In his fourth solo exhibition at the gallery, Dominic Shepherd continues to marry a deep and ongoing interest in mythology with a personalised, idiosyncratic worldview. Made as part of the series Old England, the paintings in this exhibition reach beyond the personal and historical to the political.
“Britain, surrounded by water, is a haunted isle. Colonialism; slavery; conquest; feudalism; reformation; democracy; civil war. Every locus is invested with ghosts of the past, a misty and sentimentalised landscape.” In a climate where nationalism has gained so much traction globally, Shepherd addresses the relationship between actual and nostalgic notions of received traditions, opening onto a consideration of the complex relationship between Romanticism, folk, patriotism and nationalism. Viewed in the shadow of fundamental political change, Shepherd has been forced to confront his interest in English folk and Englishness, and ask where, and how, these themes have been recontextualised. Being aware of nationalism’s tendency to mine and appropriate folk traditions, and a new sensitivity towards the localised and regional, Shepherd allows these concerns to permeate beneath the surface.
Shepherd employs water as a newly dominant motif. Figures are found submerged, wading or crossing bodies of water that he encounters daily in the wooded estate where he lives in Dorset. Sinuous rills, lakes, dew ponds, streams, storm drains, culverts, canals and weirs are permanently transitory and allude to the hidden: “To contemplate water is akin to viewing the painted surface; a mirror that reflects the viewer’s standpoint; an intricate surface formed by tortuous rules; underwater lurk the unseen, the ghosts.”
These paintings continue an evolution in Shepherd’s practice where meaning and presence have become increasingly oblique. The ghosts to which he refers are those of the past, who populate a civilisation’s historical narrative, or an individual’s memory or unconscious. As figures navigate idealised land and waterscapes in contemplation, trepidation or with unknowing ease, this hearkening for a paradigmatic time and place should serve as a warning that nostalgic longing can also harbour unseen threat and malevolence.