I walk and draw in the landscape almost daily. Drawing seems to me the first step to really seeing and understanding the territory. As some particular combination of colour and shape alerts me I stand and draw. It may only be a fleeting moment of visual excitement, in fact it is sometimes something seen from the car in a flash and I have to return to exactly the same place at the same time of day to find that combination of colour and light again having marked the place with a stick to know where I stood. To start with I just respond to the subject but as the work progresses in the studio the ideas and meaning develop along with much editing and I find out what it really was about that subject that caught my attention. There are three strands of work in this exhibition. One to do with current agricultural practises on the downs, large areas of one colour denoting monoculture, aridity, erosion. Things placed on the edge of the image indicate possible sidelining, disappearance, fragmentation.
Recently, now living near to a softer landscape I have become entranced by the abundance of trees and this work has become more celebratory and even more about colour. Placing one colour against another I hope to produce the feeling needed to recreate the intensity of a visual experience. Colour is the main preoccupation as it also is in the third strand of work which is about Greece and its’ seas and mountains.
Shape and colour lead us to the heart of Ursula Leach’s work: her interpretation of the landscape in and around Cranborne Chase. She examines field systems and notes the effects of new agricultural methods. Her gloriously heightened colour reflects the changes in crop and soil treatment. She draws first in the landscape to understand its forms, and then re-works her observations in the studio, exploring her responses to things seen. Colour establishes the mood and inflects the bold structures of Leach’s images, and offers a broad range of optical and emotional pleasures. Although Leach is a formal artist, interested in the interplay of geometric and organic, she is equally concerned with subject. She looks to the land as our essential context, and comments on the all-too-frequent spoliation of it. In the rigour of its formal simplifications, her work goes beyond appearances and investigates underlying shapes and patterns. As Robert Motherwell so emphatically put it: ‘no rendering of the appearance of reality can move us like a revelation of its structure.’ Through images of rare and surprising beauty, Ursula Leach makes us look again at our surroundings.
The art of Ursula Leach is both spare and richly layered, as is the land she has chosen to reveal through paint. Cranborne Chase is an open landscape of arable fields, grazed downland and pastures that spread to a distant horizon. These expanses may be defined by the dark profile of a barn, the shade of a small copse, the crease of a chalk stream, the linearity of hedgerow and fence. She conveys the tension between these elements through her use of bounded shapes, poised lines, loosely scattered marks and sensitive painterly surfaces. But it is through colour she reveals that this land is poised on an uncertain edge. Changing farming practices and a panoply of modern chemicals have made their imprint on the colours and textures of the landscape. Greens and yellows may have a fluorescent bloom; red and ochre can take on an uneasy heat. Ursula Leach has developed a language that follows the long absorption of British artists with the land, but has made it her own.
Annette Ratuszniak Curator, Elisabeth Frink Archive & Estate
Ursula Leach trained in fine art at Winchester, Wimbledon and West Surrey Colleges of Art. She has exhibited widely in solo, group and touring exhibitions in the UK, Japan and Australia most recently in The Sydney Contemporary Art Fair. Touring exhibitions include Elemental Insight at the Met Office, Exeter and museums nationwide, Circles and Tangents at Dorset County Museum and Salisbury Museum. Leach has been included in many Open prize shows such as The Threadneedle Prize Exhibition, London, The Hunting Art Prizes at The Royal College of Art, The Discerning Eye, London and International and National Open Print Exhibitions where she has three times won prizes and is a fellow of the Bankside Gallery. She has also shown at The Royal Academy, Southampton City Art Gallery and The Mostyn Art Gallery, Llanduduno. There have been reviews in The Week, The Wall Street Journal, Galleries magazine, The Spectator (Andrew Lambirth) and Contemporary Art magazine, the most recent in 2016 in The Week. Leach is also included in several publications amongst others Collagraphs and Mixed Media Printmaking, Printmakers Secrets, Circles and Tangents, Art in the Shadow of Cranborne Chase and 50 Wessex Artists. This is Ursula's fourth solo exhibition at The Art Stable.