I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again.
I’ve been a huge fan of Anne Desmet’s work since I was a teen. They’re like Piranesi in tiny, wood-engraved form with a formalist appeal akin to M.C. Escher. She frequently lifts motifs from historic sites with the Babylonian Tower of Babel as a constant.
Anne Desmet: Kaleidoscope at Pallant House Gallery is a presentation of new work, incorporating a host of additional materials and techniques like lithography, monoprinting, and even the use of marbled paper. As ever, her trademark process is wood engraving which she frequently combines with linocuts.
An introductory display prefaces the main exhibition space, showcasing Desmet’s work in a variety of sizes, enabling visitors to appreciate the level of minute detail one can achieve with wood engraving. Her interest in urban landscapes is plain to see, from ancient ruins to modern cityscapes, as well as her fragmentary approach to the pictorial space, bordering on collage and serialisation.
In the main room, a single wall features more early work, this time incorporating more colour and vibrancy to certain British landmarks such as Bath Circus. But most importantly, you see her early interest in the Tower of Babel; Desmet’s version is a slightly variant of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s depiction in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. The beauty of this wall is that you see how the Tower of Babel manifests and morphs throughout her work.
Uncharted Terrain is a collage of different parts of the Tower and other ancient sites, resulting in an undulating visual journey. Another recent print is the Wood Engraver’s Tower, which collages several accoutrements into a construction site for a new Tower of Babel (or perhaps its destruction).
The latter’s woodblock can also be seen in the central display case which evokes a workbench, accompanied by tools, small proofs, and prints on 40 razor shells.
The other three walls are dedicated to Desmet’s tall and kaleidoscopic collages inspired by a new-found fascination for kaleidoscopes. Suddenly, her architectural fragments take on a global, even cosmic emphasis imbuing thematic strands concerning humanity, destruction, and the passing of time.
Anne Desmet: Kaleidoscope runs until 5 February 2023 at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, https://pallant.org.uk/
More of Anne Desmet’s work can be found on her website, https://annedesmet.com/