “There is an English tradition of painting nature, particularly as a metaphor of the inner states of mind,” Muldoon explains. “The intense projection of personality onto the picture is what I hope makes the work very engaging.”
The very act of painting, capturing a 3d scene on the 2d canvas involves a great deal of inventing. The extra dimension Muldoon brings to his paintings is the undercurrent of possibility. Maybe this is something to do with mortality, where we step out of ourselves and think upon a deeper truth. The naturalistic scene becomes closer to the more transcendent sense of nature itself. It is the real place that seeds imagined landscape. That we all have the capacity to respond to our environments emotionally and romantically and see beyond the literal. Muldoon makes his own panels for painting, using the ancient tradition of building up of layers of gesso. This produces a porcelain like finish which is highly absorbent and the perfect surface to start painting in egg tempera.
Egg tempera consists of pigment, water and egg yolk. Grinding powered pigments on a sandblasted glass slab and adding water this ‘paste’ can then be stored until used, judging the quantity of egg yolk needed to add to pigment, after mixing in more water. Application must be swift as the pigments dry out fast, within a few minutes. Transparent layers of pigment can be built up, but not too thickly otherwise they will crack off the panel. A painting has to be finished within a couple of weeks, because the paint ‘sets’ and becomes waterproof over time. Using a limited palette, rubbing through and scumbling allow Muldoon to capture ethereal effects of light in his work, Muldoon’s many layers, strokes, and scrapes of colour appear as beautiful as anything found in nature. Fresh, vivid, unlabored and calligraphic, Muldoon’s riverscapes have an internal harmony without ever seeming formulaic.
These works are now being exhibited at an extraordinary new 21st Century art space that Muldoon has created in the 18th Century North Wing Gallery at Trafalgar Park. The North Wing dates from 1766 and has not been lived in since WWII. Over time the rooms have become stripped down to their plain state, revealing their stately proportions. Muldoon made his studio here, where the cool indirect north light is perfect for painting and also for displaying the art. Having recorded the past year on Instagram, Muldoon’s gallery feed provides the visual story, showing how the paintings have progressed, where the inspiration has come form and the making of an exhibition space in this derelict part of the house. Instagram has proved a way to connect with people directly and of course instantly with those who are actively interested.
The next step was to open the space. The virtual gallery turned into a real one. The North Wing is already attracting serious people to come and take a look. Artists who’s work Muldoon hopes to exhibit alongside his own in the North Wing include Nick Goss, known for his large ephemeral depictions of space, or places suspended in space; William Daniels, meticulous at reproducing paintings of aluminium foil-wrapped models; Luey Graves, painting objects removed from their source and in juxtaposition to each other; Daisy Millner, whose ‘carved’ paintings depict a collage of events and Purdy Fitzherbert, who paints the act of seeing, the marks left behind on the retina.
“I hope it becomes a type of a destination gallery,” says Muldoon. “The sense of discovering the space and environment where art is made and forming a direct relationship with the artist. The plan is to exhibit alongside a handful of other painters - a supportive and critical group that could collectively regulate what is hung and keep the collection of selling art works fresh.”