Spencer Fung’s Connolly Exhibition

Words: Ollie Horne
Photos: Richard Gaston

Upstairs in the Connolly store at 4 Clifford Street, between tall Georgian windows, circular swathes of deep ochre mingle with thick black curves of ink. On a low table, a piece of bone grey lichen rests with a clump of moss in a glass box, an intricate web of black, green, yellow, and pink. Next to it, a small grey stone acts as canvas for a monochrome painting of a thistle flower. It appears fossilised, as if created by the landscape.

Spencer Fung’s new exhibition, My Abstract Landscape, began with a patch of yellow lichen, which he found when hiking with his wife and children by a remote lake in the High Pyrenees. “On that day, the sun was shining on the lichen, and I was completely taken aback,” says Spencer. “I stopped, even though my family was already ahead of me. I opened up my watercolours and captured what I saw. That is how the exhibition was born.”

A trip to the Scottish Highlands ensued. Spencer visited Rannoch Moor, which inspired the rest of the series. “The very first thing I sketched there was the tiny, furry moss. I blew it up from the size of my finger tip to the largest paper I had with me,” says Spencer. “The sky was shifting quickly, the clouds were rolling in and off and I had very short windows to create the paintings, because of the changing light. This is my preferred way of working, acting spontaneously and capturing the moment.”

The moss and lichen on display at Connolly are taken from this moorland. “There, in such a remote and untouched area, the lichen can grow almost into rock form,” explains Spencer. “The colours vary from white to bright yellow to grey to the darkest graphite I have ever seen.” The vitrines that house his samples are vintage pieces from the Natural History Museum, originally used to display butterflies, and small pinholes dot the insides.

Spencer mixed soil and water from Rannoch’s bog with Chinese ink and watercolours, and used moss as a sponge, bringing the landscape directly into his work. This approach is characteristic of his practice. “I am often not certain what the final form of a painting will be when I begin,” he explains. “These paintings depend on the conditions of the moss, its wetness and texture on that day. This determines how it behaves and how the strokes appear on the page.”

Spencer hopes to express and share the beauty he senses in nature, but also to encourage people to look after these precious spaces: “Arriving at Rannoch Moor by train, I witnessed great mountains, bare from deforestation, and the Caledonian forests struggling to survive. I sincerely hope we can preserve these landscapes for future generations. They really are the last wildernesses we have.”