A Figure From the Past in the Landscape

Can landscape art mediate a link between us and figures from the past, defying the passage of time in a place?

My plough horses, not Kemp-Welch’s, but perhaps with a little of the same idea.
My plough horses, not Kemp-Welch’s, but perhaps with a little of the same idea.
To see a figure from the past in the landscape is an arresting experience.

Every now and then, time seems briefly to abandon its relentless forward march.

I am waiting and watching for someone. A friend I love, or a relative. Almost inevitably, I begin to picture the arrival itself.

For each time I look and they’re not there yet, the open gateway or empty path seems more strange for being empty, than it would be full of their presence. There becomes the thinnest of lines between the empty space, mentally filled by the expectancy of their arrival, and the reality of its happening.

Perhaps if the same arrival is delayed, my mind might wander to their last departure in the same spot. Maybe there were hugs, an affectionate joke, a lingering wave. All these images are connected with the same point in space and can seem strangely present, maybe held apart as separate, only by my rational mind, which insists on allowing for the intervening passage of time.

The barrier of time that holds these events apart, becomes briefly assailable. At this instant, all are briefly compressed into the place, which seems to contain all these moments. I am held there, in thrall to the possibility of the future arriving in my present and entranced by the past, which dares to linger there too.

Events seem to project, or perhaps compress, into that place. The longer I stare over the same space, the further out it goes.

I can picture the previous owner waiting for someone on the same spot ... the figures of the builders of the house pausing in the shade of a tree...The gathering thoughts keep racing back further, to when all around was once fields, cows loitering lazily by the hedge.

It seems like the longer I watch one place, the greater the reach to that spot’s connections through time becomes. (For me, this experience has often been formative in creating the subject and composition of a painting.)
I think something of this same, almost meditative process can often be brought on by the lingering study of a piece of landscape art. If the artist has engaged in something like this train of reflection in the process of artistic creation, is it unreasonable to think that this becomes somehow embedded in the art itself, and available to the engaged viewer?

If so, perhaps this is part of the reason for the potency of such art and our enduring appetite for it.

Whether one loves the sweeping ethereal qualities of Turner’s mist covered mountains or the vibrant intimacy of Lucy Kemp-Welch’s muddy foregrounds, there is in them access to stillness, and depth of reach, in our connection with place.

We take in the moment, but what if we don’t move straight on to the next picture in the gallery? Turner’s mists might clear, Kemp-Welch’s horses pass, we know what should happen next, the unassailable rules of the passing of time tell us it must be so. Yet there they still are, a moment of mist endlessly shrouding a mountain and a team of plough horses forever crossing a ridge of the Downs in the cold morning air.