Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Powell and Pressburger: 'Gone to Earth'



If you ignore Jennifer Jones's curious accent and a fairly creaky plot, this is a bit of a classic. As with more famous P&P outings like 'I Know Where I'm Going', the characters are strongly drawn, the dialogue snappy. And the sense of place is as powerful as you'd expect, both on the large scale - the landscape is breathtaking - and the small. The interiors are awesome, from the lowly cottage where protagonist Hazel lives with her beekeeper/coffinmaker/harpist father, to the dastardly squire's manor house. Watch it while you can!

Sunday, 27 November 2016

'The Lost Watercolours' is an Art Book of the Year!


Lovely to see 'The Lost Watercolours of Edward Bawden' featured as one of the Art Books of the Year in The Sunday Times yesterday. You can read what Michael Prodger had to say about the book here, though the website is subscription-only...

The book is more expensive than most art books but the cover price reflects the fact that it's a limited edition of 850 copies. Anyway it's cheaper than a new phone and will last a lot longer!

You can buy 'The Lost Watercolours' from independent booksellers such as Henry Sotheran's and Much Ado Books, or from The Mainstone Press.

Monday, 7 November 2016

'Century' at Jerwood / Bowie at Sotheby's


Century: 100 Modern British Artists from Jerwood Gallery on Vimeo.

The twentieth century was an exciting time for British artists. Inspired both by the revolutionary art movements of continental Europe and by deeply-ingrained insular traditions, painters and sculptors explored the world around them in thrilling new ways. At a time when photography, film and TV threatened to make traditional art forms redundant, artists responded by finding new ways of expressing their feelings about people and places that moved them – and the public responded in turn by flocking to museums and galleries.

Now open at the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings, ‘Century’ brings together paintings and sculptures, drawings and prints by a hundred artists who lived and worked in Britain during the 20th century. Some were immigrants. Others travelled extensively, across mainland Europe and further afield, in search of ideas and inspiration. Some haunted museums and became expert in African sculpture or Japanese printmaking. Others befriended avant-garde artists like Picasso and learnt from them.

Curating ‘Century’ has been a delight. All the works are selected from two eclectic collections of modern British art – the Jerwood Collection and the Ingram Collection – and while there are some famous names on display, what I love is the range, variety and quality of the artworks.

View of 'Bowie: Collector', from Sotheby's website
It's fairly madcap, though not quite as zany as the current exhibition of David Bowie's art collection at Sotheby's on Bond Street. Bowie's taste tended towards the vibrant, particularly in his liking for modern-art-influenced furniture. Those funky sofas and lamps are marvellous but sad: the treasures of a dead king.

I love how the Sotheby's curators have arranged everything, with huge photos of the man himself to remind us that what all the fuss is about, and then the most incredible amount of stuff crammed into each room. It's an art wake, a celebration (and, I know, fantastic publicity for no less than three upcoming auctions).  The show must have been both a logistical nightmare and tremendous fun to curate. It's certainly a treat for the visitor, not least because so many of the other visitors are obviously wondering whether to bid on particular pieces. The art world needs this glamour and excitement.

Reg Butler, Woman on Boat, 1953 (copyright artist estate)
Bowie's taste in art was eclectic. Alongside experimental New York art from the 1990s (which complements the zingy furnishings), there is a solid body of modern British art which bears a strong resemblance to Chris Ingram's collection. Similar artists, similar works, sometimes even the same works. It was weird to see 'Woman on Boat' (1953), one of several Reg Butler sculptures in 'Century', on show at Sotheby's.

Curiously, I was allowed to take pictures of this sculpture and anything else that caught my fancy, whereas Jerwood Gallery (and numerous other art museums) are obliged to ban photography to protect copyright holders. It's an odd situation, but it does mean that if you want to enjoy the treasures on display in 'Century', you'll have to go along and see them for yourself. And if you've never visited the Old Town of Hastings, you're in for a treat.

