William Morris tile alongside Tresco and Stromboli at News From Nowhere

Islands are often associated with utopia - they are their own little worlds, separate and self-contained. A tropical island is, in the popular imagination, the perfect place to escape from the world to; an idea exploited by numerous luxury hotels and resorts, which locate themselves in the Seychelles, Caribbean, Maldives etc. There is even a condition known as islomania, which is an obsessive enthusiasm for islands.

Paul Gaugain left Europe to escape 'everything that is artificial and conventional' (1) and spent the later years of his life on various French Polynesian islands drinking and having sex with young women. Suffering from syphilis he died age 53 from a morphine overdose, his body weakened by alcohol. Aldous Huxley's final novel, Island, describes a journalist who is shipwrecked on the fictional island of Pala (probably part of Indonesia). He describes a utopian society where open sexuality leads to some kind of spiritual enlightenment. The novel however has a pessimistic overtone as the island is threatened by the encroachment of capitalism and in the end 'the outside world brings it down'. (2)

Islands are in effect escapist ideals, thrilling psychological representations of some kind of perfect place. The long running BBC Radio 4 series Desert Island Discs flits between the idealism of being shipwrecked and the difficult practicalities of survival and it is this duality that the Islands series of paintings and the accompanying video Breath of the Sea which were made for the News From Nowhere exhibition at the William Morris Society in Hammersmith examine. These islands start as places of idealism and escape but rapidly end up becoming difficult and even dangerous.


(1) Arifa Akbar, 'The painter who invented his own brand of artistic licence', The Independent, 20 April 2010
(2) Maritza Mestre, Island by Aldous Huxley






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