Few historic houses can offer wonderful vistas, ancient woodlands, peaceful sounds of wildlife and at the same time be a vibrant centre for contemporary art.
A paradise of art and nature, Brantwood has all the above and more.
Each year the former home of one the great visionaries of the 19th Century, John Ruskin, hosts artists and craftmakers who develop special exhibitions and new displays inspired by the very spirit of Brantwood.
The first of 2018 is Fair and Foul, Jill Rock’s interactive exhibition of 'vegetative grotesques' which takes its name from Ruskin's book Fiction Fair and Foul.
Writer, artist and prominent social thinker, a true polymath, Ruskin - who was born in 1819 - was one of the first people to investigate the role of the grotesque in depth, concluding that in its purest form it was a sign of what he described as a "vigorous" society.
In his Stones of Venice Volume 3 he makes a detailed analysis of the ways that grotesques are portrayed, relating them to society.
Artist Jill sees the grotesque as a source of delight, her exhibition reflecting on society's liking for it in vegetation and in art, if not always in human form.
In Fair and Foul on show in Brantwood's Blue Gallery, Jill through the medium of painted fragments of wood, many collected from the Brantwood estate, has set up an exhibition which could be seen as a dialogue with Ruskin’s analysis of the grotesque.
He coined the prophetic phrase The Divinity of Decomposition as he watched the urbanisation of Victorian London, reflecting on its affect on the imagination of people and artists in particular.
"In my mind Ruskin is a man of ideas who has become increasingly relevant as society draws closer to many of the concerns he expressed in his writings some 150 years ago," explains Jill.
"I do believe that my realisation of the importance of the grotesque in art began in 2003/4 when I spent a winter as artist on the Brantwood estate. Since then I have gathered a collection of grotesques which have given me much delight and food for thought in the painting and I would wish that they give the same in the viewing. To understand the intricacies of Ruskin’s descriptions of the grotesque is labyrinthine and for me the best I can do is identify with the playful grotesque which Ruskin sees as coming from the serious mind at play - whether this is true of my work or not I continue to ponder."
Jill works with the nature and culture of a place, in Fair and Foul's case Brantwood and Ruskin. She has worked and exhibited her work across the globe, including Germany, Italy, Holland, France, US, Brazil. Chile, Argentina, Lebanon and Hong Kong. As well as Brantwood, she has had solo exhibitions in London, Rome and Argentina.
Fair and Foul, an investigation into the grotesque runs at Brantwood until April 8.
Elsewhere nestled into Brantwood's Severn Studio until Sunday, March 11, is an exhibition of sculptural works and objects for the home from Charles Whinney and Beatrix Baker.
Working from an ancient barn at Witherslack, both artists use steam-bending as a way to create curved forms. The wood is locally sourced, often from the woodland behind the workshop, and used green. The desire to try new ideas and experiment with different techniques is shared by both Charles and Beatrix.
They say that in preparing for the show they reflected upon Ruskin’s ideas regarding craftsmanship and the nature of work. His ideas rang true and reflect their own attitude to making and working.
Meanwhile, Images from a Warming Planet by Ashley Cooper has just opened in Brantwood's Coach House Loft. The exhibition runs until April 29 and features stunning images from Ashley’s highly praised book which captures one man’s mission to document climate change around the world.
In 2010 Ashley won the climate change category of the Worldwide Environmental Photographer of the Year Competition. His acclaimed work is published widely in newspapers, books, magazines and on television around the world. For the last 13 years Ashley - a member of the Langdale/Ambleside Mountain Rescue Team - has been travelling the world, documenting the impacts of climate change.
Still to come at Brantwood is Of Truth of Skies by award-winning pastel artist, Sandra Orme. Opening on March 17, Sandra's work explores both the ever changing landscape that surrounds her studio in the Peak District - the light, seasonal colours, atmosphere and weather - while capturing the relentlessly unchanging and seemingly timeless nature of stones and rock faces or high edges and outcrops.
For the budding painter, Sandra's hosting a one-day workshop on April 20.
Onwards and to Brantwood's exhibition highlight for 2018, Work, which marks the completion of Hunt Emerson and Kevin Jackson’s masterful Ruskin comic, How to Work, How to be Rich and How to See. From April 12, Brantwood presents Emerson’s tribute to Ford Maddox Brown’s pre-Raphaelite masterpiece Work, together with representations of the world of work by artists across three centuries.
In the words of Hunt:
“In 2005 and 2008 Kevin Jackson and myself, with the Ruskin Foundation, produced two comic books – HOW TO BE RICH and HOW TO SEE, both for limited distribution in the North West of England. There was always intended to be a third volume, HOW TO WORK, and now the Ruskin Foundation have the funds to realise it. Knockabout, with the Foundation, are publishing all three comics in one 120 page volume, BLOKE’S PROGRESS, to be released in April to coincide with a major exhibition entitled WORK at Brantwood (Cumbria), the Ruskin Foundation’s headquarters.
BLOKE’S PROGRESS is based on the works of Victorian critic, writer and social reformer John Ruskin (in his time possibly the most famous man in Britain), and were intended to try and introduce some of his ideas to young, modern readers. His work is largely unread today, being very dense and Victorian, but it is hard to over-estimate how influential he was in his time. His thinking led in time to such things as the National Trust, Art education for the masses, and ultimately the welfare state and the NHS. When members of the first Labour government were asked what influenced their philosophies a small minority said Karl Marx, while the majority cited John Ruskin, and it was often said that if a British working family had two books in their house they would be The Bible and Ruskin’s “Unto This Last” (the book that inspired our How To Be Rich).
This all sounds very dry and intellectual, and hardly the stuff of comic books, but the book is far from that! It’s funny, wild and weird, it’s a romance and a psychedelic trip, and it has Skittle, one of the most loveable dogs in comics. And it contains some very interesting and radical ideas.
Darren Bloke is a hard-working stiff who’s life is changed and ruined by a lottery win. He squanders his windfall and winds up with nothing. The spirit of John Ruskin visits him, and takes him through a series of explorations of Money, Perception and Work that turn his life around and enable him to see the world through a much more positive, creative filter, and to learn to live as an honest human should.
An exciting year ahead for a very special and inspiring place.
Press release distributed by Pressat on behalf of Brantwood, on Monday 5 March, 2018. For more information subscribe and follow https://pressat.co.uk/