'Century' runs at Jerwood Gallery until January.
'Bowie Collector' runs at Sotheby's until Nov 10.



Monday, 10 October 2016

'Century' at Jerwood: John Piper

John Piper, Beach and Starfish, Seven Sisters, mixed media, 1933-4 (Jerwood Collection)

Like many British artists of his generation Piper was inspired from an early age by places – rather than people – and here he has used the avant-garde medium of collage to bring the venerable British genre of coastal painting up to date. Look carefully and you can see how cleverly he has combined paint and other media, like the fabric of the flag and the seashells borrowed from an old book, to make a familiar scene seem new and strange.

Piper is one of 100 modern British artists featured in my exhibition 'Century', which opens at Jerwood Gallery, Hastings, in a couple of weeks. In fact we're starting the hang this week (touches wood, tries not to think about railway strikes)...


Friday, 7 October 2016

Tirzah Garwood & Peggy Angus in the ODNB

Tirzah Garwood by Duffy Ayers, 1944
Earlier this year I wrote entries for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography on two remarkable women: Peggy Angus and Tirzah Garwood. The former was born in Chile to ex-patriot Scottish parents, then raised in Muswell Hill, London. She won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in the early 1920s and there met Eric Ravilious, who in turn met Tirzah when, after graduating from the Royal College, he taught her at the Eastbourne School of Art. When Eric and Tirzah were married in 1930 the two women became friends; though very different in many ways, they shared both artistic talent and a belief in plain speaking.

It was fascinating to try and condense the lives of these two immensely creative, characterful people into a few hundred words, especially given that their lives were so closely intertwined. Inevitably an ODNB entry tends to focus on the facts but I hope some hint of character comes through in the newly published essays. For anyone who's interest is piqued there is good news.

In Peggy's case, I would recommend Carolyn Trant's beautiful limited edition biography 'Art for Life', which is based heavily on interviews with Peggy - though after following the link you may want to seek it out in a library! Alternatively you could get hold of the book I wrote to accompany the 2014 exhibition at Towner - 'Peggy Angus: Designer, Teacher, Painter'. I was going to say it's a cheaper option, but people seem to be offering copies at the most terrifying prices. Must be out of print...

With Tirzah the options are rather better, as Persephone Books is about to publish her autobiography 'Long Live Great Bardfield' in a trade edition. This hilarious, insightful and sometimes painfully honest book was edited by Eric and Tirzah's daughter Anne Ullmann, and was originally published as a typically gorgeous limited edition by The Fleece Press. Illustrated with Tirzah's witty wood engravings, the new paperback is a must-read for anyone who has even a passing interest in life and culture in interwar England.

What else? Oh yes. By some quirk of timing, Tirzah is the 60,000th person to have their life recorded in the ODNB. I'm not sure if that makes Peggy the 59,999th, or the 60,001st.




Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Hiding Out in the English Countryside: Geoffrey Household & Samuel Palmer

David Rooney, illustration for 'Rogue Male' by Geoffrey Household, Folio Soc, 2013
Whenever I investigate an artist described as Neo-Romantic I discover that they either a. disliked the term or b. vehemently rejected it. Was there anyone who actually wanted to be thought of as Neo-Romantic, in the way that artists queued up to be labelled Surrealist? I'm not sure it's a very helpful term either, except as a description of a certain mood. You know a Neo-Romantic painting when you see one.

I have a book called 'This Enchanted Isle'. The author, Peter Woodcock, was apparently taught by Bawden and himself taught for many years at Camberwell. Aside from that I know nothing about him, but I love this book. It is everything an art history book is not supposed to be. You might call it anti-academic in its joyous mixing-up of artists, writers and film makers spanning two centuries.

'This Enchanted Isle', Peter Woodcock, Gothic Image Pub. 2000
When I first got it out of the library I baulked at the subtitle: 'The Neo-Romantic Vision from William Blake to the New Visionaries'. The new what? And then the list of names, from Palmer and Nash to Keigh Vaughan and John Craxton. So far it made sense. Blake, Palmer, then the 'Neo-Romantics'. But what about Elizabeth Bowen, Peter Ackroyd... Iain Sinclair? Powell and Pressburger, David Lean, Derek Jarman?

