Railing Against It

Eric Ravilious: 'Train Landscape', 1939. Watercolour on Paper

“That idea you came up with was a meerkat holding a table, but I can’t draw meerkats, so I thought about a pig wearing a hat…or, maybe a turkey”

An earlier train than usual. I am greeted as I board, by a beaming businessman, in a very fine suit with two quarter bottles of white wine on the table in front of him. He has drunk one and is starting on the other; the world looks good.

Trapped in my narrow 2 seat bay, I realise that everything this side of the picture plane is shiny, the seat backs, from this position all seat coverings are more or less hidden the ceiling, the window glazing, light fittings etc. Apart from my fellow passengers in their dark suiting and white shirts, the interior is reflective and reflected in the picture plane/ window. Texture and colour is banished behind the glass, we are in a world of restricted palette, greys, off whites, usually a purple upholstery (depending on the rolling stock), a cold fluorescent lighting and dark clothing, these commuters for the City are not even given to brightly coloured ties.

There are two aspects about the picture plane to consider here.

1. The internal picture plane within a work, Ravilious is evidently aware of this, framing the view as a ‘landscape’

2. The picture plane seen from an angle, rather than the perpendicular. Notice that both Eric and Tirzah appear to actually locate their internal landscape as parallel to the picture plane, despite the angle of the presumed viewer. Incidentally, a painting by Hopper: ‘Compartment C, Car 193’ from 1938, locates the both viewer and the landscape at the same acute angle.

Edward Hopper: 'compartment C, Car, 193'. 1938 oil on canvas

One of the platforms we stop at is full of young men in sportswear, thin bony men with short hair. Nothing unusual in that, except that they are all appear to be  Eastern European and with bundles of fishing rods.

The horizontal blur in the foreground effectively flattens pictorial space and makes the picture plane (the grubby, greasy double glazed window) more evident. But there is a tension, the reflections, mostly obvious in darker passages, create a foreground depth. An angular, octagonal space, bounded by the reflection of the reflective, greasy grubby glass on the far side of the carriage. This all makes for a contested foreground.

Beyond that, a mid ground whose tonal contrasts are simplified by the glass. A mid ground that, in this often rural area of Kent and at this time of year, tends to feature ploughed fields and full apple orchards. Those agricultural features run at right angles to the tracks, in the early evening light the shadows lay out the ground plane, accentuating the plough lines and structuring the quasi fictive landscape in a series of horizontals and verticals. Poussin/ Claude, calm and gridded; mannered. The succeeding hedges in neat patterns on flat lands running up to the Downs and a blue stained horizon. It is the landscape around Het Steen.

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