We’re big fans of the Artists Laboratory. It gives Royal Academicians the chance to move away from their signature style and experiment with artworks that they normally wouldn’t exhibit. Stephen Chambers is the sixth artist to take part and he’s taken a screenprint and blown it up to gigantic proportions – at a similar scale to Hughie O’Donoghue who preceded him.
The Big Country is named after the film of the same name, though more people are likely to know of the theme tune than the film itself. Chambers has recreated the scene of frontier settlement in his vast ‘tapestry’ spread across over 75 screenprints. The scenes that unfold range from settlers building houses to a rider falling off his horse, giving it the sense of an epic made up of lots of individual tales. The silhouetted figures are reminiscent of those seen on ancient Grecian urns, and like them these figures also seem to be setting out a historical record of events.
Peppered throughout this tapestry are the names of ports from which settlers set off to colonise the new world, from Sydney to Spitsbergen. To ensure a realistic portrayal of this colonisation and to show that it wasn’t all a light hearted adventure, Chambers has also featured some African ports that fed the slave trade. This contrasts with some of the cartoonish antics and grounds the work in the real world.
There are also some smaller works by Chambers in this exhibition but these pale in comparison to the scale and impact of The Big Country. This is another Artist’s Laboratory that’s worth a side trip but we do feel that once again a separate admission charge isn’t justifiable.
Artist’s Laboratory 06: Stephen Chambers RA – The Big Country is on display in the Weston Room, Royal Academy of Arts until 2 December. Entrance is free with an exhibition ticket or £3 otherwise.