Instead of reading it as one would an art history book, looking for analysis and explanation and a clearer sense of how x fits with y, I dipped into it before going to sleep, reading a chapter here and a paragraph there. Gradually I realised that this wasn't a conventional book with a thesis but one built around mood, feeling and suggestion. The author had evidently spent years reading, watching and studying the various writers and artists, and wanted to share both his enthusiasm and his sense of a connection between disparate creative minds.

Graham Sutherland, Entrance to a Lane, 1939 (Tate)
One writer who was new to me was Geoffrey Household, and having read about him I rushed out to find his best-known book, 'Rogue Male'. Ostensibly a thriller about a man on the run from more or less everybody, it is evidently the work of a strange mind. The protagonist spends much of the novel hiding in a sort of burrow, in the side of an impenetrable holloway not far from Beaminster, and this experience is vividly described. On one level it reminds me of childhood den-building and grubbing about in ditches.

John Craxton, Poet in Landscape, 1941
But the thorny lane and earthy hollow are also Neo-Romantic motifs. At least they are subjects explored by Graham Sutherland and then by younger artists who were influenced by him. Sutherland in turn was the most ardent of Samuel Palmer's many early 20th century admirers. And when Palmer set to work in the 1820s portraying the Kent countryside in ink and paint and gum arabic he did so in a manner reminiscent of  Blake, cramming trees, churches, cornfields and shepherds into dense compositions, as his hero distorted human figures to fill the page.
William Blake, illustration from 'The First Book of Urizen', 1794
When I was reading 'Rogue Male' I thought about the late Tom Lubbock's description of Palmer's dense, dark ink drawings known as 'blacks':

'These pent twilit views lie snugly within their frames, with framing trees at the sides. Hills hump up at the back, the clouds close in , in the middle more trees gather into a mass, and underneath the sleeping sheep are folded into a mound, the fields of sheaves likewise. Everything is enfolded, cradled, tucked up and oystered...' (English Graphic, p141)

Samuel Palmer, Drawing for the Bright Cloud, c1831-2 (British Museum)
Later on in the same essay he describes the earnest viewers of a Palmer show (presumably the British Museum's brilliant 2005 retrospective) and asks himself, 'Are we a bunch of enclosure-seekers, hobbit-minded back-to-the-wombers? Is this bad?'

Is the urge to bury oneself in the countryside a primal human instinct, a reaction to stress or the prospect of change? Or is it a British - even English - peculiarity? I have no idea, but I'm glad Peter Woodcock wrote his book, and that he found a publisher that shared his enthusiasm.







Wednesday, 21 September 2016

'Century' at Jerwood: Dora Carrington

Dora Carrington, Iris Tree on a Horse, mixed media on glass, 1920s (Ingram Collection)

This jewel of a picture was made for one of the most famous models in early 20th century Paris. A British actress and poet with a bobbed haircut and scandalous reputation, Iris Tree (1897-1968) modelled for artists as diverse as Modigliani, Jacob Epstein and Vanessa Bell. In this case Carrington has portrayed her as a modern Joan of Arc, complete with spurs and sword – an upbeat, talismanic image that Iris Tree herself evidently admired. Years later, when she lived in a one-room flat in Rome (and appeared in Fellini’s celebrated film ‘La Dolce Vita’), she had it with her, propped against a pile of books.

Dora Carrington is among one hundred modern British artists whose work will be shown in 'Century', an exhibition of paintings, sculpture, drawings and prints from the Ingram Collection and Jerwood Collection, which opens next month at the Jerwood Gallery, Hastings.


Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Ravilious & Bawden at the Art Workers' Guild



Neil Jennings has gathered together an intriguing group of pictures for his next exhibition at the Art Workers' Guild in deepest Bloomsbury. Alongside drawings, engravings and lithos by Ravilious and Bawden he's showing more recent work by two artists whose shared skills and interests make them almost the heirs of Eric and Edward.

