Archetypes 1: The Erl-King (2018, watercolour)

This series makes a deeper exploration of themes seen emerging from the ‘landscape of the soul’ concept elaborated in Landscapes 6: The House In The Woods.

Drawing on Jungian notions of mythic archetypes as the deep structures of culture, society and the human soul, The Erl-King opens the series with a dark and driving work inspired by Goethe’s poem, itself based on a German legend and famously set to music by Schubert. The father and son appear as diminutive figures of light within a maelstrom of dark colour that seems to eat away at them even as they gallop through the whirling forces that surround them.

At first glance the piece reads as a meditation on the role of the father in mediating between the child and the world, and the grief inevitable in each father’s gradual realisation that the child cannot – and perhaps should not – be perfectly protected from the world he or she seeks to join. But from another perspective the strong Mitteleuropäische cultural allusions could also be seen as a response to the contemporary contest between a dominant post-national ‘cosmopolitan’ culture of the globalisers and an emerging, oft-demonised and sometimes reactionary politics of place, belonging and cultural specificity.

In referencing a distinctively Romantic German artistic tradition while also asserting an artist’s right to work and allude cross-culturally, here the artist stakes a claim for a middle way in which cultures are not rendered blandly homogeneous in a post-national world of consumer choices, nor yet ringfenced and left to atrophy in nativist isolation.