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Meet the Curator of The Subversive Landscape, Hugh Mendes

We are delighted to host The Subversive Landscape at Tremenheere Gallery, curated by contemporary artist Hugh Mendes from 29th April to 27th May 2023. The exhibition will comprise works by a number of internationally-renowned artists.

Best known for painting obsessive and photo-realistic recreations of images from national newspaper obituaries, Hugh Mendes on this occasion dons his curator’s hat and takes inspiration from Cornwall’s effortless beauty, breath-taking vistas, and sea views to present an exhibition that pays tribute to a generally formal practice, the landscape. 

We caught up with Hugh about the exhibition, the inspiration behind it, his own submissions and the wonderful artists involved:

What inspired you to create this exhibition? 

I have been aware of Tremenheere for many years and have acted as an advisor to Neil Armstrong (Tremenheere Director) in a very informal capacity for much of that time, especially since the gallery was built. 

Since my MA graduation some 20 years ago, I have occasionally curated shows, usually when there is a very specific idea that I want to explore with other artists, or there is a particular venue that I responded to. In this case, I certainly responded to the venue, both the gallery and the sculpture gardens. 

Having been asked by Neil to curate a show at the Gallery, I thought it should refer to the landscape but not necessarily be a traditional ‘Landscape Show’. I thought about artists who I have worked with before and who I currently work with, especially in an academic context. 

Initially, I conceived of ‘the no landscape, landscape show’, which subsequently developed into ‘The Subversive Landscape’… consisting of artists who deconstruct, recontextualise or subvert the landscape, but are not necessarily thought of as Landscape Artists, at least not in the usual sense. 

Tell us a bit about your work that will feature in the exhibition. 

I have two recent paintings made specifically for ‘The Subversive Landscape’ show; Obituary: Nancy Holt, and Obituary: Ana Mendieta.

They are both made in the context of my long ongoing series of Obituary paintings. These have been going on for nearly twenty years now. In recent years, I have been concentrating on artists’ obituaries, initially as they died and appeared in The Guardian newspaper. Then I started using alternative images and working my way back through art history. I would either feature their self portraits, remade as the image, or their artwork. In the case of these two, I used landscape related images. Nancy Holt with her huge concrete sun tunnels and Ana Mendieta with her own body imprinted into the land. In their different ways, they disrupted and perhaps subverted the land for their own subversive reasons. I really enjoyed making these paintings and felt it was part of my job as curator of the show, engaging in the theme, which I had come to see as appropriate for this particular venue. 

Obituary: Nancy Holt by Hugh Mendes

This is a beautiful collaboration of artists, how did you all come together? 

As mentioned, all of the artists I have invited are well known to me and I have followed their practice over many years. The exception to this is James Turrell. However, he has two major pieces of work on the site of the gallery; Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens. One of these is an underground camera obscura. He has created an etching from an image of the tree canopy from under the ground. So this image fits the theme very well. Also there is a Dorothy Cross piece sited right outside the gallery, which tangentially becomes part of the show. 

Many of the artists I have included are part of the Fine Art faculty at City & Guilds of London Art School, where I and most of them have taught for the last 20 years. They all refer to the landscape in very diverse and unusual ways. 

What do the artists who are involved in the show have in common? 

Some of them work with me in an academic context, as mentioned. One thing you could say is they all have me in common, as a friend and some time previous collaborator. In this particular context they all to some extent or at least occasionally refer to the landscape in their practice. 

How do you feel the work will relate to Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens? 

As mentioned above, I have been aware of Tremenheere for many years now and have keenly enjoyed following its development. I felt that if I was to curate a show in the gallery, it should relate to the landscape but not in too obvious a way. I am aware that much of the sculpture there also is not necessarily seen as traditional, but relates to the land in very diverse and interesting ways. So I wanted the exhibition to augment and compliment the sculpture garden. It will be up to the viewers to see whether, or to what extent this is the case. There are a few local Cornish artists involved but many of the artist’s work will be coming down from London where I am based and may be less familiar. 

It’ll be great to have James Turrell featured in the show, what is your favourite thing about his work? 

One of my favourite pieces in the sculpture garden is the Turrell underground ‘Aqua Oscura’. I love that it is embedded in the land, is part of the land and actively reflects the land and the trees. I have always loved camera obscuras, ever since I lived in San Francisco and was a regular visitor to Ocean Beach and ‘The World’s First Camera’ which was sited there. You paid a dollar to go in and watch the pelicans flying overhead. I have also had a very long relationship with etching as an art form. So It is great to have one of Turrell’s etchings from his Camera Obscura/ Aqua Oscura, in the show. It is quite beautiful but in its own way, quite subversive. It literally inverts the landscape. 

James Turrell – Camera Obscura Etching

The Subversive Landscape is a group exhibition and features works by the following artists: Fiona Banner aka The Vanity Press, Michael Landy, James Turrell, Amikam Toren, Gordon Cheung, Fleur and Ali Mackie, Rob and Nicky Carter, Robin Mason, Alex Gene Morrison, Kiera Bennett, Andrew Grassie, Reece Jones, Adam Dix, Hugh Mendes, Lucy Willow, Lee Maelzer, Roger Thorp, Jesse Leroy Smith, Kirsty Harris, Dan Hays, Liane Lang.

Tremenheere Gallery is open Tuesday – Saturday, 11am – 4pm. Closed Sundays and Mondays. The exhibition will be launched with an opening event on Friday 28th April, 6 – 8pm –  All welcome to attend. Free entry, with many of the works available to purchase.

The Sculpture Gardens are open every day, 10.30am – 5.30pm, last entry 4.30. The James Turrell Aqua Oscura is open every Wednesday and Saturday, 10.30am – 1pm.

Read the full exhibition details here.

Feature image by Adam Dix.