Edward Bawden, The Economy Committee, 1930 (copyright artist's estate)
Ian Beck and Glynn Boyd Harte were close friends until the latter's death in 2003, and both worked on either side of the (unnecessary) line between fine art and commercial design, as Ian continues to do.

Eric Ravilious, Introductory Lithograph, Submarine Series, 1941

For people who don't know the Art Workers' Guild I recommend a visit anyway. It's one of London's hidden delights. Besides Neil's exhibitions always seem to offer a good balance of the familiar and the less familiar - and they're always fun.

Ian Beck, Communication, 1981 (artist's copyright)
Glynn Boyd Harte painted the watercolour below shortly before his death. If I remember rightly, in fact, he had already survived one scare, and took the opportunity provided by his reprieve to produce a whole series of still life pictures like this - nobody else saw the world quite like he did.

Glynn Boyd Harte, Etrilles, 2003

Sunday, 4 September 2016

'Century' at Jerwood: Gerald Laing

Gerald Laing, Panoply, 1964-9, Ingram Collection (copyright artist estate)

A British artist who moved to New York in 1964, Laing embraced the big scale and glamour of American Pop art. Thrilled by the energy and excitement of modern life, he painted movie stars, skydivers, drag racers and astronauts. Here, we see two sides of the astronaut’s experience, on one hand the silent world of space represented by the repeated image of a floating figure, and on the other the rocket’s violent flaming energy.

Gerald Laing is one of 100 modern British artists to be featured in 'Century' at Jerwood Gallery, Hastings. Laing is also the subject of an exciting retrospective show at the Fine Art Society, London, which begins on 19 September.




Friday, 2 September 2016

'Century' at Jerwood: Euan Uglow

Euan Uglow, The Blue Towel, 1982-3, Jerwood Collection (artist copyright)

‘Basically I’m trying to paint a structured painting full of controlled, and therefore potent, emotion.’ So wrote Uglow of a painstaking working method in which precise measurement and great care in paint handling played an important role both in defining figures and in evoking a specific mood. In this unusual composition we see a figure – modelled on artist Liz Barratt – in three consecutive poses as she collects a towel and walks away to bathe. We sense her almost floating on silent feet, immersed in a private ritual.

'The Blue Towel' is one of over 100 works by 100 modern British artists, selected from the Jerwood and Ingram Collections, which will be featured in 'Century' at Jerwood Gallery, Hastings this autumn.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Gawain in Cardiff

Clive Hicks-Jenkins, Gawain Arrives at Fair Castle, gouache, 2016 (artist copyright)

The artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins and Dan Bugg of the Penfold Press are delighted to announce an exhibition of screen prints on the theme of Gawain and the Green Knight, together with preparatory drawings and paintings, at The Martin Tinney Gallery, Cardiff.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins is devising a series of 14 limited-edition prints based on the medieval verse drama, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – a classic vividly translated for the 21st century by Simon Armitage. The exhibition will mark the half-way stage in this major project.

Sir Gawain is more human than your average legendary hero. Having taken up the challenge offered at the Camelot Christmas feast by the terrifying Green Knight, he embarks on a quest to find this ogre, only to be tested – and found wanting – in unexpected ways. Sir Gawain is both a glittering knight and a fallible young man, and it is this flawed human character that intrigues Clive. Each print is inspired by the text and rooted stylistically in its world, but beyond that Clive and Dan have allowed their imagination free rein.

ABOUT CLIVE HICKS-JENKINS
Over the past twenty-five years Clive Hicks-Jenkins has achieved renown in his native Wales and beyond as a painter of rare vision. He came to painting by an unusual route, having first enjoyed a successful career as actor, director, choreographer and stage designer. Today his paintings of figures and animals are so striking, at least in part, because of the continual dialogue between design and dance, structure and movement. Clive’s complex creative process enhances this effect, particularly his use of articulated maquettes; these allow him to pose people and animals in ways that enhance negative space and add emotional expression and a sense of suppressed movement. This dynamism suits Clive’s penchant for narrative painting. He takes inspiration from religious stories, Welsh legends, modern dramas and medieval verse.

