Interesting Artworks: Laura Footes' The Hunt
Laura Footes is a draughtswoman based in London. Her large-scale pastel drawing, The Hunt (2014), depicts the moment in which a massive hunting party catches a fox. The line of the hunting party surges from the upper right towards the bottom left of the drawing, where the hounds rip apart the fox with such ferocity that only a pit of crimson identifies the prey. In the background, a Brontëan country house hunkers amidst rolling fields. The drawing is deliriously chromatic and abstract in its rendering. Footes’ pastel lines read like neon signs, and she arrays the cool white of the hounds’ coats around the fox like the petals of a carrion blossom. The long line of huntsmen—again, ominously clad in red—leap towards the carnage. This compositional movement prevents the drama from existing in one frozen moment, but rather emphasizes its crescendo. The panoply of colour and energy does not depict triumph, but rather a fever pitch.
Working from her imagination, Footes created The Hunt as ‘an experiment from home.’ She states that she had ‘no intention other than to see what [she] could make out of a traditional English country scene.’ Footes perhaps recalled the English painter George Stubbs, whose works, such as William Anderson with Two Saddle-Horses (1793), coolly record these ‘traditional English country scene[s].’ However, The Hunt speaks more to Footes’ struggle with Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s disease is a rare inflammatory bowel disease with no cure. Surgery, needed for nearly half of those effected, provides only temporary benefits. Her chronic illness facilitated her ability to work from memory and imagination. Her hospitalizations, she believes, simultaneously ‘separated [her] from the outside world’ and ‘enhanced’ her ‘senses in regards to [her] visual imagination.’[i]
‘I found I sympathized with the fox,’ Footes says, ‘being pursued and disemboweled by all his fellow canines. I think this was a means of subverting and purging some of my hospital trauma from the many bowel surgeries.’[ii] Hence, The Hunt serves as a grim autobiography more than a political statement or genre painting.
In terms of influence, Footes represents the English countryside (whether real or imaginary) in a vein of German Expressionism. The Hunt shares the movement’s looseness and heaviness of hand, representation fragmenting into abstraction, and sturm und drang undercurrents. Regarding content and intention, The Hunt parallels the paintings of the contemporary German Expressionist, Neo Rauch. Rauch also straddles levels of consciousness in his narratives, producing images both archetypically familiar yet jarring in their occasional brutality. Both artists’ oeuvres contend with conflict between the suppressed and the surreal. Obviously, Footes shares many formal qualities with German Expressionism. Convolutedly and fascinatingly, she also shares this panicked attempt at control.
However, Footes sometimes lashes out against that control, and so recalls, both technically and metaphorically, the animals depicted by French artist Eugène Delacroix. Footes lived in France for five years, during which she ‘picked up so much from the French colourists like Delacroix … and the vibrancy of movement and dynamism in painting on the Continent.’ Horses and tigers, in particular, provided rich symbolic content for Delacroix. His beasts are feral and unbridled. This same wildness grips Footes’ hounds, but more poignantly signifies the life—and hence freedom—robbed from the fox. But the fox has only been robbed, nothing more. For Footes, to create drawings that thrum with the ‘vibrancy of movement and dynamism’ requires stamina. By creating work replete with an energy that defies chronic illness, she throws off her pursuers and thus emancipates herself from the fray.
At first glance, ‘The Hunt’ reads like visual candy until the viewer realizes that its bright splashes represent something gorier. This clever double-take aligns itself with Footes’ own words. Her ‘experiment from home,’ however unplanned in its inception, fashions bucolic imagery into a sobering self-portrait. The repressed, spiky idiom of German Expressionism and the ‘vibrancy’ and symbolism of Delacroix combine to flesh out her imaginary scene. Embedded in that crimson pit is not merely her reflection, but rather her determined trajectory beyond pain. ‘For me there was and always will be more to the imagery than the surface narrative,’ she writes. ‘That is how I like things to be.’