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Paul Vousden: The Contemporary Sublime

Tuesday 5 – Saturday 23 October 2021

This exhibition presents the work of artist Paul Vousden resulting from his practice-based research enquiry into Edmund Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757-59).

The central tenet of Burke’s treatise is that emotional reactions to objects, landscapes, and ideas can be explained by rational examination. Burke also analyses the links between perception, terror, power, passion, ethics, and morality in the eighteenth-century.

‘My research reconsiders Burke’s text from my perspective as a practicing artist, and asks the question, to what extent can Burke’s aesthetic philosophy be usefully employed in the production of paintings, and drawings, which reflect on the physicality and character of contemporary British spaces, places, and landscapes?’ – Paul Vousden, 2021

Booking information

Opening hours
Tuesday – Friday: 12-5pm
Saturday: 12-4pm

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Admission is free at East GalleryNUA and we strongly recommend booking online.

About ‘The Contemporary Sublime’

Exploring the possibility that Burke’s conception of the sublime and beautiful are still potentially useful in the process of understanding, and presenting, artistic visions of British spaces, Vousden considers the argument in three different territories: the horizontal, the vertical, and the transcendental sublime, using Burke’s thoughts about extensions of space.

The horizontal sublime is reimagined as the British coastline or border, the vertical sublime is reinterpreted as a mineshaft, and the transcendental sublime becomes an ancient British chapel.

The paintings explore differing relationships to nature through the prism of the Burkean Sublime, as well as the contemporary events which give these spaces context in the twenty-first century. 

Vousden notes that ‘this structured limit to perception has proven to be helpful in creating links between reality and artistic presentation, which are focused, organised and pertinent to contemporary British external landscapes and internal spaces’.

The resulting artworks manifest Burke’s attempt to impose strict laws on the recalcitrant material of the passions and examine how the Enquiry can be used to stimulate the imagination to turn contemporary painting and drawing into an exciting conceptual adventure.

The Contemporary Sublime was created as part of a practice-based research thesis, submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy with Norwich University of the Arts.

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Covid-19 safety guidance

  • While we can now welcome drop-in visitors to East Gallery, we urge people to pre-book their free tickets online.
  • Visits will continue be limited to 8 people per 30 minute session, and all visitors will be urged to remain at a distance of 2 meters from each other, where possible.
  • Masks are still required across the university campus and will be necessary for all visitors to East Gallery, unless medically exempt. 
  • All visitors will be asked to sign-in to the government track and trace system via the QR code at the front desk, or leave a name and email address for contact should it be required.
  • Hand sanitiser will be available in the gallery in two locations, and visitors will be required to sanitise if they wish to look at the books on display in the gallery.
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