ABOUT THE PENFOLD PRESS
Dan Bugg studied printmaking at the Royal College of Art. He launched the Penfold Press more than a decade ago as a printmaking studio for fine artists, and he has since worked regularly with Mark Hearld, Emily Sutton and other creative talents to produce beautiful editioned screen prints that are sought-after by collectors and art lovers.

I'm a sort of writer-in-residence on the project, and have provided captions for the exhibition, which will be stunning. Find it at the Martin Tinney Gallery, Cardiff, from 8 Sept until the end of the month.


Sunday, 21 August 2016

'Century' at Jerwood: Walter Sickert

Walter Sickert, Saint Remy, c1910, Jerwood Gallery
In the early 20th century the fastest route from London to Paris was by train and steamer via Newhaven and Dieppe, and the French port became a popular destination among British artists (as it had been for the early Impressionists). After visiting first with his parents in 1879 Sickert returned often to Dieppe, painting numerous portraits, interior scenes and street views like this one. A careful composition contrasts the ancient stone fa├žade of St Remy with a kiosk, festooned in advertisements, that towers over the people standing nearby.

Walter Sickert is one of a hundred modern British artists to be featured in my exhibition 'Century', which opens at the Jerwood Gallery, Hastings, in October.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

'Century' at Jerwood: Eric Ravilious

Eric Ravilious, Rye Harbour, 1938 (Ingram Collection)

Like many other small ports and seaside towns, Rye Harbour enjoyed a boom in popularity among artists in the 1930s. Alongside the widespread interest in landscape painting was a related vogue for nautical style; both phenomena grew out of a renewed fascination for British places and customs, inspired partly by the new hobby of motor-touring. John Piper was both the author of an influential magazine feature on nautical style and an occasional visitor to Rye Harbour, and he probably suggested Ravilious visit the port.

There he met Edward Le Bas, a wealthy artist (who was elected to the RA in 1954) and collector who had a house nearby. Though much younger than them, he had become a great champion of the Camden Town Group, particularly Harold Gilman and Charles Ginner, and also had a formidable collection featuring Edouard Vuillard, whose paintings his own work emulated.

He bought this painting on the spot, drawn perhaps to the wonderful representation of light on water and the sense of distance melting into nothingness.

This is an excerpt from 'Ravilious' (Philip Wilson Publishers, 2015). 'Rye Harbour' will be featured in 'Century', an exhibition of work by 100 modern British artists that I have selected from the Jerwood Collection and Ingram Collection. It opens at Jerwood Gallery, Hastings, in October.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

In Mabeltown

Nicolai Fechin, portrait of Mabel Dodge Luhan, 1927 (Harwood Museum)
Where to start? I've seen so much art in the past three weeks that it would take me a year to write about all of it. But one highlight was a visit to the Harwood Museum in Taos, New Mexico, where the exhibition 'Mabel Dodge Luhan and Company' is currently running.

'Mabel Dodge Luhan & Company', Harwood Museum, gallery view

Subtitled 'American Moderns and the West', the exhibition explores the role of the New York socialite in bringing artists and writers to the isolated New Mexican town of Taos. Lying on the edge of a great plain against a backdrop of mountains, a few miles from the ancient and impressive Taos Pueblo, the town was home to a handful of artists when Mabel Dodge arrived in 1918. Almost immediately she fell in love with Tony Lujan, a Taos Pueblo Indian and sent her latest husband (she had already despatched several) back east, prior to marrying Tony.

