Everyone knows we Brits have a mild obsession with social class. Though we congratulate ourselves that the class system is now eroding, artist Jeremy Deller recently starred in a BBC documentary entitled Middle Class Hero, in order to demonstrate that despite his privileged background, he’s actually pretty down-to-earth. It’s hard to imagine an artist of any other nationality doing the same.
London-born, Glasgow-based artist Henry Coombes is also concerned with class – but his attitude is a little more ironic. Using the oils and watercolours that have immortalised many a tweeded aristocracy, he picks away at the social veneer that rarefies both art and hunting. Scenes that on first glance seem cosily familiar – a decorative boon to any Highland lodge – are, on close inspection, dark and subversive texts.
His 2009 film The Bedfords features Sir Edwin Landseer, the nineteenth-century English artist famed for his romantic portraits of the stag, and for his unstable mental health. In Coombes’ film, Landseer is beset by the notion that the Scottish wilderness could undo him. In a manner comparable with Nathaniel Mellors’ Ourhouse film series, an ongoing theme of Coombes’ work is the idea that entropy befalls even the most organised of systems.
Coombes’ new film, commissioned for GI Festival, follows a six-month residency at House for an Art Lover and responds directly to the history of the House and Bellahouston Park. Alongside the film, paintings and drawings act as both a means of research and as animated landscapes for the film. Titled I Am The Architect, This Is Not Happening, This Is Unacceptable, the film aims to create a moving painting wherein narratives create tense interplays in time, in reinvented worlds staged within real situations.
Quite what this means remains a secret, but if Coombes’ previous works are anything to go by, we’re in for an absurdly grotesque, darkly funny treat.