PALMER & ME
56 minute documentary
Samuel Palmer was born in 1805 in Southwark.
In his early twenties, to escape London’s foul air, he started visiting Shoreham in Kent with a group of likeminded friends calling themselves, ’The Ancients’. They wished to retreat from the spiritually barren urban world and return to nature believing such a pathway would bring them closer to God.
The paintings and drawings made by him at Shoreham are hallucinatory visionary portrayals of English landscape, suffused with the poetic fervour that comes most easily in adolescence.
He left Shoreham in the mid-1830s. and married the daughter of the established painter John Linnell, who had encouraged Palmer in his early years but now tyrannised him, demolishing what self-confidence he had by urging him to paint in a more commercially viable style.
However, In 1850 at the age of 45 until his death in 1881, Palmer recaptured much of his lost vision in a series of small complex etchings that centred around readings of Virgil and Milton.
In September 2016 Eames Fine Art invited all the artists on their roster to share wine and food at their Studio in Bermondsey to launch a novel idea.
Edward Twohig, one of their artists, had over 35 years, painstakingly assembled a complete collection of the Palmer etchings.
He now wished to offer each one of them to an artist to live with for a month and produce a work in reaction.
PALMER & ME ” follows the processes and myriad forms that the contemporary artists use to create their reaction. The artists discuss their approaches and express their feelings about both Palmer’s work and what he means creatively now.
Using 4k cameras the film draws the viewer into detailed visual explorations of Palmer’s etchings accompanied by spoken quotes from Palmer’s notebooks and letters.
Produced & Directed by Mike Southon.
Review: Palmer and Me
On the evening of Monday 12th November in the Garnett Room, 57 pupils and six staff attended “Palmer and Me,” a 56-minute screening, produced and directed by BAFTA award winning Mike Southon. Before this, Mr Southon spent the late afternoon in the Art School discussing the importance and diversity of the moving image with our Sixth Form Photographers.
“Palmer and Me” came to fruition in 2016 after featured artist and our own Head of Art, Edward Twohig, suggested the 19th century landscape artist Samuel Palmer (1805-1881) as a subject but with an added twist; having contemporary artists respond and mirror to his compositions. Mr Southon introduced the screening with, ‘I’m always looking for a story’ and hence the production began. His film set out to document an exploration of the artistic process, following twelve contemporary artists with 4k cameras, and in doing so capturing not just their individual approaches but the artists direct association to the Palmer print they chose and build from over the course of a month; ‘Getting at the works with a camera almost reveals more than looking at them in person’, the producer proclaimed.
The only confines of the project were by physicality, only allowing the artist a 30x30cm square for work, later revealing the square has no hierarchy – there is an equal exit at all points. Southon himself reflected on this choice, revealing he came only then to ‘understand the power of small – it’s extended [him] as well’.
The most significant phrase spoken at the viewing was by the producer, ‘I started to see the world through Samuel Palmer’s works’. This was profoundly, although likely unintentionally, revealing. Admittedly, at first, I had not found the subject matter of particular interest, having never truly given his form of artistry it’s well deserved time of day. It was this statement that began the underlying question held throughout; is it about these works that allowed this kind of impact, not just on one but on all of the film’s protagonists – all of the featured artists, despite their initially differing views on Palmer’s etched compositions, confessed to being personally influenced if not captivated by the him and his process. And, suddenly the title of the film made sense.
Before this screening, I had dismissed landscape almost entirely, holding to the ungrounded belief that it simply had no emotive backing. This documentary, above all else, exposes the true spirituality and intensity of all I had never thought had much. As the scenes go on, you become more and more aware of the depth behind what I thought to be just idealised, Arcadian images. The more you understand of an artist, the more you understand of their work, and the more you understand their work the more attached to it and, in doing so, learn something about yourself in the process. As the audience learnt; artist’s prints, created for this “Palmer Project” are just as confessional as the sporadic, often disturbing works of, for example Francis Bacon or even the YBA’s (Young British Artist’s) that I would usually associate with personal revelation. Samuel Palmer’s etched works became darker with time, reflective of his trouble to shake the loss of two of his children, evident even though he was urged to paint in a more commercial style to feed his family. Only in hindsight, can I see that it was the spirit of the pieces the artists worked from fortified by the actual composition that inspired the contemporary “take” on Palmer.
“Palmer and Me” is a work that provides the viewer with more on reflection than one realises while watching. All snap-judgments made have been firmly cemented. The oddly fitting piano backing track and slight lack of aesthetic focus in the film itself were clarified by Southon afterwards. He explained that his career, to recent date, was about making films for money, and the Palmer film was about the joy in and of creativity; ‘I’m not really interested in whether anyone else is interested in it, in making film you learn something new and wonderful’, he asserted after being asked whether he cares about what an audience thinks. Further, it was revealed the film was finished only just before the Opening exhibition, so given a three month window “as artists problematically leave work just before the deadline.” Ultimately, this doesn’t just provide a glimpse into how the artist processes and produces, but implicitly and somehow fervently allows a broader understanding of its deep, intrinsic self, while still leaving room for expansion. As put by Paul Catherall; ‘each time you’re influenced your mind’s expanded – but only a bit’.