C19 painted retablo (Harwood Museum)
She then set about turning Taos into a bona fide art colony, building a vast house (today an inn and conference centre) and inviting every one of the numerous artists and writers she knew to visit. The list is impressive, from Marsden Hartley and Georgia O'Keeffe to DH Lawrence and Willa Cather, who wrote part of 'Death Comes for the Archbishop' at the Luhan house. So successful was the enterprise, in face, that Taos became known as Mabeltown.

Nuestra Senora de la Soledad, C1850 (Harwood Museum)
There are some wonderful pictures in the exhibition, notably works by John Marin, Andrew Dasburg and Emil Bisttram, but what I really enjoyed was the juxtaposition of Pueblo Indian and Spanish-American artworks and artefacts and the paintings inspired by the people and scene of northern New Mexico. A pair of home-made crosses are presented beside an O'Keeffe painting of a cross (at least one other O'Keeffe was requested for the show but was sent to London instead...), and there are works by Pueblo artists as well as paintings of Pueblo people.

Emil Bisttram, Taos Indian Woman Plasterer, c1930s
The exhibition is lively, adventurous and beautifully curated. After roaming the rooms for a while I set off into the intense dry heat of Taos to visit the Mabel Dodge Luhan house, where her convivial spirit still holds court. I wandered in and was immediately invited to have coffee and make myself at home - a welcome in distinct contrast to the one we received at the O'Keeffe house in Abiquiu the day before. We arrived on the off-chance for a quick look at the place to discover that it was closed. The man who gave us this news then refused our request to take a picture of the view from the carpark, positioning himself like a sentry between us and the view lest we try to steal one.

Storage Jar, San Ildefonso Pueblo
So it was Mabel 1: Georgia 0 in terms of welcome. But then Ms Luhan's great skill (aside from her prolific writing) lay in welcoming people to her house, whereas O'Keeffe's lay in being one of the greatest American artists of the 20th century. Of which more in due course...


Dorothy Brett, Turtle Dance, c1940s


John Marin, New Mexico nr Taos, 1929 (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)


Laughing Horse magazine, c1920s


Interior, Mabel Luhan House, Taos


Under the portale, Mabel Luhan House, Taos


Exterior, Mabel Luhan House, Taos


Interior, Mabel Luhan House, Taos

'Mabel Dodge Luhan and Company' runs at the Harwood Museum, Taos, until September, then travels to Albuquerque, NM, and Buffalo, NY.

If you're planning a visit to Taos, you might want to stay at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House. I certainly plan to, one day.


Thursday, 28 July 2016

The Lost Watercolours of Edward Bawden: Prospectus


Widely admired today as an illustrator and printmaker, Edward Bawden (1903-89) is hardly a ‘forgotten artist’. Yet one aspect of his career has been neglected until now: his role in the 1930s as a critically-acclaimed modern painter.

The purpose of 'The Lost Watercolours of Edward Bawden' is to set the record straight by bringing together the largest collection of the artist’s pre-war watercolours ever assembled. Most were originally exhibited at one or other of Bawden’s major solo shows – at the Zwemmer Gallery in 1933 and the Leicester Galleries five years later – exhibitions that impressed critics and delighted collectors.

It has taken three years to assemble this remarkable collection of pictures, many of which were, as the title of the book suggests, lost. Privately-owned artworks can be hard to find after eighty years, but in this case even paintings in public collections were sometimes hidden thanks to Bawden’s choice of obscure fragments of verse or concise descriptions of time and place as titles for his work. These were often replaced by descriptive names. Thus (for example) ‘My heart untravell’d turns to thee’ became ‘Derelict Cab’, making the researcher’s task rather tricky.

The remarkable quest to find and identify Bawden’s pre-war watercolours is described by publisher Tim Mainstone in an amusing, informative essay, which forms the third part of this richly illustrated volume. The Mainstone Press has once again teamed up with James Russell, author of the popular series ‘Ravilious in Pictures’ (and curator of the 2015 blockbuster ‘Ravilious’), who sets the ball rolling with an introductory essay exploring Bawden’s life and career in the 1930s. Scholarship is leavened with humour here, as it is in the wide-ranging captions accompanying the most important element of the book: the watercolours themselves.

