Investigating the life of things across space and time

Mantle (2016)
collage and painting on fluorescent paper
mounted on canvas; 50cm x 60cm

Mantle (2016)

Gallery of Mantle details and studio documentation

The story behind Mantle

As if standing in front of a green screen this mysterious figure invites us to imagine a space in which anything is possible.

Paolo di Dono, called Uccello (1397–1475):
The Hunt in the Forest (c.1465-1470)
tempera and oil, with traces of gold, on panel; 177cm x 73.3cm

The Hunt in the Forest is held in the collections of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

The cloaked figure in Mantle is gazeless. In Uccello’s painting the deer and pursuers are turned away from the viewer towards the deepest darkness of the forest. The painting captures a moment of action as though it is recording a real event, a role superseded centuries later by photography. The greyhounds and deer stopped in mid leap, the horses stalled, the hunters frozen with spears in hand. They stand out so much against the greenness of the grass and the foliage of the trees that they look as though they could be cut out, as if against a green screen. I wondered about Uccello’s intention in relation to fact, fantasy and symbolism.

The most popular understanding of The Hunt in the Forest is that it is an allegory on the pursuit of love. Other historians believe the painting to be of an actual hunt conducted by the Italian nobleman Lorenzo de’Medici. If true, this makes it one of the world’s earliest genre paintings. Other scholars claim that it illustrates an unknown novella, and yet others see it as no more than an exercise in mathematical perspective. We can place The Hunt in the Forest against numerous ‘backgrounds’ – in this context the green screen opens up the possibilities for limitless encounters.

I made a rudimentary mock-up of this green screen idea as part of my working process. The absence of shadows in The Hunt in the Forest was incongruous once the figures were isolated, so I gave Mantle a strong shadow, as if lit from behind by the moon. Are we looking into the work, or is Mantle the artist behind the image, looking at us within the forest?

Mantle asks us to question the role and intentions of the figure that we are looking at in relation to this moment.

Mantle was first shown in the exhibition Quarry at the Brocket Gallery, London in 2016.

More works from Quarry

Cleave: a black smooth board sits behind a blacker abstract shape with a red cloaked figure standing on a rock

Cleave (2016)

As if peering through a gap in the trees this art work focuses on the relationship between light and dark, quarry and hunter. The colour and form of the red figure references Uccello’s practice within the late Gothic tradition and reminds us that red is the colour of fairytales, representing blood (virginity, violence, death).

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Quarry art work: a dark subterranean space is populated by absurd and strange creatures that flit in and behind the pillars that hold up the vaulted ceiling

Quarry (2016)

Like Paolo Uccello’s Hunt in the Forest (1470), Quarry came into existence from dark to light. Uccello’s technique created a theatrical depth and drama that I wanted to capture.

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Query: Raised pale embroidery like old scars on a pale linen, with fragments of tapestry and collage strewn across the whole canvas

Query (2016)

In Paolo Uccello’s preparation of his wood panels for Hunt in the Forest (1470), he glued canvas over knots and scored lines into a black underlayer of paint to mark tree branches and vanishing points.

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Salt: Lines and patches of embroidery against a pale brown linen background, reminiscent of a set of ruins in a destroyed landscape. A figure with a beak as big as its body and that covers its face entirely, tentatively steps across the ground.

Salt (2016)

Salt is mined, extracted and evaporated. Stitching mends holes, fills in blank space. This artwork began life as the back of an unfinished needlepoint and grew into an exploration of geology and archeology.

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Silk: an embroidered image of bright autumn trees in yellow and orange sits against a black linen background, with tree silhouettes behind

Silk (2016)

This work started as an old needlepoint completed by an unknown sewer, that I unpicked, leaving only these trees intact. It was a way for me to look at the stage without the players.

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Slip: Against a fluorescent orange backdrop, a painted figure with blue hose and a dark green tunic falls headlong into a black hole

Slip (2016)

Falling is an uncontrollable action. When we fall (over, apart, in love, asleep) we become vulnerable; quarry. Caught between spaces this figure falls headfirst and downwards.

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Trace: two sets of arches, one in a pale sandy stone with overgrown ivy and the other, identical in outline but a flat black silhouette, sitting on a mid-grey linen canvas. The outlines of three greyhounds are stitched in white thread, leaping through the arches

Trace (2016)

I wanted to create a work that used just a few very strong elements to show the power of a repeated shape. I drew this grid over Uccello’s painting to reveal his mastery of perspective and as the starting point for Trace.

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When much had been forgotten: fragments of tapestry, collage and embroidery in the shape of statues and organic forms are scattered across a pale grey-brown linen

When much had been forgotten (2016)

The relics and ghosts of long ago are brought together here as if in a wild dream of nature. Starting from the verticals of Uccello’s trees and dotted lines he cut into the wood I wanted to present a landscape of fragments that offers a framework for a narrative.

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A walk in the woods: a blue-legged figure with a dark cloth over their head and body stands against a brick wall with plants growing round it

A walk in the woods (2016)

This conversation between Sarah Gillett and the writer Amy Lay-Pettifer digs deeper into the artist’s relationship with Paolo Uccello’s painting The Hunt in the Forest (1470) and her wider art practice.

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PACK: A person in a blue hoodie on a bicycle looks behind them to see hundreds of dogs chasing them through a wide, empty city street


The dogs in south London are running. One of the big ones slows down as it passes me and I step back as its nose swerves into my crotch, waving my arms as though that would make any difference. If it were really hungry it would just eat me but I get a face full of hot meaty air and it’s a lucky day.

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