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Abbot Hall Art Gallery's first exhibition of 2013 showcases the dazzling images by Uwe Wittwer
Uwe Wittwer, Doppelgänger after van Belcamp, 2012© The Artist.

CUMBRIA.- Lady Anne Clifford, known locally as the Queen of Westmorland and Craven, finally inherited her estates in 1646 at the age of 56, after a 40-year battle to obtain what she believed to be rightfully hers. Abbot Hall’s enormous The Great Picture was commissioned by Lady Anne to celebrate this event. At 494 cm wide (the exact same width as The Great Picture) Doppelgänger after van Belcamp is Uwe Wittwer’s largest painting to date, a monumental piece of deconstruction that takes the pantomime portrayed on the smooth, flat surface of the original and tears it away to reveal the inner workings of the Clifford bloodline. There is a strange, mystical element to Wittwer’s interpretation, with the mysterious floating spheres like orbiting planets suggesting a cosmic dimension to the proceedings. Figures are effaced and doubled (Lady Anne herself has been erased altogether), faces are deathly white or shown in negative, while the red paint that stains the canvas is a reminder that the family saga depicted took place against the bloody background of the English Civil War. Despite the allusions to death and violence, however, Wittwer has deployed and arranged the elements within the work to create a strangely beautiful patterned surface, as seductive as a medieval tapestry.

Abbot Hall Art Gallery’s first exhibition of 2013 showcases the dazzling images of Zurich-based artist Uwe Wittwer (b.1954). It is an exciting departure for Abbot Hall to be exhibiting the work of a Swiss painter whose brilliantly executed oils, watercolours and large-scale prints explore complex themes through the appropriation, transformation and distortion of European and British old master paintings and found photographic material sourced from the internet.

Central to the exhibition is a dramatic and ambitious full-size version of Abbot Hall’s iconic seventeenth-century triptych, The Great Picture, produced especially for this show; at nearly five metres wide, Wittwer’s painting dominates the exhibition, in the company of other unsettling and uncanny transformations after European and British old masters such as Hogarth, Gainsborough, Watteau and Constable – the types of painters whose works might hang in the traditional Georgian galleries downstairs at Abbot Hall.

Another elaborate new work, Black Sun after Antonioni, comprises 78 framed watercolour ‘stills’ from the cult British film, Blow-Up, and further develops themes that have always been central to Wittwer’s art, such as the capacity of the image to mislead and deceive the observer, the blurring of legibility and meaning through the distortion of scale, and the way the most seemingly benign picture can carry intimations of terrible violence. Similar concerns are carried through to the end of the show with the inclusion of five arresting, large-scale inkjet prints.

‘We’re absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to be working with Uwe Wittwer on this selection of stunning, haunting images that has been tailor-made to fit the historic interiors of Abbot Hall.

The exhibition is ambitious in the scope and breadth of its vision, but the works are unified by the power of Wittwer’s imagination and his supreme skills as a painter and image-maker. The show will operate on so many levels, both visually and intellectually, and promises to be spectacular.’ ---Nick Rogers, Curator, Lakeland Arts Trust

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