Bridget Macdonald: Arcadia @ Art First

Art First presents the exhibition of UK artist Bridget Macdonald, ‘Arcadia’, a title given after the geographical location of Arcadia in Greece that the artist visited in 2011.

A selection of 12 medium sized charcoal on paper drawings and 3 oil on linen paintings explore the idyllic Peloponnese landscape and the journey of this iconic terrain through ancient literature to the architecture of the 18th and 19th century England. Its adaptation into a metaphorical and poetic locus synonymous to euphoria and splendour had a clear impact on the Victorians who created analogous environments in the architectural and garden landscaping domains reminiscent of the bygone ancient past.

Macdonald’s work ephasises not only on the Arcadian region with its picturesque and bucolic idiosyncrasy but also on artistic forms from the classical past; and all that filtered with the powerful influence of poetry and romanticism. Figures from the Parthenon frieze and architectural remains from Epidaurus are on a dialogue with representations of nature and rural animal life. The dynamic appearance of the bull might indirectly suggest a parallel to the ancient minotaur symbol. Through the eyes of Macdonald the viewer voyages between a real and an idealistic world beyond the boundaries of the subjective and leaves the exhibition in a state of congruity and nostalgia.

Bridget Macdonald talked to REVma -/+ about her current exhibition:

REVma -/+: How did the Arcadia trip come about and what was the main stimulus to make you decide name your exhibition after it?
B.M.: I had long been interested in the myth of Arcadia – the notion of an idealised and harmonious landscape which has been such an influence on the English attitude to countryside. It has come down to us through the classical education which was the norm until relatively recently and derives originally from Theocritus, then Virgil, and the painters Poussin and Claude Lorrain who translated Virgil’s Eclogues and Georgics into paintings which were then imitated by English landowners. The drawing ‘The Temple Greenhouse at Croome’ shows one of these landscaped parks in Worcestershire. I had only visited Crete and the Greek Islands and wanted to see mainland Greece and the real Arcadia. The title of the exhibition refers both to the reality and the imagination.

REVma -/+: You use charcoal and graphite for most of your works creating a black and white oneiric domain. Have you considered employing other media in order to generate a visual language of larger scale?
B.M.: I had to look up the word ‘oneiric’! I see it is a Greek derived word meaning dreamlike. This exhibition was planned as a drawings based show, but I do also paint – mainly in oils. I am quite a traditional artist in terms of the media I use. I agree that black and white is one step removed from reality, which suits the subject matter.

REVma -/+: Is Arcadia for you and your art a real and subjective place or an idyllic and Utopian locus?
B.M.: It is both. The landscape of my childhood on the Southernmost tip of the Isle of Wight has retained a strong hold on my imagination. It is a romantic place on a small scale – cliffs, wild and rocky beaches, groves of trees, a lighthouse. My family farm was near the lighthouse on the edge of a cliff and this is where I roamed as a child and still visit frequently. I now live in Malvern which has similarities in being a place where the Victorians built themselves villas in picturesque gardens, but it is also a fertile farming region with apple orchards, Herefordshire cattle, meadows and rivers. So these are real places but also have an Arcadian dimension in the imaginative sense. The real Arcadia in Greece is far more overpowering and terrifying in its sheer scale and grandeur. K.P.