Wild and untamed, yet elegant and restrained

Montsegur by Alan Rankle
Montsegur by Alan Rankle

Visiting the blackShed gallery near Robertsbridge in East Sussex is quite an experience.

A turn off an anonymous stretch of the A21 takes you down an anonymous country lane into an anonymous looking farm into an equally anonymous looking former chicken shed.

The shed houses the gallery – hence the name. The adventure of getting there makes one feel much more than a mere observer. So it’s quite fitting that once inside, the revelation of the current exhibition Alan Rankle : Wilderness Approaching also pulls one out of the ordinary and into an otherworldly dimension.

Oldham born Rankle is most often defined as a landscape painter albeit with a mission to revitalise the genre by challenging and uprooting traditional ways of painting. True enough, he does paint iconic and powerful oils on canvas which reference Turner and other classicists. But, as this latest exhibition shows, Rankle is moved by the sense of otherness, the magic, brutality and wilderness of the natural world; and yet at the same time follows the formalism of his hero Francis Bacon. He paints as the romantic poets wrote verse. Wild, untamed, adventurous yet at the same time elegant, restrained and with perfect narrative form.

Each canvas takes weeks, sometimes months of layering texture upon texture until it is finished. However, it’s no surprise to learn that in the weeks leading up to this exhibition at the blackShed gallery Rankle had a rare period of space and reflection.

The works exhibited were started, then left, then returned to, then left again, then worked on some more, until finally here they hang in a former chicken shed. This is some of Rankle’s most powerful and thought provoking work to date and the unusual setting couldn’t be more fitting for an artist who has never shied away from risk.

Showing until November 24.