|Alex Katz, Black Hat, 2010|
It was. I don't know what, if anything, the American painter Alex Katz has to do with St Ives, but over a long career he has made a fascinatingly diverse range of pictures, and a decent selection of those are on show in the main gallery until late September. Among some odd choices - a sketchy painting of a seagull, for one - were some lovely things. For once, I'm quite glad that I walked round the exhibition knowing almost nothing about the artist, as I think he's less interesting once you start trying to put him in context with Warhol and the American Pop Art generation. As it was, I wandered from room to room with kids in tow, not worrying too much about what any of the simply-constructed beach scenes and so on meant.
A billboard-sized painting of women in glamorous swimsuits was striking, but I preferred the picture opposite, '4.30pm', with its deep blue sea and white boats that looked as though they'd been stencilled on last but were, apparently, put on the canvas first. The simple style suited the subject, and didn't seem just to be making a point about Advertising or some such. In the last room, showing the artist's most recent work, it was great to come across one of the strongest pictures in the exhibition, a portrait of a woman wearing a splendid black hat.
|William Nicholson, Top: The Hill Above Harlech, 1919 (Tate) Bottom: Nude, 1921 (Tate)|
But there was more... Downstairs (in the space so frighteningly filled on a previous occasion with balloons) were pictures from the Tate collection selected by Katz himself. They showed an artist of varied tastes, from Le Douanier Rousseau and Chaim Soutine to the cool and meticulous William Nicholson. The highlight of the day for me was the clever juxtaposition of a beautifully lit Welsh landscape with the most chilled-out of nudes. Looking from one to the other they began to blur, so that the woman's limbs became a kind of landscape. Must find out more about this artist, who was every bit as good as his son Ben, and must have influenced Rav and co with his cool studies.
I was about to leave at this point when I noticed an open doorway with a Tate minion standing in a proprietorial sort of way outside. She let me pass without comment and I found myself in a room of delights, a mini-exhibition devoted to four artists who did have a connection with St Ives. Very much so, in fact. The premise of '1928 - A Cornish Encounter' was the meeting in that year between the up-and-coming young artists Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood, who were staying in Cornwall along with Ben's wife Winifred, and the elderly painter Alfred Wallis. There wasn't much about the meeting itself, but display cases full of letters gave one the opportunity to study everyone's handwriting.
|Christopher Wood, Boat in Harbour, Brittany, 1929 (Tate)|
|Winifred Nicholson, Sandpipers, Alnmouth, 1933 (Tate)|