Tuesday 25 February 2014

In the Midnight Wood, John Caple

In the Midnight Wood, by John Caple at the John Martin Gallery, Albemarle Street, London.
Firmly embedded in folk tradition, John Caple's paintings are haunting, evocative and have a timeless quality to them. I have wanted to see an exhibition of his work for a long time so was very pleased to have this opportunity when we went to London last Saturday. Having read Harvest by Jim Crace recently, a novel about the forced enclosure of open fields and common land whereby subsistence agriculture was replaced by profitable production and the tenant farmers' subsequent dispossession and displacement, I felt there was a close connection between the novel and the paintings, both outlining the timelessness of living on the land, and how much part of it we are, a fact that is so easily forgotten in our hectic contemporary lives.
This is what Caple has to say about this exhibition:
'The imagination is always woken by thoughts of ancient woodland. Their dark interiors inspire us, enchant us and stir our deepest fears. The ancient Quantock woods in Somerset are where my family made their life, and their stories continue to weave their way through the branches, taking me back into a shared memory which rests there like some dark Eden of the mind. This was the Eden which Coleridge described in his poetry and the woodland tracks through which he and Wordsworth wandered, the crossroads where they met, were the self same paths used by my ancestors and which have become the inspiration for many of these paintings.
It is a source of great wonder and comfort to me that I can walk the same trackways as my family have walked for generations, both in the Mendip and Quantock Hills, and feel that deep sense of connection. And as I search the physical landscape for the stories passed down through my family, I discover an internal landscape, the two are fused together, a natural alchemy of mind and mud. I have increasingly become fascinated by the notion that this 'interior landscape' that we carry within ourselves, and the sense that there is a perceived point of demarcation - the edge of the wood and what happens when we cross that threshold.
Like my ancestors I have found meaning and purpose in following these tracks into the ancient woods. Woodland pools reveal our own nature: the symmetry of our physicality, our bodies dense with tributaries and branching canopies, we share patterns and seasons, tide and time, we come to know that nature is not out there, but that we are nature, there is no separation, and no separation from those who came before us'.

Journey to the Woods




Nightingale Woods





The bowl, a recurring theme in the paintings, a symbol of giving, sharing, offering.

Night Song

Holding a candle - another recurring theme

Another recurring theme, the lone human figure in front of a house, or walking along the lane


In the Midnight Wood

The Nightingale Man


The Broomsquire's Journey

Woodland Feast


  1. I love the other-worldiness of his work, especially those pieces with prominent figures. Those figurative paintings always remind me of the work of one of my favourite artists: Julie Speed. http://www.juliespeed.com/ His gentle memories are not as extreme as her active dreams, but they appeal to me in similar ways.

    1. There's a mystery and magic to his paintings and the figures are so solid and imposing. But I love the paintings of the houses the most - he creates a world I would love to visit.

  2. His figures remind me of August Sander's Three Farmers on their way to a Dance.