Reviews for Alistair Tucker

It took me a while to connect my initial glimpses of Alistair Tucker’s work into something like a proper awareness of the range and energy of his output. A year or two ago I saw some of his work as part of a three-man show in a not especially well known gallery in Liverpool, where (to be honest) I had gone to see Norman Ackroyd’s work. Ackroyd’s intensely dramatic and technically brilliant landscape etchings had long been an enthusiasm, but I was instantly drawn to Alistair’s thinner but no less intense images, especially several rain and mist filled etchings of Carding Mill Valley in Shropshire, where we frequently walk. (To be found, for example at Prints a 20-21 and Prints b 5 on Alistair’s website) I shared my enthusiasm with my wife and picture buying partner, but somehow I never got back to see the exhibition for a second time. It was from our remote Shropshire base in Bishop’s Castle only a little later that I encountered Alistair’s work again in the Country Works Gallery in Montgomery. Here I saw several wonderful images that confounded the traditional categories of the print, categories that I have spent much of teaching life instilling into students. Here were etchings that were dramatised by brilliantly coloured overpainting in watercolour, drawings that refused to stay on the unbroken surface of the paper but were rather gouged into it and overlaid in other media, freely drawn dry-point lines swirling over etching, areas of aquatint softening etching and engraving . Such confident and self-referential dramatisation of the making of the image as part of the image itself spoke to me of an immensely accomplished artist with a formidable repertoire of techniques at his disposal. I began to look at the range of work presented on Alistair’s web-site, although my experience of the actual presence of his work rather defied the ordered division of work there into ‘drawings’, ‘paintings’ and ‘prints’. I began buying his work (the Yr Wyddfa drawing at Drawings 19 for example) and, after some e mail correspondence, was kindly invited to see a range of his pictures and notebooks as well as his working teaching studio in Chester, a visit that only increased my respect for his restless technical experimentation and his vivid understanding of, and willingness to challenge, the expressive potential of the image on paper.

But of course technique alone does not necessarily make for significant art, and, now having bought and lived for some time with several of Alistair’s ‘pictures’, (which can’t simply be called ‘prints’ or ‘paintings’), I have slowly tried to work out what I have found especially resonant in his work. I think there are three elements of his work that speak to me – his awareness of, but not deference to, the traditons of British landscape art; his intensely focussed interest in the ways that the marks and gestures out of which images are made become inscribed on (and often in) the surface of his works; and (in a much less much cerebral way) the extraordinary extent to which Alistair, as an artist, has been drawn to so many of the places that resonate in my own personal history.

As a landscape artist and a printmaker, Alistair’s work immediately alludes to a tradition of British art that runs from Cotman, Palmer and Blake through William Hyde to the neo-Romanticism of Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland and John Piper. While bringing various of their own intellectual and emotional interests to bear on their reading of the landscape, all these artists operated essentially at the intersection between light and landscape, and insisted on the singularity and drama of the particular place at a particular moment in time. All these artists shared two other interests – the will to unsettle their landscapes with a ‘visionary’ element that reads significances and meanings into places, and a willingness to recognise and exploit the full techical and expressive resources of print-making media. I have had a long standing interest in this tradition, and I have a fairly substantial collection of British pastoral paintings and prints, including early Sutherland etchings that, despite their estranging moments of Modernist detail, refer directly back to Palmer, and of Piper prints that render familiar landscapes strange through their restrained but persistent critique of naturalism. Alistair Tucker’s images, while rooted in a clear and detailed response to the landscape, are in the same way essentially dramatic in their sense of place and occasion and, in their acknowledgement of the possibility of ‘otherness’ or even the sublime appearing in the everyday play of light and shade in the landscape. His several images of aquaducts immediately recall the industrial sublime to be found, astonishingly given the gentility of watercolour, in Cotman or J.C.Bourne.

I have suggested already how interesting and visually compelling I have found the complex surfaces of Alistair’s Tucker’s paintings, drawings and prints, and especially his ability to bring depth and drama to the normally passive and depthless plane of an image on paper. But while it is possible to offer some sort of explanation for these kinds of responses to his work, it is harder to explain the very particular and personal resonance of the places he has chosen to represent. Much of his work, of course, comes from places I have never been. But within his work there were several images that were joltingly personal because they centred on places that have mattered to me in very particular biographical ways. For example, there is a drawing of Fawley power station on Southampton water, which seems to me a successful exercise in the industrial picturesque. (Drawings 7) Yet for me, as a child brought up on the muddier side of Southampton Water, this image suggests a moment of aesthetic intensity found in the watery wastelands of the Solent, and thus a moment reclaimed from my childhood. Similarly South Stack lighthouse on Anglesey, where I watched from afar my climbing club colleagues from Bangor University putting up new routes in the late 1960s, (Drawings 3, Prints a 16, Prints b 9) and, more immediately the many images of the wide country panorama seen from Mongomery Castle, rich with a recoverable presence of marauding clans, tribes and barons filing down the converging ruler-straight roads to the castle, fill out my personal history in visible forms. (Drawings 37) Images of the Long Mynd (Drawings 1, 12-17) and Carding Mill Valley, too, (Prints a 20-21, Prints b 5) represent much of the reason for our half-complete resettlement in Shropshire. Doubtless other people will find similar resonance in Alistair’s re-imaginings of ‘their’ British landscape moments. But Alistair Tucker’s images of a county not much given to the sublime, at least beyond Ironbridge, continuously supply me with a powerful visual and emotional reason for casting in my lot with Shropshire.

Brian Maidment

July 2011

(Brian Maidment is Research Professor in the History of Print at Salford University and a Visiting Professor at the Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University, where he teaches a graduate seminar on the history of prints. Many of his publications are based on a study of early nineteenth century prints and their makers).