Click to zoom

02:02 Georg Wilson: Whoso List to Hunt

“Whoso list to hunt, I know there is a hind…”

From the Tudor court to unrequited or unfulfilled love. Abi Hampsey and Georg Wilson take you “someplace somewhere” through a narrative journey of match making. Discussing how the artist goes about constructing images as well as how much to give the viewer both contextually and visually.

What’s hiding in the bushes and what animal would be your familiar? Join us at “What Mad Pursuit” a solo show by Georg Wilson at Berntson Bhattacharjee.

Abi Hampsey,
Artist and co-founder of Minutes.

Whoso List to Hunt, 2023, Oil on linen blend, 120 x 160cm
(Click to zoom)


Okay, so, what is it called?


Whoso List to Hunt.


Whoso List to Hunt. And that's from?


So that was a quote from Thomas Wyatt's poem of the same name, which is a 16th century poem. Wyatt was a court poet in the Tudor English court.

He wrote a lot of poems, commissioned by Henry the Eighth, about his various wives. He kind of invented this romantic form of English that often has motifs like the hunt for a deer through a forest as a kind of extended metaphor for the hunt for love.

Whoso List to Hunt is a poem that Wyatt re-used in reference to various different lovers and people in the court.

There were lots of rumours that Thomas Wyatt wrote it because he and Ann Boleyn were having an affair. Then he gave it (the poem) to Henry the Eighth to be used by himself or other people. So, it's quite cheeky that he was reusing and reshaping it like that. But the poem itself, says:

“Who so List to Hunt? I know there is a hind”.

It's basically about him being slightly older and out of the game because it kind of means: “who's going hunting? I know there's something out there, but I'm being left behind and they're all going out”.  And so, he's unable to reach the deer.

So, it's either about him, sort of, being old and out of the game or...


Or old and out of time!


Unrequited love! If the poem was given to a younger man to give to a younger woman.

The reason I used the poem in this painting is for its mischievous reworking and re-contextualising, and the double meanings it has. That’s something I want all of the paintings in the show to have.

I always want there to be two potential interpretations. It might initially seem like something intimate or affectionate in the scene. And then, suddenly, maybe you realise it's more of a fight, or a tense kind of grapple, or something.

So yeah, in this one we are talking about with the rearing deer. I wanted it to either seem like a mating ritual or a contest of some sort.


Yeah, I was going to say, after you said that about the mating, with the deer on the left rearing, it made me think about them rutting. But they aren’t males...?

But then there’s characters, or the goblins, or the creatures? They have horns. Whereas the deer don't. And one of them, this one on the right, is kind of looking over at the other with bemusement.


I wanted them to seem unfazed, whilst also maybe in awe.


The time of day seems ambiguous, but also quite twilight-esque or at least a night-time scene.


I often want my figures to kind of glow, to imply this kind of witching hour or twilight time. And I wanted this dense, kind of quite shallow background to imply either a dark night or a deep thick forest.

And yeah, back to the horns… I wanted the figures to wear the horns because I was thinking about a lot of matchmaking rituals. I was reading a lot of witch’s spell books drawing on love rituals and so I was thinking about these creatures and their really symbiotic relationship to the English countryside.

So, the deer are perhaps the creatures’ familiars, and they're acting out these kinds of behaviours through them. I didn't want the deer to be explicitly masculine, just as my creatures are always kind of gender ambiguous.


There are a couple of paintings in the show where the characters are in pairs - which I think is quite new for you? Quite often we are just seeing one character acting mischievous, or playing out some kind of ritual role, or demonstrating something to us. But in the show, there’s are a couple of works where the need for the other creature is really necessary, and they look like double portraits to me, like they come across like pairs of portraits. I don't know what you think about the pairing of the two?


Yeah, well, I was looking at a lot of, again, Tudor Holbein marriage portraits, and I was thinking about the way in which those are hung, or curated, or set up. You know, there would be props and scenery, and that kind of then implies or says something about the relationship. In the Arnolfini portrait, for example, The little dog, people think that has something to do with the loyalty of that couple.


And yeah, it was nice to think about how to set up a pairing in a scene and for that scene to then reflect what was potentially going on between each character. So the Moons, for example, in this work they are very small and pale and there are two of them, whenever there are two moons… I don’t want to be too explicit; I don't want to give too much away. But the two moons represent if there's something duplicitous or mischievous going on. And what I was saying earlier about the kind of double potential meanings; if they're very kind of small and pale and sort of waning and not very bright, maybe there's some kind of dissatisfaction or lacking in one of the character's feelings or thoughts.

Whereas when they're really, kind of – full, and glowing, and large, then there's some kind of satisfaction or completion going on.


I hadn't actually noticed the double moon in this painting, or the other one, which is really interesting actually, because now I'm looking around, I can see them everywhere.

