‘The Tragedy of Landscape’ Artist Interview: Ambrosine Allen

Could you tell us a little about your background and what you have been up to recently?

I came to art through drawing, which I spent four years studying. This culminated in an MA that took me to London. I’ve been living and working here ever since but I have a love-hate relationship with the city. I’m a fairly reclusive character so my studio is a bit of a sanctuary and this is lucky because my practice is intensive.

Things have really taken off for me over the past few years and I’ve had some great opportunities to exhibit in London and abroad. I’ve recently stumbled across the world of the portable shrine after seeing an intriguing image of an Indian Kaavad in one of my encyclopedias. I love the way that such epic stories and ideas are contained within these tiny dioramas and this premise has influenced a few pieces in my new series. I hope to show them later on this year.

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Could you tell us about the process of how your works are made?

I take photographs and prints from discarded encylopedias and break them down into tiny paper cuttings. These cuttings are then meticulously reassembled into invented landscapes. I tend to work on a series of four or five at once and the images are built up in multiple layers; terrains evolve only to suffer dissolution as more and more paper cuttings are added and new geographies take shape. Underneath each finished landscape sit multiple other versions – the passages of rivers, cities and skies, and the rise and falls of mountains and horizons. It can be a frustratingly slow process but the final image only exists successfully because of the moments of turmoil and transition in it’s making. Once completed the collages are treated with a UVA filter and mounted. I tend to show the rough outer edging of the work as it explains so much about it’s construction.

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Could you tell us about what the thinking is about your practice (any particular influences?)

I have always had an innate anxiety about the vastness of the world and an undertone of foreboding creeps into all my images. I decided a long time ago to embrace this and its proved to be a great resource. My landscapes study the power and beauty of nature whilst exploring the combination of fear and wonder it produces in us. My approach is not political because our relationship to our shifting environment is much more fundamental than that. I often think of Carl Ottos description of the case of a priest who was so terrified when he was not covered by the manmade safety of the domed ceiling of his church the he was forced to walk under an umbrella every time he ventured into the open countryside.

At a broader perspective I’m interested in the general idea of ‘world-making’. This can be in any form, whether in the work of other artists or in books, films and TV. I like the way that by establishing a difference and setting up this other possible narrative, both the artist and spectator are allowed to think in metaphor and we can measure ourselves and our reality against a projection of alternative circumstances. This is packed with possibility.

I also spend a lot of time looking at landscape art – paintings, prints, drawings and photographs. Right now, I’m trying to learn more about British artists working in landscape mid 17th – mid 19th century. I recently saw Richard Wilsons painting Snowden from Llyn Nantlle in the Nottingham Castle Gallery. I’ve been cutting this picture up for years as it appears in most of my encyclopedias so I’m interested to study it as more than just compositional parts.

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Could you say a little about the work you have specifically in The Tragedy of Landscape?

The three pieces in the show, Mountain Study with Passing Storm, Observation of the Mountain at Dusk and Upon Reaching the Open Air are all part of the same series, started at the same time but completed at differing intervals. I was exploring the topography of landscape at high altitude and the physical features and extreme weather systems that can be found there. I was particularly intrigued by the bizarre geology, it’s rare you get to see such clear evidence of the violence of our tectonic history and these landscapes are often so untouched that they could be our prehistoric past as much as they could be our distant future. Epic scales are revealed when you encounter such open vistas and I actually found myself experiencing moments of near vertigo in the final stages of their construction. When you’ve been looking at a landscape for many months at a time you start to inhabit it.

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