An exhibition has opened in a museum, that is being advertised by bright garish yellow on monochrome posters around London. It’s an exhibition about a landscape that is usually devoid of bright garish colours.

The Thames estuary, as many wide rivers next to major ports can be a sight that either delights or bores, with an odd mix of empty mud  flats, decaying industry and tired old towns clinging on to the last generations wanting to live there.

I’ve always found the estuary a fascinating place, although one I get to visit far too rarely.

What captivates me in part is the natural bleakness of the landscape, as a wide river is by design going to have vast flat lands accompanying it to the sea. Wide flat river. Wide flat landscape.

Dotted around, industry, dirty, untrammeled by modernity, rusting and and decayed, yet somehow still managing to be in use.

Clustered along the river, humans in towns, garish painted towns that survive on sucking in visitors from afar for a few days each year. And fewer each year as cold windy seafronts lose their appeal to those more used to sunnier climes at a £30 airfare.

The dominant feature of the landscape though, is not the flatness, or the industry, or the holiday towns — but the colour.

Everywhere you look, apart from a few splashes of temporary gaity, the estuary sucks out the colour of everything that comes within its grasp. Its magpie hunger for bright things preternaturally wastes them to leave a bleak washed out palette of greens and greys and blues.

Drop red or yellow here, and the voracious atmosphere of wind and salt and sea will soon strip them bare of their rude intrusive colours. Industry is rusts to black, a total removal of all colour, and sits starkly as thin lines in the watercolour background.

The estuary exhibition is therefore unusual in splashing a large lump of bright yellow into this pastel landscape.

It’s a mixture of slow video arts, photography and three huge paintings. Of the whole lot, it was the three huge canvases that for me captured the essence of the esturary. Thee paintings as empty and bleak as the landscape and large enough to ensure that their wide landscape can dominate a room.

I was less enamoured of the video art, as that is generally not something I hugely like at the best of times.

Close up photos of domestic rubbish found along the riverside was frankly photos of domestic rubbish that could have been taken anywhere.

But the huge canvases — they are outstanding.

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Dagenham © Jock McFadyen — in Dagenham, England.

Estuary is open at the Docklands Museum each day until 27th October. Entry is free.


Article last updated on May 25th, 2020 at 05:03 pm

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