“It seems to be easier for us today to imagine the thoroughgoing deterioration of the earth and of nature than the breakdown of late capitalism; perhaps that is due to some weakness in our imagination.”― Fredric Jameson, The Seeds of Time
Irene Godfrey paints fragmented landscapes. Her references are from life, found images and historical paintings. She is inspired by the methods and free brushwork of contemporary artists, such as Katy Moran and Nadine Feinson. Whereas Moran paints in thick luscious layers to create a non-illustrational form (which uses sensation to engage the viewer), Godfrey employs thinned oil on board to draw in monotone concentrating on chiaroscuro, tone and varied mark making. She initially engages the viewer by creating apparently highly representational works that upon closer scrutiny become more abstract and fanciful. Although Godfrey’s work resembles Feinson’s Head series (2011) in the use of washy monochrome oil, it is conceived differently: Feinson often starts painting with no end point in mind, work emerging in response to the paint, while Godfrey usually bases her work on an image or idea that later gets broken down.
The increasing fragmentation of the natural environment is at stake in Godfrey’s work. This fragmentation has been likened to the cutting up of a Persian carpet into many pieces. Each piece begins to unravel when not connected to the whole, and gradual ‘ecosystem decay’ ensues. The artist’s earlier work, painted from life, depicted actual urban fragments of the natural world. This began her exploration into the residues or negative spaces of the urban environment. She embraces what Francis Alÿs describes as an attitude to the world, which entails valuing what already exists rather than either creating new objects or working with avant-garde destructive aspirations. Godfrey’s more recent landscapes continue this theme and can be viewed as either macro or microscopic in scale. Both futuristic and botanical motifs appear in the work.
China Green (oil on board, 46 x 38 cm, 2012) is a composite of vignettes, depicting 18th century rural life. These scenes are partially obliterated and fragmented by blank areas suggesting pathways. While the whole work resembles a classical Chinese painting, its colour and style is suggestive of English transferware pottery and Toile de Jouy fabric of the 18th century. Such underlying references to progress and industrialisation, together with the fragmentation and breakdown of the work’s surface, create disquieting elements that threaten to disrupt the stability and stillness of the painting. The resulting melancholy alludes to the ecological decay present in today’s unravelling environment.
Godfrey is investigating the interconnectedness of our globalised world. She draws inspiration from Patrick Keiller and Doreen Massey’s political investigation of the English landscape that underlies the film “Robinson in Ruins”. In it they reference the following dichotomies, which Godfrey is exploring: Darwinism/ co-operation; capitalism/ socialism; flow/ stillness; migration/ ‘becoming’ in situ; globalism/ localism. A web of interdependence spreads not only across the globe but also backwards and forwards through time. What is happening globally today both parallels and is effected by Europe’s leap into industrialisation in the 18th century. The artist employs the influence of painters from the 16th to the 18th centuries to express her ideas. For her the distant vistas featured in Northern Renaissance painting (such as that of Gerard David, active from 1484 to 1523) represent an idyll; while Rococo work, e.g. Fragonard’s ‘The Swing’ (1767), is more knowingly melancholy in its representation of an ideal that cannot last. Godfrey’s resulting fragmented landscapes are imbued by turns with a sense of vibrancy, beauty, melancholy, fragility and unity.