the hands that comb the hills: James Morse

19 January - 10 February 2024 Gallery Exhibitions

Cob Gallery is proud to launch its 2024 programme with its inaugural ‘dual’ exhibition, presented across two exhibition spaces. In Gallery One, American landscape painter James Morse will present his UK debut The Hands That Comb The Hills. Gallery Two will host Alchemical Landscape, a complementary selection of work by British artists Tom Bull and Sholto Blissett.


Beginning in 2024, Cob’s dual exhibition series presents solo shows by established international artists alongside exhibitions of work by emergent UK-based practitioners – an ongoing focus of the gallery’s programming. Cohering around shared atmospherics or thematic concerns, these exhibitions aim to spark new dialogues; they are conceived in terms of conjunction and counterpoint rather as paired or grouped presentations.


Morse, Bull and Blissett share an understanding of landscape and the ‘natural’ world as something rich with unresolved questions about culture, identity and meaning: as not only a place, but an idea that is both heavy with prewritten significance and constantly re-imagined anew. Displayed alongside one another, the artists’ preoccupations with these ideas crystallise as a distinctively contemporary vision of landscape for the present moment.



The Hands That Comb The Hills |  James Morse

Cob Gallery is delighted to present "The Hands That Comb The Hills," marking the UK debut of American artist James Morse.
Morse’s practice revolves around landscape painting as a means to reflect on human existence, upholding the belief that this genre serves as the oldest allegorical conduit. Morse creates expressive landscapes based on on-site studies from life, eschewing photographs. The resulting artworks are intended to be more intuitively felt than literally understood.
The Hands That Comb The Hills forms one half of the gallery's inaugural ‘dual’ exhibition series. The Hands That Comb The Hills will be complimented by a duo exhibition in Gallery Two from British artists Tom Bull and Sholto Blissett.  Bull and Blissett independently explore human relationships to landscapes - more often that not, rooted in the complexities of English religious, cultural, social and ecological histories and identity.
The suite of paintings comprising "The Hands That Comb The Hills," immerses viewers in a world where the integration of humanity with the natural environment takes center stage. Despite their nostalgic appearance, these paintings depict a utopian future—one where regenerative practices coexist harmoniously with the land. Morse encourages a reconsideration of our relationship with the environment by envisioning a simpler, more natural way of living. His vivid imagery and profound connection to the land convey a powerful message about balance, stewardship, and the potential for a more sustainable future.
In this body of work, Morse's paintings transcend mere depictions of landscapes; they become a celebration of the interconnectedness of humans and nature, emphasizing the potential role of humans as co-collaborators in the natural world rather than adversaries. The inclusion of human figures in these paintings marks a departure from Morse's previous works, introducing a new dimension that directly describes a symbiotic relationship between people and their surroundings. Morse's construction of forms in the landscape mirrors the transformative impact of human decisions, from rural agrarian scenes to sustainable villages.
A grouping of paintings idealizes a vision of life in small villages where humans live close to the land. The spirited activity of his utopian population explores the virtues of eating locally, utilizing natural materials, and engaging in hand labor. Morse envisions a return to a more humanistic society, where the natural world is respected and celebrated. Furthermore, his earthy and vivid depictions of the rituals of village life, both in stacked composition and allegorical concern, recall the works of Netherlandish painter Bruegel the Elder. The cyclical nature of life is emphasized through his paintings, where characters and materials are easily gathered, reused, and discarded. This plea for a recalibration of rhythms and a departure from non-sustainable practices extends to Morse's rejection of the distinction between land and sea, advocating for balanced practices that acknowledge the importance of fallow fields, sustainable fishing, and responsible land use.
Despite acknowledging the challenges posed by human activities, Morse's body of work also celebrates the resilience of the natural world. The paintings highlight Earth's ability to rebound, regenerate, and establish new ecosystems. They serve as a call to action, urging a shift towards regenerative living that rejects excessive technology and fosters a deep connection with the land. Here, Morse's perspective extends beyond the personal and seeks to acknowledge the long history of human presence in the landscape. The narrative advocates not for the disappearance of humans but for a return to respectful and balanced modes of coexistence. In Morse's call to action, the Earth yearns for its inhabitants to correct recent errors and reaffirm their position as stewards of the planet, asserting a preference for a balanced, human-centric life and rejecting unsustainable technology-driven futures. The exploration of these philosophical questions finds expression through the evolving process of painting, where human figures become integral to creating an environment that intertwines cultural traditions with the seasonal cycles of nature in a village-sized community, fostering a sense of familiarity and connection among its members.
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