In Urban Pastoral, Justin Coombes recreates the sense of romance, adventure and threat he found upon first moving to London after a childhood spent in the countryside.
Coombes' dense, allusive, large-format photographs are products of his direct interventions in the landscape: the subtle rearrangement or placement of people and objects to create scenes that are quietly emotive, with strong narratives and symbolism that nonetheless remain opaque to the viewer.
In one photograph, Bully, a group of kids assembles in a council estate playground, loitering with ambiguous intent. The mist of an early dawn shrouds the scene with a sense of melancholy distance. In another work, a recollection of the artist's mother landscaping her Devon garden is recreated on a South London allotment; tempestuous blue clouds, barbed wire fences, a scarecrow and looming tower blocks undercut the idyllic memory. In Vanitas with Fox, the urban predator is caught in the headlights of a car whilst foraging for food in some rubbish bags. A skull design on a cardboard box that the fox has torn open seems to augur both its own death and that of the driver. Other new photographs are incorporated into Coombes's short video and performance pieces, where the literary and historical aspects of his image making are brought to the fore. He is influenced by early Surrealist experiments in photography, as well as the work of contemporary artists such as Shimon Attie, Gregory Crewdson and Jeff Wall.
This is Coombes's first solo exhibition in a commercial gallery. He won the BOC Emerging Artist Award in 2005 and has recently been nominated for a Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award. This exhibition has been generously supported by Arts Council England, the Fenton Arts Trust and Goldenshot.