Gary Colclough
Works         CV         Text        Contact

Scaled Territories          

“To force the pace and never to be still
Is not the way of those who study birds
Or women. The best poets wait for words.”

Nissim Ezekiel (1924 – 2004) “Poet, Lover, Birdwatcher”

The artist’s physical or imagined entrance into a ‘scene of nature’ often mimetically links with the behaviour of a birdwatcher. The searching and waiting, the tools of recognition and trust that allow for building a conjecture or, leaving a record - constitute the key moves delineating both figures. In his poem, Poet, Lover, Birdwatcher, the Indian poet Nissim Ezekiel conflates the dimensions of the lover and the birdwatcher with his own life-role as poet. Observation without risk and sensuality is an unseeing act. As a weaving together of life - both ornithology and love - are a ‘meshwork.’ The artistic act, hence, drifts from the rational grid of naming and being named toward reversals of ‘the real’ in a sedimentary time.

Across Gary Colclough’s artistic work, the architecture of seeing takes on a texture where multiple temporalities coalesce. The pictorial space is thus ‘shaped’ as both intimate ruin and subjectivized monument. If land is considered a forensic ground, Colclough draws out coded figures that disturb the boundaries between nature, culture and society. His view upon terrain renders landscape(s)-in-action - as matter that matters. Unlike the all-pervading machismo of the 18th century landscape painter, this artist privileges a choreography of fragments: the below-surface detail, a georgic imaginary, material symmetry, and those quiet yet apocalyptic scenes that expose humanity’s complex relations to ecology.

In his book Modern Painters, English critic and painter, John Ruskin mentions: “To see clearly is poetry, prophecy, and religion - all in one.” However, this modality of vision entailed a streamlined experience of landscape and perspective, as conveyed from the bedrock of Romantic tradition. Far from renditions of “the nobler scenery” of the earth, we find the picturesque quintessentially re-interrogated in Colcough’s practice. At times natural territories acquire the mood of having undergone catastrophe - such as, trees bent out of shape, garden ruins and land-plots after deluge that transmute the canvas itself into a form of debris. Other works consider the afterlives of landscape through motifs that perform as negation: a camouflaged moth or a hunted stag, intersecting bridges of a suburban highway, an eerie thicket of silver birches, and a projection screen found in the midst of dense forest.

Working at the crossings of drawing and sculpture, Colclough creates support systems for his pencil drawings that often mirror viewing apparatus from the Victorian era - such as the Claude Glass, the photographic tripod, the heliograph and stereoscope. In staging inversed and doubled views, the ocular field is set into a diagrammatic relation of machinic and organic elements. His immersive compositions draw together aspects of geometry with detailed patterning echoing from the natural world.

The artist’s references are assembled from across the history of print culture - from botanical illustrations, lithographic plates, picture books, zoological studies to catalogues of the Arts & Craft Movement and image databases via the Internet. In re-casting images to operate as tableaus of historic evidence yet also remaining fuelled with contemporary fantasy, Colclough’s recent work brings to mind the exuberant life-forms found in Ernst Hackel’s Kunstformen der Nature (Art Forms of Nature, 1899 - 1904) and the granular scheme of River Thames as temporal pattern in William Morris’ late works.

Ultimately, Colclough’s fine draftsmanship delivers endurance to the pictorial field. Through notations of effort, in graphite markings and a spectrum of light and shade, one is left sensing a topography being charted out by hand. In the vein of the ornithologist and the lover - this artist’s material observations intersect acts of waiting, detection and mimetic desire as modes of visual testimony.


Natasha Ginwala
Bergen, September 2014

See: Franco Berardi Bifo, Cognitarian Subjectivation in e-flux journal #20. 11/2010,

Tim Ingold, Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description, Routledge (2011)

As referenced in Judith Butler, Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”, Routledge (1993), p. 31–2

John Ruskin, The Poetry of Architecture, Project Gutenberg, (original) 1893

Christopher D. Johnson, Memory, Metaphor, and Aby Warburg's Atlas of Images (Signale: Modern German Letters, Cultures, and Thought), Cornell University Press, 2012