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Review: RN Clarke @ Lichfield Cathedral

RN Clarke's exhibition at Lichfield Cathedral

RN Clarke's exhibition at Lichfield Cathedral

RN Clarke’s retrospective of landscape paintings, currently on show at Lichfield Cathedral (until September 17th), is a potent selection of ideas and influences.

Lichfield-born Clarke’s vision is rooted in Cannock Chase and the areas near to where he grew up in the mining village of Hazel Slade. The works on show here – taken from a 30-year period – are technically impressive, yet they are not simply pretty views of Staffordshire, but grand religious narratives – at times unsettling; deeply emotional and filled with atmosphere.

Like Stanley Spencer, Clarke has an interest in depicting biblical subjects against contemporary landscapes. His Jacob Wrestling With An Angel – set on Cannock Chase – is both powerful and deeply strange, the encounter witnessed at a distance, as if through the trees.

Clarke’s more straightforward landscapes are clearly indebted to the work of the Impressionists. Hawthorns is a truly beautiful piece that recalls the work of Pissaro, while other paintings – such as a view of Shugborough Hall – are almost pointillist in style, the shadows on the grass delineated with tiny dabs of paint.

Finally, Clarke’s collection of war paintings, such as War Graves, are both dignified and  starkly beautiful. His paintings – painstakingly created on linen canvas and with handmade oils – are clearly labours of love, but it’s Clarke’s success in transcending ‘landscape art’ to speak from the heart on matters of faith and loss that really makes this show worth catching.

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