Seth Birchall’s paintings are nature-centred and psychologically charged, infused with a common thread of beauty, memory, and ultimately, the sublime. The fourteen paintings from Birchall’s latest series, The Moon Under Water, glow with a dreamlike quality; fractured moonlight casts shimmering reflections across gently shifting waters.
The title of Birchall’s show is taken from a 1946 George Orwell essay in which he writes about his favourite pub, the Moon Under Water, recalling in detail the elements that make it the ideal public house – the draught stout on tap, open fires, cheap meals, the garden, and the quiet, thanks to the lack of radio. At the end of this fond recollection, Orwell reveals that the Moon Under Water is purely a fabrication, an amalgamation of ideas, pulled from ten or so different pubs around his neighbourhood. The Moon Under Water exists only as words on a page.
Birchall uses this same process in his approach to painting, constructing picturesque tableaus, each a synthesis of pictorial ideals that draw us into moments of tranquillity. Working simultaneously across paintings, often ten or more at a time, a strong correlation emerges across the works. Birchall’s paintings speak and interact with each other, all woven together with a common language that relate the paintings to the artist’s past practice, and to the wider tradition of art history.
This new body of work is born out of the conversations the artist holds with himself in silence, taking an idea, a jumping-off point that is consciously forgotten to grant the artist full creative freedom. Birchall wants us to feel almost helpless in the face of the sublime, powerless against nature’s displaced energy, which is translated into paintings. In his construction of paradisiacal, Eden-like vignettes, Birchall contributes to a wider conversation that surrounds the celebration and conservation of our natural environment.