These three images, two of which show gardens constructed from internal organs, the third a somewhat vitriolic response to the Coronation, with its Buckingham Palace state room occupied by a digestive system*, are among the earliest known works in the Robert Holcombe archive. The backgrounds appear to have been sourced from Stoddard’s Portfolio, a collection of photographs of “famous scenes, cities and paintings prepared under the supervision of the distinguished lecturer and traveller, John L. Stoddard” and published in a mass market edition by The Werner Company of Chicago and London in 1893. The foreground material is drawn from a variety of medical and surgical publications, mainly 1930s and 40s editions of works containing etchings and illustrations produced much earlier. A fascination with internal forms and the ways these could be mapped onto and made to disrupt generic landscape conventions would remain a key thread in Holcombe’s output over the next three decades.
* “If the State or Nation is a body, as many insist, then the place where all its wealth and produce ends up after the other organs have done their work should not be considered the head, as is commonly suggested, but the arse…” [Unpublished letter from Robert Holcombe to Cy Albertine, August 1962]