The Clearing, Compton Verney


Project Info


  • Alex Hartley
  • Tom James

Art Forms

  • Installation


  • Heritage Lottery Fund
  • Historic England
  • Arts&Heritage

Project Outline

A&H supported the development of the brief and selection of artists on this ambitious project at Compton Verney. The resulting project was called The Clearing.

This was an opportunity to develop a new work in the parkland at Compton Verney as part of a Landscape Restoration Project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which aimed to be significant, high profile and impactful.

The team at Compton Verney wanted a work that attracted attention – hence the term ‘eye-catcher’ and, where possible, for it to be participatory, surprising or inventive and to respond to the history of the landscape. Through this commission they also hoped to deepen historic understanding and enjoyment of Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park and to prompt enquiry and new ways of looking at the site, via a 21st century response to its history, building upon its unique architectural, art and design led identity.


  • To attract more people to site and help drive ambitious visitor numbers
  • To engage with existing audiences
  • Encourage new audiences to visit
  • To increase awareness of Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park
  • To respond to the impact of ‘Capability’ Brown on Compton Verney’s landscape
  • To make a lasting impression on visitors that stays with them after they leave the site
  • To increase the reach of Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park’s distinctive and innovative programme
  • To stimulate debate about contemporary public art in a historic rural environment
  • To respond sensitively and imaginatively to Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park’s site and historic setting


Arts&Heritage supported Compton Verney’s curator to develop a brief which was subsequently sent out to all contacts including artists and organisations, press, social media and advertising in the UK.

They asked artists to submit an expression of interest to the curator. The expression of interest included a very short proposal outlining ideas and how the brief could be met, together with a CV, artist statement and up 6 images of previous work.

Approximately 120 artists applied for the opportunity. The curator then worked with Arts&Heritage, Compton Verney’s head of grounds and head of programming to shortlist from the artists’ submissions.

Once the shortlist was drawn up they asked the shortlisted artists to work up a more detailed proposal to include sketch designs, visualisations and explanation of the concept for the project. This included how it related directly to the location as well as details about how the artist would approach its design, fabrication and installation and a detailed budget for realising the commission.

Artists were given just under a month to visit the site (optional), draw up and submit their proposal in which they were asked to including details outlining:

  • maintenance requirements and lifespan expectations
  • how the work could engage with different audiences – both existing and new
  • detail of the anticipated duration of the project
  • a timescale broken down into research, production and delivery.

Once submitted, all artists were invited to interview. The interview panel included the curator, head of programming, deputy director and Arts&Heritage,, along with a representative from Historic England  and Heritage Lottery Fund.

Following the interviews Alex Hartley and Tom James were chosen for their proposal The Clearing.

Following the appointment of the artists, the site of the work was chosen with head of grounds and advised by Compton Verney’s landscape advisors and planners.

Alex and Tom documented the work in a journal on the project website.

The Artist

Alex Hartley

Alex Hartley is a contemporary artist, who has exhibited widely throughout the world since leaving the RCA in the early 1990’s. His ten-year project Nowhereisland was one of the signature projects for the London 2012 Olympics, bringing a newly discovered Arctic island to the UK. More than 23,000 people signed up as citizens of this new country. He was part of the 2014 Folkestone Triennial, and in 2015, he won the Arts Foundation award for Art in the Elements, and the COAL prix for Art in the Environment. In recent years, Alex has increasingly made post-studio works outside of the gallery, often involving occupation and participation. Current projects include a major commission for Somerset House’s Utopia season, a modernist ruin for Kentucky, and an occupied bunker for Victoria Miro Gallery London.

Tom James

Tom James is a writer, self-publisher and artist. He has ten years experience of creating innovative publishing projects to help people reimagine structures, communities and ideas. Tom’s work has been featured across the national media; his campaign to reuse two abandoned cooling towers as art was the focus of a Channel 4 documentary; and his fanzine, Go, is part of the permanent collection of the V&A. Tom is also part of Spacemakers, an arts and regeneration agency based in Brighton. Tom led the Cricklewood Town Square project for Spacemakers, a public space project in North-West London that engaged and worked with various community groups to bring disused ground to life. Recently, Tom’s practice has headed in a new direction. He’s currently producing A Future Manual: a DIY guide that aims to explore the skills we’ll need in a future depleted by climate change. He has run fire-making workshops at g39 in Cardiff, and distributed the manual at the London Art Book Fair, at Whitechapel Gallery.