A Tuesday talk at the Yale Center for British Art used an unorthodox approach to bridge a historical gap between 19th century paintings and modern day sculpture.
Damian Taylor — a visual artist and Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Oxford who is a visiting scholar at Yale this fall — addressed an audience of roughly 30 people on the subject of English romantic painter John Constable’s “Cloud Studies,” a name given to a series of cloud-filled skyscapes that Constable painted nearly two centuries ago. Taylor drew a connection between the paintings and several works by a strikingly different artist, Roger Ackling, a modern artist who was known for using recycled materials in his art. Taylor emphasized the way in which each painting in the series encapsulates a single moment, noting that Constable’s later pieces highlight the passage of time.
“[One painting] depicts a very precise moment, which can never be repeated,” Taylor said. “It highlights the absolute moment of something happening but without any particular reason as to why it’s that moment.”
Taylor said he believes that Ackling’s work is different from Constable’s in that many of Ackling’s creations were made by manipulating light to change the appearance of objects such as wooden blocks, which would not be possible in the presence of clouds. One example, Taylor explained, would be Ackling’s “Voewood,” a 6 x 6 x 2.5 cm cylinder of oak with stripes created by directing sunlight through a magnifying glass. He explained that he thought the relationship between Constable and Ackling was clear in that both highlighted the importance of light in their works, even though one relied on the power of sunlight to create his work while the other required painted objects that block sunlight.
The paintings — about a dozen of which are on display at the Center — were not intended to be exhibited as works of art, Taylor explained, but rather as a glimpse into Constable’s method of painting realistic cloudy skies. These clouds mean something different from other elements of a landscape, he noted.
Taylor discussed the debate that exists among art scholars about the orientation of one painting in the series, noting that the museum recently had the painting flipped upside down. This debate persists amid input from art historians and meteorologists alike, he added. The confusion about the painting’s orientation follows from the absence of the horizon, Taylor explained, adding that his interests lie with what happens once this horizon disappears.
Taylor also discussed Constable’s influence on his own artwork, showing viewers some of his long-exposed photographs that resemble the painter’s work.
Taylor’s lecture is part of the YCBA’s “Art in Context” lectures, a series of gallery talks held at the center on selected Tuesdays throughout the year. YCBA Education Curator Linda Friedlander said that Taylor was selected to be a visiting scholar at Yale through a highly competitive process, noting that she thought the autobiography that Taylor presented to her was one of the most original she has ever read.
Most attendees interviewed said they enjoyed the lecture, though one audience member said she had trouble hearing Taylor.
“It was really interesting,” said Amanda Kallenbach, a New Haven resident. “It was also interesting to hear about his work.”
The next “Art in Context” talk will be held on Oct. 7.