A modern master and a link to Bloomsbury

TWO new exhibitions at The Art Stable, at Gold Hill Organic Farm, Child Okeford, feature recent work by one of the West Country’s most distinguished and best loved landscape artists, and a mid-20th century painter who knew and was encouraged by members of the influential Bloomsbury Group.

Home and Away, running to 4th March, features paintings from his travels and from Dorset and Wiltshires by Christopher Riisager. The other show, from 10th February to 4th March, is a selection of paintings, drawings and prints by Robert Medley.

During the past two years Riisager continued his search for new subjects, revisiting favourite old haunts at home, looking for new compositions and fresh insights into the familiar, while his travels to Sicily and Northern Ireland have provided new vistas to extend his exploration of old motifs.

The subjects include ruins – ranging from abandoned, crumbling canning factories in the noonday heat of Sicily’s north coast or Antrim’s castles Dunluce or Dunseverick – and cliffs and mountains, with studies of the cliffs and stacks at Whiterocks, near Portrush and Portland’s bluffs and quarries.

There are echoes inland, such as the baking farmland of Piano Neve and the big silent wheatfields of the Wiltshire Downs. The dry hot summer of 2022 seemed to extend the experience of Sicily’s sunshine and colour. The brown and pink fields of Southern England never looked so Italian, or the trees so black at midday.

As a young man, Robert Medley (1905-1994) met members of the Bloomsbury Group including Vanessa and Clive Bell, Roger Fry and Duncan Grant. Grant was particularly encouraging to Robert as an artist and in the 1920s, when Robert spent time in Paris, he often went sketching with Grant in the Louvre. In the 1930s, with the ballet dancer Rupert Doone, Robert became involved with the innovative Group Theatre, working with WH Auden, Christopher Isherwood and Benjamin Britten.

After the war, during which he was a camouflage officer based in the Middle East, Medley returned to painting, exhibiting regularly including major retrospectives at the Whitechapel in 1963 and the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford in 1984.

The distinguished writer John Berger wrote that what made Medley’s work so rewarding was its dexterity: “ … an inborn or acquired skill in dealing with, or being at home with, the tangible … One can think of the cast of a master fly-fisherman. The stance of a prodigious violinist. The aim from the shoulder of a champion billiard player. Medley’s paintings have the concentration and elegance of such performances.”

While selecting work for the exhibition, gallery owner Kelly Ross found a drawing of John Berger which she has included.

Pictured: Christopher Riisager: Carrick-a-Rede (County Antrim), and Mallams, Portland, Dorset, both oil on paper on board, Robert Medley: Haute Savoie, 1988, oil on canvas.