“I have seen first hand the dramatic retreat of glaciers across the world”

Emma drawing Langdale Pikes 2Artist Emma Stibbon’s large monochrome drawings and cyanotype photographs reveal the effects of a warming climate in The Alps.

The Royal Academician reflects on the impact of climate change through powerful new work on display in Abbot Hall’s big summer show Ruskin, Turner & the Storm Cloud.

Visitors can immerse themselves in Stibbon’s stunning drawings created as she followed in the footsteps of two of Britain’s most iconic artists. 

In an exclusive interview Emma talks about what inspired her to follow Ruskin and Turner to the mountains…

How does it feel to bring your amazing works to Abbot Hall Art Gallery?

I’m excited to be showing my work at Abbot Hall as it’s a beautiful venue with an amazing collection. It feels special to be part of this exhibition in Cumbria, where Ruskin spent such a large part of his life. I’ve always loved hiking and drawing in the Lake District and it’s great to have my work on show here.

What is it about Ruskin and Turner that so inspires you?

As an artist Turner is a trailblazer. His extraordinary depictions of grand mountain scenery inspired Ruskin and generations of artists that were to follow. Both Turner and Ruskin have an incredible scrutiny of nature and yet they also have a very personal vision of the world. I think it’s that combination of their observation of what’s ‘out there’ and their imagination that fascinates me.

Why were you so driven to go to The Alps to follow Ruskin and Turner?

I have always loved Turner and Ruskin’s depictions of the Alps. The watercolours and drawings made from their numerous Alpine trips define a new language for the sublime in landscape. In my own work I have seen first hand the dramatic retreat of glaciers across the world. We are living through a period of rapid change and I feel an urge to communicate this through my work. This comes from a realisation that many sites are changing beyond recognition within my lifetime. I made a visit in June 2018 (164 years after Ruskin) to see what remains of the glaciers around the Mont Blanc region.  Exposed at this mid summer period many of these views are now virtually unrecogniseable.

Your photographs show climate change first hand – what was your initial reaction when you reached the same locations as Ruskin/Turner?

Having visited the ‘Mer de Glace’ previously I knew that the glacier had retreated beyond recognition from Ruskin’s 1854 visit when he made his daguerreotype. In Ruskin’s daguerreotype of the Mer de Glace we see, quite literally, a sea of ice flowing past the observation hut at Montenvers. The Mer de Glace valley today presents a dark moraine covered floor, almost completely devoid of ice. What I wasn’t prepared for was the fact that the glacier has receded massively since my last visit ten years ago.

Do you think society is taking climate change seriously?

We are clearly not taking the action we need to in order to mitigate the dramatic increases in global warming – there is a growing gap between our understanding of climate change and our willingness to take action. 

Emma Stibbon_ Aiguilles, 1520 x 214cms, Indian ink, ground oyster shell on paper 2018 © Emma Stibbon courtesy of Alan Cristea Gallery

(Emma Stibbon_ Aiguilles, 1520 x 214cms, Indian ink, ground oyster shell on paper 2018 © Emma Stibbon courtesy of Alan Cristea Gallery)

What do you think should be done to halt climate change?

We need to consider our place in the world and our actions within it, and that we are responsible custodians for generations to come….that means taking action now! 

Ruskin, Turner & the Storm Cloud is on at Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal, Cumbria until 5 October 2019. The exhibition consists of more than 135 works and stretches across six rooms.

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