As we sat watching, I (and my fellow Marlburian pupils) gained an understanding of this area of Art, hitherto, I must confess, unknown territory to me. Huge thanks to Mr Southon for visiting and Mr Twohig, Mr Parnham and Mr Wilkins for hosting this memorable event.
Review by Mimi Ashmead-Bartlett (CO L6)
Samuel Palmer Etchings Explored At The London Original Print Fair
The London original Print Fair at the Royal Academy is upon us once again, opening this Wednesday to a huge fanfare, one can usually expect to covet a Kandinsky or desire a Delacroix. However, attendees, this year should be prepared to be fascinated by a film. Palmer and Me, a documentary charting the responses of 17 contemporary artists to the etchings of Samuel Palmer is the latest in an ongoing collaboration between renowned film-maker Mike Southon and Eames Fine Art.
“As we became familiar with Palmer’s later etchings, we bit our plates deeper” – Graham Sutherland
As the documentary explains, Samuel Palmer (1805 – 1881), is often hailed as an ‘Artist’s Artist’; indeed when asked about their inspiration, many printmakers will list Palmer amongst their most influential and inspiring forerunners. His etchings hang in prestigious print collections worldwide and his mastery of the etching process impresses anyone with an eye for the medium. They are great works of art despite their very small size, and the amount of detail and light Palmer includes in such tight and precise compositions is incredible. Palmer was a key figure in Romanticism in Britain. His visionary pastoral scenes were a hugely significant contribution to the landscape tradition in the 19th Century. Eames Fine Art was fortunate to source a collection of all 17 of the etchings Palmer completed or started during his lifetime and asked 17 contemporary artists to each creates a print in response to one of the works. Each artist was invited to borrow one of the works and to produce a new work of their own in response to the etching.
Samuel Palmer was born and raised in Bermondsey just a short walk from our gallery. We wanted to find a way to make Palmer’s work more accessible to a new audience. So we thought it would be interesting if we asked some contemporary artists to make a response in their own pictorial language. We often talk about how influential past artists are on contemporary printmakers; with this project, we’ve been able to actually demonstrate that. – Vincent Eames, Director Eames Fine Art
The results of the varied works offer us a fascinating insight into what artists see, love and admire in Palmer’s work, but have also shown to be a very interesting examination of the way different artists approach a similar brief. Mike Southon’s film explores the varied responses to this collection of Palmer etchings and reveals how artists working in disparate styles can see something different in the same works, and glean importance in Palmer’s work which in turn shapes their own. The fruits of their labour can be seen at Eames Fine Art, stand 24, where all 17 of the contemporary responses seen in the film will be on display.
Palmer has persistently inspired many artists over the decades. He influenced early modernists in 1920’s Britain such as Graham Sutherland at a time when intensely worked and reworked etchings like those of Samuel Palmer were generally out of fashion. However for Sutherland Palmers working method had an artistic integrity all of its own. “As we became familiar with Palmer’s later etchings, we bit our plates deeper. We had always been warned against overbeating. But we did overbite and we burnished our way through innumerable states quite unrepentant at the way we punished and maltreated the copper.” – Graham Sutherland
However, Samuel Palmer has not only inspired great artists but also great forgers. My local childhood hero and the most important British forger of the 20th Century, Tom Keating (1917-1984), was a true Londoner born in the borough of Lewisham. He made a particular speciality out of producing forged watercolours by Samuel Palmer and fine oil paintings by Dutch, Flemish, English and French old masters. Born into poverty, he failed to achieve any real fame in the art world and felt shunned and turned to faking to prove his talent. The loveable rogue was a remarkable forget who certainly showed up the ‘experts’ with his “Sexton Blakes”, as Keating liked to call this fakes. Keating saw the art world and in particular the gallery system as ‘utterly rotten.’ He avenged himself by producing art forgeries in a prolific career until 1979 when he was arrested after the sale of a series of fake Samuel Palmer landscapes was exposed by the journalist Geraldine Norman, then saleroom correspondent of the Times. The ensuing scandal (this really being the biggest British art scandal of the 1970’s -not Carl Andre’s brick’s) dragged on for months amid a flurry of articles, letters and accusations being printed in the Times newspaper. Even the artist, Graham Sutherland, by then a pillar of the British art establishment felt compelled to write to The Times concerning the matter.
Keating’s sensational trial was the object of intense media interest at which the jury heard of telegrams brought by camel, carrier bags stuffed with cash, and art experts being duped. He naturally pleaded not guilty. The case was officially dropped because of his poor health although many believe it was due to the fear that if he took the witness stand a handful of eminent English aristocrats faced jail from their complicity. After the trial, Keating himself emerged from the courtroom a national celebrity going on to write his autobiography, The Fake’s Progress, and being given his own TV series on Channel 4.
So please attend the screening of Mike Southon’s very timely Film, Palmer and Me at this year’s London Original Print Fair for it highlights one of the most magical and beguiling aspects of art which is so much of about how the work perceived by the viewer and what importance the viewer invokes from the experience. Then afterwards you will be fore-armed to take an informed walk around this year’s fair for whether your passion is for print, paint, film or fraud Samuel Palmer has inspired them all.
Words: Darren Coffield Images Courtesy of the author © Artlyst 2017 © 2010-2017 Artlyst Ltd.