The Fine Art Society in Edinburgh presents Anchored Under Red Rock, a selling exhibition of works from across the career of Devon-based artist Graham Rich.
Rich’s works range from large scale installations to small constructed scenes formed from the remnants of boats and objects he has found along the Devonshire coast. Often dwarfed against a backdrop of sea-worn paint and the marks left by maritime use, his carved motif of small sailing boats serve as symbols of hope and struggle against tribulation.
‘Anchored Under Red Rock’, the exhibition and one of the included works (right), take their title from the harbours of the red-rocked Devonshire coast, referencing and refuting a passage from T S Eliot’s The Waste Land: 'Come in under the shadow of this red rock I will show you fear in a handful of dust.'
To Rich, the Red Rock does not represent fear, but rather hope, shelter and safe anchorage. In this exhibition, his work Trying to Reach the Sea, conceived in 1986, is recontextualised, having arrived at anchor under Red Rock and surrounded by material found on its various voyages. The found objects have become an archive of time spent on the water, and of the experience of the sea, and of the difficulty of navigation, and of reaching destinations, and of the struggle to reach physical and spiritual places.
An artist with a passion for boats since the age of ten, Graham Rich uses marine paint on wood and boat fragments he finds during his voyages near Devon and Cornwall. The sailing boat in his paintings has become a metaphor for existence, ever since his wife was dangerously ill in hospital. “I began cutting the boat into found wood as a result of this medical emergency. The eidetic image of the boat was accompanied by a repetitive mantra in my brain that said, ‘I must sail my wife safely home’. I cut the image of the boat into pieces of found wood day after day until my wife returned to me safe and well.”
Trying to Reach the Sea is a sculpture which uses an old rowing boat as its central component. The boat was found in a back eddy on the River Exe in Devon – a back eddy in which floating objects destined for the sea often become trapped. The boat developed as a sculpture over a number of years and has revealed its meaning slowly through the process of its making.
To begin with the boat was a dustbin for beach litter – fishing floats, bait coffins, broken oars, seign nets and rusting metal were all collected together in the boat. These objects were subsequently ordered positioned and placed as if subconsciously preparing for a long voyage.
Voyages require destinations and this sculpture in its advanced state of decomposition and excessive deterioration was clearly going nowhere. It was physically incapable of reaching any sea: yet it maintained its contingencies to do so, its routines, its disciplines and its hope for the future.
At the stern of the boat is a lens mechanism, an oblique reference to The Occulist’s Witnesses in Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass. At the front of the boat is a two dimensional grid which contains images of the sea. The lens is focused on these images, acting like horse blinkers, and isolating the spectator from the surrounding reality. Only the destinations are seen, the immediate reality is obscured. One piece of the boat fabric cuts the lens but this is camouflaged.
Through the lens the boat becomes a metaphor for existence – for futility and for hope, of survival and of endeavor – a resistance against the way the world defeats us.