Artists' Artists - Steven Claydon

Artists write about a work of art that has influenced them

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Jagers in de Sneeuw (The Hunters in the Snow), 1565

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Jagers in de Sneeuw (The Hunters in the Snow) 1565, oil on wooden panel, 117×162 cm. Courtesy: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Jagers in de Sneeuw (The Hunters in the Snow) 1565, oil on wooden panel, 117×162 cm. Courtesy: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

I recently fulfilled an ambition by visiting the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. My prime objective was a room containing three paintings from Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s series representing the months; in particular, The Hunters in the Snow (1565). I spent several hours there absorbing the paintings, accompanied by a bevy of nervous attendants.

This completed a full circle for me. As a child, I had somehow obtained a small Thames & Hudson pocket edition, with nice cropped details and full-bleed reproductions, of Bruegel’s vivid world. I automatically considered these pictures a species of historical science-fiction and, certainly, geological transmutation: mountains geographically transplanted from the Alps and spliced on to the Low Countries.

Thanks to the then-peerless broadcaster Channel 4, I was lucky enough to see Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 film adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s novel Solaris (1961). The surprising use of a suite of Bruegel’s paintings orbitting a sentient morphing planet of churning phantasms shocked me and confirmed my impres­sion of the artist’s work as a prism or conduit, an experience highlighted by Eduard Artemyev’s beautiful electronic soundtrack. The use of these works by Tarkovsky as a metaphor, via a dimensional prism or lens, for a kind of introspective, existential time travel and as a synchronized parallel for encountering extraterrestrial life seemed, to me, to be a very natural conclusion.

Last year, I showed a piece catalyzed by my impressions of these five Breugel paintings as part of a larger presentation at the Centre d’Art Contemporain in Geneva. The paintings themselves derived from contemporary sources but, for me, they extended themselves laterally, prosthetically and historically. I borrowed the framing devices from Tarkovsky’s film and presented them on a faceted, curved wall, that also served as a greyscale used for screen calibration.

Steven Claydon lives in London, UK. This year, he has had solo shows at Sadie Coles HQ, London, and Kimmerich, Berlin, Germany.

Issue 5

First published in Issue 5

October 2016

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