Figures in a Landscape is a personal odyssey which transports the viewer through a world imbued with myths and legends. On this magical journey, from the hillsides of the West Country to the Marshes of Hackney, the viewer encounters ancient gods, goddesses and mythical monsters which inhabit the landscape and battle for supremacy between the otherworlds and the here and now.
This body of work was inspired by Thomas Couture’s Romans during the Decadence (1847) where a scene of debauchery is depicted in the Ancient world with mortals and immortals inhabiting the same domain. The figures and forms painted in this scene seamlessly transform between statues, humans and ancient gods allowing the spectator to float between Earth, Hades and Mount Olympus. Taking this concept into my own ancient English landscape I have created a series of works which interweave childhood memories with contemporary experiences. The figures that inhabit these images shift between statue, mythical forms and people, transporting us through time and space, connecting us to ancient worlds, half-remembered myths and magical encounters.
My voyage starts in the Dorset village where I grew up, hearing tales of drunken revelry with couples gathering for May Day to fornicate beneath the naked male giant of Cerne Abbas to imbue fertility on body and field. As I move through the landscape I have encountered many other figures and forms, sometimes as dream-like glimpses from the back of my parents’ Morris Traveller, others from train windows as I flash through the countryside. These ancient megalithic chalk figures straddle the hilltops and map out the landscape as the constellations map out the night skies. They look down upon the mortals, nymphs and Poseidon in his underwater grotto and waterways. Intermingled with these are childhood memories of visiting Crystal Palace where monsters rise from the primordial swamp and gateways to Hades invite us on a Victorian version of Journey to the Centre of the Earth.
These childhood fictions and myths interweave with references to my home in Hackney. Memories of balmy summer evenings spent swimming with lovers in luminous pools dissolve between myths of Lugus, the ancient Celtic God of the River Lea. This vision comes to an end at Winterville, where the mid-winter solstice pagan festival becomes distorted in an Olympian mountain top landscape. Here ancient and contemporary narratives clash and shatter into a dystopian consumerist nightmare.
Tom Hunter (born 1965, Dorset) graduated from the London College of Printing in 1994. His degree show, ‘The Ghetto’, a series of photographs and a model of his squatted neighbourhood in East London, is now on permanent display in the Museum of London. Hunter took his MA at the Royal College of Art, where, in 1996, he was awarded the Photography prize by Fuji Film for his series ‘Travellers’. His work is held in numerous public collections including the National Gallery, London; The Victoria and Albert Museum, London; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; and The Hirshhorn Museum, Washington. He is Professor of Photography at London College of Communication, University of the Arts London where he lives and works.