Simon Garden at the Catto gallery

Where does Simon Garden live? The prosaic answer is Bristol, but the more accurate response might be that, most of the time, he lives in his creative imagination

You don’t get many vast fan shaped trees or conical wooded hills around that city. But you do get them on the canvases in Simon Garden’s new body of work.

Simon is firmly established as one of the UK’s foremost purveyors of other- worldly landscape painting. It is a long and fascinating tradition, stretching from Bruges to Max Ernst, one that rejects the straightjacket of classical realism and also the pure formalism of abstract work.

If art is a channel to a higher dimension, these fantastical paintings are a fast track to this zone, conjuring crazy mystical scenarios, yet somehow remaining anchored in everyday life.
This is what makes them so very exciting.

This new collection is absolutely brimming with ideas. Amongst the paintings there are some wonderful, almost conventional, landscapes. Although his work depicts an ethereal nether-world, there is still an unmistakably English quality to it. ‘Lane’ is a beautiful impressionist style work, while ‘Yellow Table’ has a loose gossamer quality-but these works are far outnumbered by Simon’s enigmatic and uncanny visions.

Take ‘Hill’. Here, a giant- slightly terrifying- tree dwarfs the tiny human figure hanging off its branches. It’s one of many works to feature trees, a common Simon Garden motif. There are also a lot of houses- another of the artists’ preoccupations. But Simon doesn’t take a conventional approach to architecture. In ‘Spirit Ship’, for example, a series of small houses replace the sails on the boat. The companion piece to this is even more ‘out there’. In ‘Two Ships’ the sails have been replaced by a riot of giant trees and flowers. It’s an outstanding work.

While admiring the imaginative force of these textured paintings, it is easy to overlook the impressive technique . Much of the power comes from the quality of the paint itself, which Simon creates from scratch. Following the techniques of the Old Masters he combines oil with salt, sand and hot water then shakes it until it emulsifies, before finally boiling it. The result is a viscous mix of subtle colours and textures- the perfect complement to those dream like, other-worldly scenarios.

View the full exhibition here or at the Catto Gallery from 11th – 29th April.