Though “there is no doubt in [her] mind that [her] professional career as an artist is built on Japanese foundations,” Rebecca Salter is very much a modern British Romantic. Her fascination with Japan is not driven by a desire to experience the ‘otherness’ expounded by Edward Said in his seminal book, Orientalism, but rather by an attempt to create a distinctive hybridity that profoundly engages with the conception and representation of landscape that is so central to both traditions. Indeed, Salter herself regards her time spent in Japan as an attempt to “finesse the bridging of the two cultures,” and it is this seamless marriage of the two that imbues her work with the unique sense of poignancy that only comes from diametric opposition.
Achim Borchardt-Hume has aptly described Salter as a “border walker,” and the term applies in more ways than one. She toes the line between art and craft, East and West, Japan and Britain, seeking to offer within her paintings a space for reflection upon the contrasting elements they present to the viewer. Like so many Romantics before her, Salter is heavily inspired by her time spent in the UK’s Lake District, its ever-changing weather and light constantly altering its famously picturesque scenery. Congruent with traditional Japanese depictions of landscape, her work does not revolve around a central perspective, but is instead made up of “distinct, interrelated elements within a fluid space.” Romantic philosopher Friedrich Schlegel has noted that the creation of a whole from multiple distinct elements is an inherently Romantic pursuit, and Salter’s power to instill a tranquility in her viewer stems from her ability to do just that.
Though the interplay between light and shadow is perhaps the element most closely associated with Salter’s work, her use of the diptych is also an important pillar of her artistic practice. The diptych creates both literal and figurative division within her considerably large works, and though it is often associated with religious painting, Salter’s use of it reflects a worldview that is more philosophical than theological. The binary it creates strongly resonates with the doctrine of fellow British Romantic William Blake, who describes his Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience (1794) as “showing the two contrary states of the human soul.” Blake believed that Innocence and Experience were not simply abstract conceptions, but rather opposing elements of a single, universal design actively manifesting themselves in the natural (and supernatural) world. In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Blake states that, “without Contraries there is no Progression,” and it is this duality in creation that Salter seeks to accomplish. And accomplish it she does, her work seamlessly mediating between the objective and subjective, between tradition and modernity, striking a balance more potent than any one extreme could ever achieve.