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Trees bear witness to our climate, harbour stories of past times, and weather storms year after year. Coastal trees become sculpted by constant battering of onshore wind. Forested trees, where more protected, can grow impossibly tall towards the light. This exhibition is inspired by trees from the north Cornish coast, to the outback of Australia, to the Western Ghats of Southern India. Kerry Harding (b.1972) and Chitra Merchant (b.1971) are artists concerned with the inherent mystery of place, and have a deep interest in and connection with the importance of protecting it.
Chitra Merchant grew up in the Western Ghats of Southern India. Merchant’s artwork is particularly inspired by the 'Devakads' (Sacred Groves) found in these regions and the stories and mythologies that surround them. Protected by custodian families, the biodiversity to be found in these forests has been preserved along with the knowledge of their medicinal qualities. The resulting drawings, paintings and prints seek to explore and highlight the inherent wild mystery of these spaces and to shed light on the many environmental issues and threats facing this fast-diminishing landscape.
The trees in these artworks are rooted in observational drawings of ancient but still existing species, while being cognizant of their medicinal, spiritual and symbolic values to the local population. The trees are placed or drawn into landscapes that traverse from the known into the mythical, into a “Region beyond Reason”, a phrase coined by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, an Indian mystic, yogi and humanitarian.
Living in Cornwall, Harding sees the same paths, horizons and trees day after day. It is the longevity, the history, the endurance that gives these trees their sculpted quality. Harding says “I like the symbolism of weathering the storm, standing alone for decades, bending but not submitting to what is thrown at them. They are constants in my life here, seen every day so this symbolism is reassuring on many levels - personal, societal, political, environmental.”
Kerry Harding’s landscape paintings are heavily involved with process, the manipulation of paint, working and reworking the canvas in an almost unconscious manner until that sublime moment of sensory response to abstract shape and colour, when the emerging image asserts its own meaning. The half remembered, half imagined, familiar places.
Kerry Harding is a visiting tutor at St Ives School of Painting. She holds a BA in Fine Art from Ruskin School of Art, Oxford University (1991-94) and an MA in painting from Falmouth (2000-03).
Chitra Merchant initially pursued a degree in Psychology in Banglore, India. She then came to Leeds in the UK to do her foundation course (1995) followed by a BA in illustration (1998) from UWE, Bristol.