Joseph Lichy is invited into the inner world of painter Daniel Ablitt

Seeking Light is the apt title of Bristol based artist Daniel Ablitt’s current exhibition of paintings at Sarah Wiseman gallery in Summertown. It’s a show not to be missed if well-executed, compellingly moody and contemplative landscapes are your bag.

Perhaps though, the term ‘landscape painting’ is a bit of a misnomer here. On the gallery press release Edinburgh graduate Ablitt borrows a Caspar David Friedrich quote 'The painter should paint not only what he has in front of him, but also what he sees inside himself.’ Friedrich was renowned for his depiction of man’s response to the sublime vastness of nature and Ablitt is no exception, in fact Ablitt's work reads more like internalised portraits of people set in the beauty of nature rather than landscapes proper, and the press release tells us;

Daniel’s compelling, dream-like paintings do not set out to record a likeness of a particular location, rather he seeks to engage with the intrinsic effect it has on us as human beings.

The show comprises 20 works, ranging from over mantelpiece size to dry-marker-whiteboard size, all painted in oil on board and all dated 2016. Likely inspired by a recent trip to Iceland, Ablitt has obviously had a productive year and the thematic consistency very much adds up to a confidence inspiring glimpse into his world.

In his paintings the viewer may find bright, dappled sunlight as seen through the woods, the opaque flatness of daylight on a cloudy day, starlight in the night sky or a glimmering light in a window glimpsed from a distance. The light in his paintings takes on a visionary quality; tiny, glowing orbs may appear in the landscape, giving the scene an aspect of magical realism, perhaps reflecting a sense of nostalgia or depth of feeling for the fleeting moment captured.

Ablitt’s work very much suggests narrative, subtly inviting viewer participation into the composition. They’re works to live with and easily sustain over time the reflection of the mood of the viewer. With the works’ quiet figures placed sparcely within the landscape, as Daniel says “… to draw the viewer into the paintings, to take them on a personal journey into their own memories or into imagined possibilities.

The work is certainly not without edge however, the vastness of the landscapes just as easily signifying bleakness as peace, and the figures just as likely escaping from unknown assailants or situations as looking to find inner peace. This ambivalence in Ablitt’s work can perhaps be likened to fellow inner-landscaper and 1993 Turner prize nominee Peter Doig. The artists also share a degree of experimentation in how they apply paint. On Ablitt’s surfaces we can see a wide repertoire of mark-making from turps-thinned wide brushmarks to ultra-fine brush detailing such as in the silver birch trees in ‘A Place to Rest’.

There’s also evidence of the use of turpentine or white spirit as a deliberate technique, it’s dried residue visibly running down the surface of works such as ‘City Lights’ and ‘Still Water. Whether this is seen as a kind of cleansing of the work or as a site of destruction is up to the viewer.

Daniel Ablitt: Seeking Light is at Sarah Wiseman Gallery until the 24th of September 2016