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From Thomas Gainsborough and John Constable to Richard Long and Yinka Shonibare, what unites these artists and their works across the centuries is a shared concern with the relationship between our planet and its inhabitants.

Earth: Digging Deep in British Art 1781 – 2022, installation view, RWA Bristol, 2022. Photo: Martin Edwards Photography.

by DAVID TRIGG

The earth beneath our feet has proved to be an inexhaustible source of inspiration for artists, who for centuries have responded to its diverse topography, majestic vistas, rich geology and, more recently, the damage inflicted on it by human activity. Spanning four centuries of art, this ambitious exhibition at the Royal West of England Academy (RWA) considers the many ways in which British artists past and present have represented our environment. The timely show is the final instalment of the RWA’s element-themed series, which, since 2014, has included exhibitions focusing on sea, air and fire. At a time when anxiety regarding the Earth’s future is at fever pitch, this feels like the most urgent of the four, a view ostensibly shared by the curators (Nathalie Levi, Christiana Payne and Emma Stibbon) who have foregrounded works addressing environmental breakdown and climate change.

Yinka Shonibare, Earth Kid Boy II, 2022. © Yinka Shonibare CBE. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2022.

Greeting visitors in the first gallery is Yinka Shonibare’s Earth Kid (Boy) II (2022), a child-sized mannequin weighed down by a fishing net of waste electronics and whose head is a heat-map globe, showing areas of global warming. Dressed in the artist’s Read more…

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