Looking for Ophelia: An illustrated visual and sensual exploration of the Hogsmill River
The Hogsmill, a tributary of the Thames and now one of London’s lost rivers was used as the rural setting for J.E Millais’ painting Ophelia. Recent research by a local historian has revealed the exact location, co-incidentally very near to my own home, used by the artist who worked on location over a five month period.
Poignantly, the painting is known for its depiction of the detailed flora of the river and the riverbank, stressing the patterns of growth and decay in a natural ecosystem. The dying figure of Opehlia as the vulnerable woman is a popular subject in pre-Raphaelite paintings, echoing the vulnerability of the local natural history of its setting, surrounded as it is now by suburban housing, increasing traffic and pollution. Nature is so evocative of the human condition.
The paper will present a new illustrated work exploring the beauty and fragility of nature within suburban environments, bringing the overlooked and unnoticed to the attention of the audience both visually and sensually. The work will explore the landscape of the river, its topography and natural history, as well as echoing the themes of death and decay, with particular emphasis on illustrating the materiality of the setting through a haptic reading of the work.
In the context of the multi disciplinary nature of contemporary illustration, working predominately with the form of the book, the use of material and physical structure to create haptic readings (Mosely 2014) evoking intimate and sensory experience of the content (Hara 2004) is a central theme. The shape of the book, like the topography of the landscape, its weight, the surface texture of its pages and surfaces, the way it reacts and moves on opening unconsciously aid our sensory understanding of its contents.
Furthermore, the paper considers the role of the illustration as a form of both physical and visual communication.
Jane Cradock-Watson is the Course Leader for BA & MA Illustration at UCA Farnham. Her practice is focused on the development of ideas through print and the production of hand made books. Her work is held in major collections in both the UK and internationally. Her books are sensual. They can be experienced through sense of touch. Their subject matter is primarily focused on the conceptualisation of nature and the landscape.