My wife and I met Jake Attree briefly at his latest exhibition in York, his home city, at the New School House Gallery. It was a busy opening, complete with punters jostling for the white wine, and not the best environment to study the works. We were kindly introduced to Jake and chatted for a few minutes. We asked him about the location of a landscape, which we suspected to be local, and he picked up a catalogue to point out the Breughel painting that served as the ‘starting point’ for his own work, which he had then painted outside, somewhere on the outskirts of York.

Landscape at the edge of a City

Landscape at the edge of a City

In that ‘starting point’ lies much of the force of Attree’s work, that essential interplay between the aesthetic (the Breughel landscape) and the ‘external world’, that which he is witnessing. He explains this ‘balance’ in a citation within the catalogue of the York exhibition:

‘If I feel that the painting’s becoming nothing more than an aesthetic exercise and I’m just making patterns, I will go back and refer to the external world; if I feel that the paintings are being bullied by what I’ve observed in the external world, I will put the drawings aside and just paint. What I’m after is a balance between that which is an object in its own right, the painting, and the power of the painting to be a representation of something, to be inspired by something, to be a reinvention of something that I have seen empirically.’

Looking across the City from the Bar Walls

Looking across the City from the Bar Walls

“Looking Across the City from the Bar Walls’ was painted over the hot summer of 2013, and is filled with baked terracotta warmth, as if the rooftiles of York have become suffused with the spirit of Albi in Languedoc, or San Gimignano in Tuscany. There is a late afternoon atmosphere to the light, the foreground shaded by the Roman wall upon which the artist stands. Further shadows, cut by the strong sun, suggest the narrow lanes intersecting the ancient streets of Aldwark, which have teemed with city life for thousands of years. On this hot, still afternoon, though, there is no commotion, no human life, just the old city rising up below the walls like a great, fused mass of brick and tile, a mingled geometry of triangle, rectangle, a tangle of hard lines. Here, Attree’s characterstic ‘squares’ of oil emphasise that solidity, serving even to give the dappled clouds substance and weight. And there, insubstantial like memory, lighter than the clouds above, almost obliterated by the heavy haze over the burned city, York Minster, Britain’s greatest medieval building, hovers, weightless, a pale feather.

 

David Quick, 2013

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