In 2014 I went to Salisbury Cathedral on a school trip with my son. We went right up to the base of the famous spire amidst the medieval beams and looked out over the landscape. You could see for miles across Salisbury Plain and Wiltshire – it’s a unique perspective. Later that week I happened to look at a John Constable painting, ‘Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows’, and it set me thinking about these very different points of view. Subject and object. Viewer and viewpoint. Change your perspective and your thinking changes too. So took an old map of Salisbury that I’d had for a while and set out to explore some of these ideas.
Historically this classic English landscape, which John Constable thought worthy enough to be the subject of his paintings. He changed our national perception of the countryside, transforming it by seeing ‘pure’ beauty in it. The hard and dirty work of peasants was elevated to a picturesque vision of innocence.
The values celebrated in most portrait and landscape paintings of the time – wealth, status and ownership – were put aside in favour of simplicity, innocence and natural beauty. In a sense he questioned everything, though his pastoral scenes such as ‘The Haywain’ or ‘Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows’ hardly look like subversive or revolutionary paintings.
Here there is literally nothing but landscape. And yet this is not here either – it’s been fragmented into pieces and is now possibly less of a map. Or is it? The original one was hopelessly out of date in any case.
It’s been reorganised simply via its colours. Now the orange environs of the city and the pure green parts of this landscape have a different relationship with each other. Separated physically and protected within their separate frames, they are now individual entities. They almost seem to be having a conversation.
Maybe this is just a different way of mapping a landscape. It’s what remains and prevails despite the brutal changes that I find fascinating. To me, these maps are full of echoes and overlaps and whispers and like Constable’s landscapes, they provoke new ways of looking.