As not to make you spill all your secrets, in terms of the subject matter, what about these paintings in terms of the use of paint? You seem to really claim this language of the brushstroke, creating these swirly thick, transparent, flora/fauna, like here, you used it to make a dense forest.

I really think the reduction of description and the use of material in your work always has a really nice relationship, or has a nice - understanding. For instance, when we look at this work over here (Tamed,120 x 160cm,oil on linen blend), I absolutely adore the detail of the leaves and flowers on the bottom. It reminds me of some of the kind of the what's it called? The Primavera! Those kinds of flowers described at the bottom.


Well, I literally did steal those kind of ornamental plant shapes from a tapestry that I saw in Met Cloisters in New York. That are part of the Unicorn series, and the foliage, and the kind of dots are almost ornamental because they don't really refer to any particular plant in this work. I also borrowed from tapestries, medieval manuscripts, and that kind of economy, but also that ornamental line making.

And yeah, to go back to the brushwork, it's been really interesting. I never thought it would go this crazy because obviously it doesn't describe anything really, obvious?

It's like hinting towards foliage, or flesh, or fur, or in whichever context is used. I want that kind of ambiguity in the sense of hinting at something in the undergrowth, and everything kind of fizzing, and being of the same kind of matter.

So, I think that material, methods, and brushstrokes complement content there.

But it wasn't so crazy and wobbly before, and I think, yeah - having worked on panels throughout the last year of RCA, and since then, and now being able to scale up on this very smooth surface. It basically replicates the experience of painting on a panel, this very smooth, primed poly cotton linen blend which is really shiny and not absorbent. So, I can build up layers.

You can't really smooth anything, or blend anything. It just sits which is really nice for the whole wobbly kind of craziness of the scenes.


Up to now, we’ve spoke quite a lot about like context and content, You obviously have a deep understanding of where your work comes from, where it sits, how important is that for people to know when they're looking at the work, do you think?


I don't want to tell people exactly what to think. I don't think it's necessary for someone to have that press release, or that kind of context in their hand when they're looking around the show, because what I hope is that with this work and with the others, there will be a sort of sense of some familiarity to a viewer.

Like they might be reminded of a fairy story, or something they read as a child, or some kind of thing they heard about a landscape somewhere sometime, and that kind of universality, I hope, somehow comes across. Obviously, there is something surreal and magical in the scene that I’m painting so I hope that feels slightly familiar at first, and then that might be like an access or entry point for them to come in and come into the world that I'm trying to create.


I guess that's where things like repeating images become useful, like the moons. And the title of the show itself, and then the titles of the work, they give enough?


Yeah, exactly. And I think also with thinking about folklore and the reading, the reading and research I do into folklore before I’m preparing a show. I don't want one narrative to dominate each picture or each body of work.

I want there to be room for ambiguity, and each viewer's interpretation, and in a more intellectual way, another intellectual angle. I think that folklore is often appropriated, especially right now with people like the BMP saying that English men should start their own Morris dancing troops, and things like that.

That’s a weird little example, but folklore is obviously frequently tied to the landscape, and then it's used for narratives of who deserves to be somewhere.


Like nationhood, nationality.


So I don't want to impose one narrative and one purpose for that narrative because I think it's yeah, it's kind of exclusionary and dangerous at the extreme.


I think fairy tales, or rather the narrative language of them - for instance, you said “Some place somewhere” that's kind of the whole point of them isn't it? That they are transregional, and they exist in multiple cultures across multiple planes, across multiple times, and the attempts to use it for a far-right agenda, is just quite funny, because it's just so not that.


Exactly, one of the first people I spoke to about this show was from Greece, and he already had, like - three different folktales that came to mind when he looked around the show, and they were almost identical to one that I'd read, and that where about the English landscape. These things are porous and move around as people move around the world.


Just, as we have a few minutes left, we can see arrows around the show, everywhere. It's just super fun. And, I think, as we said about the context, the arrows just add that level of playfulness to the show, as if the characters in this room have been out and about, firing these cupids’ arrows everywhere, but the black birds around the space, what significance do they have?


Well, initially I was going to paint a lot more black birds in the actual work, because blackbirds are one of the first birds to come out in spring and that kind of arrival of spring, and nature beginning its cycle of matchmaking, and having all the chicks laying their eggs, and everything.

So the black birds are the, kind of, first bird of spring, the first birdsong you hear in the English countryside, and they start making their nests before a lot of the other birds. So, because of that, they kind of place the exhibition in a particular time of year.

There was also this folk song which I was listening to a lot when I started making the work, it's called Hares On the Mountain, and one of the verses says, “If all the young men were blackbirds and thrushes, how many young girls would go beating the bushes?”

It’s a narrative on its head; the women are going to hunt the men, which is very rare in all sorts of forms of culture, and so to have that inverted. So I thought it was quite funny because yeah, it's again that kind of violence of love ritual with both interpretations in it.


Of course

Both laugh.

Recording Ends