REVIEW | 'REIMAGINING NOWHERE' AT THE WILLIAM MORRIS SOCIETY
Benjamin Deacon's landscapes are a delightful and thought-provoking examination and recreation of Victoria-era science-fiction. writes Victoria Comstock-Kershaw.
"If others can see it as I have seen it, then it may be called a vision rather than a dream." speaks the narrator of William Morris' 1890 serial work News From Nowhere. The novel explores the slumbered dreams of exasperated activist William Guest, who awakens to find himself transported to a socialist utopia a century in the future. Guest gradually learns that money has been abolished, that craftwork has pushed aside 'wage slavery', that contracts of marriage have been replaced by flexible bonds of affection and that Parliamentary democracy has given way to informal patterns of co-operation. The narrative of his dream-like rhetoric is the primary inspiration behind Deacon's work and is the driving point of his exhibit at The William Morris Society's Kelmscott House.
Reimagining Nowhere is one of those exhibits that benefits greatly from having prior knowledge about the literature it champions. Deacon's works are certainly charming in their own right: the overlapping textures, bright tones and repeated geometry of his paintings are genuinely beautiful pieces wether the viewer has read News From Nowhere or not. Syncopated patterns and fragmented motifs make up a cohesive collection of seemingly pleasant Danubian landscapes. But beneath the green pastures and Romantic ornamentation lies an unremitting depth to Deacon's work - one that can only be revealed when taken in context of Morris' writings.
The descriptions and designs of Morris's world play an integral part in the overarching story of Deacon's paintings: these are not merely landscapes, but representations of a far broader artistic and literary canon. Morris' utopia, Huxley's otherworldliness, Lovecraft's unease are all present and thriving in his works, and add a depth and dimension to the artworks that substantiate the messages behind them. The visual legacy of Victorian science-fiction is simultaneously sponsored and challenged: the heaving anxiety of the unknown is offset by the lightness and playfulness of Deacon's aesthetic. It is an excellent exhibit that highlights and confronts the artistic and literary canon of a fascinating cultural movement with visual charm and deep intellect.
Image credit: Benjamin Deacon