Publication: The Times
Philip Braham - A Wind from the North
Roger Billcliffe Gallery
In one of Philip Braham’s recently completed series of paintings, entitled The Wanderer, a lone figure stands on a rocky outcrop in a forest, surveying a vast landscape below.
This is as good a way as any to find an inroad into Braham’s delicate, complex and elegiac imagery. While on the surface many of these works appear to be concerned with the genre of landscape painting, they are, in fact, dealing with a series of intricate philosophies. These a nuanced works, employing a variety of metaphors and other tropes to build carefully crafted visual statements.
The Wanderer is a reference to Caspar David Friedrich’s famous work Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer, painted around 1818. In Friedrich’s painting, the figure, attired in frock coat and holding a walking cane, contemplates a fog-shrouded landscape from which appear mysterious rock formations. The figure occupies much of the foreground and is the undoubted focus of the work. In Braham’s interpretation, the figure is small, far-off in the middle distance. The forest, in the foreground, seems in less than good health.
Friedrich’s work emerged as one of the best known examples of Romanticism where the idea of the ‘sublime’ (the overpowering feeling of wonder for nature) was a strong component. Braham’s figure seems more solitary, less dominant and far more uncertain, indicating the insecurities (political, philosophical, ecological) of the modern world and our place within it.
Although Braham, for the most part, paints recognizable landscapes, he transforms them by the insertion of doubt, threat, menace and loss. These are works full of pathos that ponder mortality and our collective role in the universe. In The Cailleach of Moher, a tiny, almost invisible, figure plunges to its death from massive cliffs into a foaming, cold, green sea. A spectral sun barely pierces the winter-white sky. The painting recalls the ancient Celtic deity associated with winter although the plummeting figure remains an open metaphor, which might, for example, indicate the folly of humankind.
In the series of works derived from Braham’s interpretation of the story of Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, various figures float in still water, seemingly suspended between two worlds. Echoing this theme, Between Worlds and Mirrorpool show landscape reflected in water, with the presence of a mysterious floating photograph – a poignant reference to time, memory, family and transience.
Braham brings elegance and nuance to his finely crafted works, which are replete with intellectual and emotional energy.