Richard Billingham, Horses, 2011, chromogenic print on Kodak paper_45 x 117.5 cm_edition of 3 + 2AP

 

Opening Thursday 28th September, from 6.30 till 9.00

29th September - 15th November 2017

ANTHONY REYNOLDS GALLERY, London

as guest of SPAZIO 22

Viale Sabotino, 22 - Milano

 

“Good landscape art is about a condition, an attitude … a state of mind”. (RB)

The name Richard Billingham is forever associated with the extraordinary series of photographs of

his own family which he took for a period of a few years, from 1990. Just 19 years old and passionately

dedicated to the idea of being a painter, he started to take these photographs as source material

for expressionist studies of his father, Ray, a man sustained in a lack and luckless life by little more

than vast quantities of home-made alcohol. But Billingham soon realised that the photographs

themselves were the work and the combination of environment, intimacy and an exceptional

aesthetic awareness resulted in hundreds of the now internationally celebrated images of Ray,

Liz, brother Jason and dogs, cats, fish and rats, images that have a power and a real beauty that is

exceptional and unique. Within a few years, Billingham was exhibiting in galleries and institutions

in Europe, the Americas and the Far East and collectors and museums were avidly acquiring

his work. Once the shows began, however, Billingham turned the focus off his family.

First he stepped outside and photographed the suburban environment of Cradley Heath, a stage

set peopled only by parked cars, silent. He then turned to animals, animals in captivity, animals

that he remembered from earliest childhood in the local zoo; animals restricted in an unfamiliar

environment stressed and engaged in perpetual repetitive actions. Billingham travelled far and

wide making videos and large-scale photographs of these oppressed creatures. Many of the videos

are almost unbearable to watch. Meanwhile Billingham kept returning to the landscape. His

own restrictive and chaotic domestic upbringing had a perhaps inevitable parallel in a profound 

relationship with nature in all its moods and manifestations. Billingham is a weatherman, a bird

watcher, an acute observer of the teeming life in the hedgerows, a botanist. Of an oak tree he writes:

“Every Spring the oak blooms. The invisible pollen from the catkins is distributed each year by

the wind but acorns drop within only a few yards of the parent and always get eaten by the deer

or the commoner browsers. Animals gather beneath its shade; beetle larvae honeycomb the

bark and other invertebrates inhabit the crevices. Pollarding has created a micro-habitat for tiny,

semi-amphibian organisms with the water in the hollows forming miniature ponds when it rains”.

And, on an attempt to capture the passing of a particular light over the land, like a hunter stalking

his prey:

“I lie in wait for a while then try again when it comes back but I still cannot catch it. It is now nearly

properly dark though there is no moon. I don’t want to get too close to the light a hundred metres

across the beach. I decide to follow the static, winding river back up. The still bodies of clear water

mirror the dim-white negative spaces above within black land patches. Stepping into the water

would be like stepping into the sky.”

Every one of these images is the result of a moment of recognition, scenes experienced

for the first time, but with a certain inevitability. Wherever they come from they speak of

a personal relationship every bit as real as those in the family flat in the Black Country.

“The best landscape photography comes from inside the artist, from ideas, emotions and attitudes

projected onto the landscape and recorded with the camera.”

There are images from the south downs of Sussex, the huge skies of Norfolk, Constable’s Essex,

his home land of Gower in Wales; images from England, Wales, Greece, Ireland, Ethiopia,

Pakistan. Landscapes large and very small, close and far, wet and dry, calm and angry.

We can only present a small selection here but each image has companions and though

hard to choose, those selected are amongst the very best. And not just the best of Billingham

but amongst the best images in a great tradition of affaires with the landscape from the awe of

Caspar David Friedrich to the forensic celebrations of the familiar by Constable.

This exhibition is one of a series for both galleries. Anthony Reynolds Gallery has now established

a model of nomadic collaborations, with no proprietary fixed space. This is the sixth exhibition in the

programme. The next three projects will take place in Berlin, Amsterdam and London. The gallery

will continue to participate in art fairs where appropriate, always presenting the work of one artist

or one theme and treating the art fair booth as another gallery. Spazio 22, incorporating

both FL GALLERY and Galleria PACK has maintained an imaginative series of guest gallery shows

alongside the spaces they programme on a regular basis. Federico Luger has had a long-term

interest in the work of Richard Billingham and we were delighted to accept his invitation

to propose an exhibition. We look forward to welcoming our friends and colleagues from Milan

and the many people who have supported and acquired Billingham’s work in the past.