The Anne Brontë Exhibition
Commissioned for the exhibition at South Square commemorating Anne's bicentenary. Four artists and two schools produced contemporary responses to Anne's life and work. Below are the pieces of work that I produced.
Something is always far away
Emulsion on board
‘The distant prospects were Anne’s delight, and when I look round she is in the blue tints, the pale mists, the waves and shadows of the horizon.’ Charlotte Brontë on Anne
I loved this about Anne, that she saw something in distance. Obsessed with wide skies, of sunrises and sunsets and the horizon. I started thinking about distance as longing, as freedom and not being boxed in. To see wide open space. Living in a valley in West Yorkshire myself, this is something I’ve been musing on for the last few years, becoming mesmerised with where the lines of the hills meet the sky, the hazy blues of the faraway and the feeling of emerging from a valley into the open skies of moorland.
It made me think of an essay - The Blue of Distance - from Rebecca Solnit’s ‘a Field Guide to Getting Lost’. Solnit talks of the blue of distance, the visual effect of the hills becoming bluer the further away they are and artists using shades of blue to depict distance. She also talks of discovering the melancholy of loss and finding beauty and solace in the faraway and I think this could have been part of the way Anne saw the world.
Anne certainly had her share of tragedy to deal with, and also had plans for the future, as she heartbreakingly wrote in her last letter to friend Ellen Nussey; ‘I long to do some good in the world before I leave it. I have many schemes in my head...I should not like them to come to nothing, and myself to have lived so little purpose’
And I wonder if this is why she was drawn to the faraway. Hope, a need for space and a longing for something you can never quite get a grasp of.
This piece draws on the lines and distance of the moorland where Anne grew up and is also reminiscent of the contours of the bay at Scarborough. I liked the idea that there’s this visual link between the two places that Anne might have experienced.
The Sea was my Delight
Video loop, Scarborough
I never knew that Anne was buried in Scarborough. The Brontes are so connected to the hills and moorlands of Haworth that the idea of one of them being connected to an entirely different landscape didn’t even occur to me.
However, reading more about Anne, the sea could have been said to be a recurring theme in her life. From her early drawing ‘Sunrise over sea’, her trips to Scarborough whilst she worked as a Governess and tales of the sea from her Aunt (her mother and Aunt Branwell grew up in Penzance) to references in her literature and poetry.
Both Agnes Grey and her poems talk of her love for the sea. The ‘wild commotion of a rough sea breeze, the purity and freshness of the air’ and when she became ill and took a trip to Scarborough hoping that the sea would cure her, she spent her last days watching the sea and the sunset over the bay.
This piece is a short meditation on the calming nature of the sea, a moment to get lost in the rhythm of the waves and to see what Anne would have seen.
All true Histories
Screenprint and embroidery on vintage handkerchiefs
After a visit to the parsonage and seeing the blood-stained handkerchief which Anne used before her death on display in the gallery there, I began to think about objects, ‘material culture’ what we leave behind and how the objects that remain tell a story about how we are remembered.
Anne’s story is fascinating and her story is pieced together from the few objects, letters and records that exist about her. At the start of Agnes Grey, she writes; ‘All true histories contain instruction, though, in some, the treasure may be hard to find’ Her writing gives us a major clue to the type of person she might have been, but few objects exist that tell her story.
I wanted to create a tribute to Anne, an object that might exist to reflect her spirit and her hopes and dreams, instead of her death.
The handkerchiefs bring in elements of Scarborough, her resting place. The patterns left by waves on the sand, patterns of salt erosion on her grave, so badly eroded that it was barely readable for years and the salt erosions on a building nearby.
The freedom and longing that Anne had to ‘do some good in the world’ are reflected by the embroidered flock of birds, taken from a drawing she did when she was younger and was full of hope and possibility.