There’s a great deal in the outdoor media these days about improving your physical performance, and you can even seek help from those who say they can boost your psychological performance – as though the mountains had become merely an arena in which the individual can categorise themselves. Each to his own.
For myself, as someone moving ungracefully beyond all notions of performance, I benefit most from advice on how to enrich my soul, and if you feel the same, then let me offer you this: the artist Julian Cooper has not just one but two exhibitions on at the moment in different parts of Britain.
He is an artist very much in the family business, following his grandfather Alfred and his father Heaton, both of them fine artists, each with his own vision and from his own time – and yet it’s Julian’s work I think which scratches deepest at our fascination with the natural world.
Yesterday, and I’m sorry I missed it, there was a private viewing in London at the Art Space Gallery for Natural Forces
, a new series of paintings from near his home in the Lake District: ‘The features I have become interested in are certain aspects of the small crags that punctuate the west side of the Naddle Fell. Especially with trees growing out of them, along the cracks and fissures that are formed both by time and weather, and by the trees themselves.’
How slowly nature is made, raindrop by raindrop; it is not to be understood lightly or instantly.
There is an essay on this new collection from Melvyn Bragg: ‘His pre-occupation with this area can be compared to the fertile restriction imposed on himself by Cézanne in his 70 Mont Sainte-Victoire paintings.’ Praise indeed. Natural Forces ends on 11 April.
If you want a fuller look at Cooper’s work, there is a 12-year retrospective on now at the Crossley Gallery in Halifax – Reading the Rock
. There is work from Kangchenjunga, Kailas and the Eiger – and an abandoned copper mine in Tasmania that was, for Cooper, ‘beyond my imagination’.
‘When a piece of land inclines towards the vertical, our relationship with it changes,’ Cooper writes. ‘We can no longer walk on it and it cannot grow food for us. So we either ignore it, or it becomes an aesthetic object in itself, akin to a work of art, and a visible record of time, weather and geological change. I’m entranced by the visual drama which rock faces can emanate, displaying tension, coherence, and traces of violent forces through deep time.’
His Kailash paintings in particular prompt a powerful emotional response; they hum with that thin bright light of high altitude that makes Tibet so exceptional. His detailed work of rock faces are similarly complex but subtler, as though you were getting a lifetime of looking condensed into one piece of work. Reading the Rock ends on 20 April.