These are grouped by exhibition, with additional sections of works from the mid-30s and from the decade’s end. Having photographed many of the watercolours in high resolution specifically for the book, we have chosen a format that allows us to maximise the size of the images. There’s a good reason for this. As one critic observed in the 1930s, these are paintings that deserve more than to be looked at. They deserve to be looked into.

For full specifications of this limited edition book, please see The Mainstone Press website. An illustrated prospectus is available from the publisher.


Saturday, 16 July 2016

Edward Bawden: Larchwood

Edward Bawden, Larchwood, 1933-5, Graves Sheffield (artist copyright)

Looking through his friend’s new work in the early summer of 1935, Ravilious was struck by its freshness, and this may well have been one of the pictures Bawden carefully pinned up for him to enjoy. The motif of the lane disappearing enigmatically into the woods is one that has attracted numerous modern artists of a Romantic disposition, from Paul Nash to David Hockney. Bawden’s treatment of the subject is extraordinary, the palette colourful but crisp and the woodland to the right veiled in diaphanous scratched lines which suggest shadow and mystery without attempting to represent directly the dim space beyond the trees.

As so often with Bawden, the originality of the painting lies in his uncanny ability to communicate graphically both the appearance of a place and his feelings. Across the lane – probably looking south from Beslyns [near Great Bardfield]– the bare trees face one another, hinting in their pallor at the lances borne so decoratively by the knights in Paulo Uccello’s celebrated painting ‘The Battle of San Romano’ (1438–40).

This is an excerpt from 'The Lost Watercolours of Edward Bawden', out soon from The Mainstone Press.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Edward Bawden's Greenhouse

Edward Bawden, My vegetable love (aka The Greenhouse), 1932, Manchester Art Gallery (artist estate)

Cucumber plants fill a greenhouse, pressing so close together there is barely room to squeeze between them. Darkly veined, variegated and disorderly, they seem more alive than they ought to be, an impression enhanced by the contrast between the twisting plants and the pale, angular timbers of the greenhouse roof. Whereas the plants in Eric Ravilious’s later paintings of greenhouses seem to be trapped for ever in a particular moment, these cucumber plants appear to be growing before our eyes; at any moment they might burst out of the picture. Ravilious was, by his own admission, no gardener. Bawden, on the other hand, cared so passionately about horticulture that he rushed home from the Private View of his Zwemmer exhibition to unpack a parcel of plants sent to him by his old friend Cecilia Dunbar Kilburn. It was perhaps through his love for all things vegetable that he met Mr Clapson, the local market gardener who owned this greenhouse and tended these vigorous cucumber plants.

This is an extract from 'The Lost Watercolours of Edward Bawden', coming soon from The Mainstone Press.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

V&A #MUSEUMOFTHEYEAR Right Place, Wrong Time?



If I was a betting man I would have put a pony on the V&A winning Art Fund Museum of the Year 2016, a contest with only one likely victor, given that the stated criteria for the museum's success - a globally significant exhibition programme and major investment in the permanent display galleries - were ones in which the Arnolfini, York Art Gallery and the rest could not compete. According to a write-up in The Guardian, judges said that 'the sheer number of visitors to the V&A was impressive'. Again, no contest.

I don't wish to criticise either the V&A or the judges. I have great respect for the Art Fund as well, but something is not quite right here. It's all, well, a bit too London. It was fine when the British Museum won the award five years ago, but things were different then.

Over the intervening period regional museums have seen funding cut and cut again. In towns and cities around the country are museums staffed by absurdly small numbers of passionate individuals, who work against the odds to maintain collections and put on exhibitions. I've met numerous curators of small museums and they are universally helpful, positive and full of ideas for exhibitions and improvements. A thriving museum can offer so much, but no museum can thrive on idealism alone.

Given the voting pattern in the recent referendum, and the strong suggestion of an economic, cultural and political divide between the capital and the regions, I wonder whether any of the Art Fund judges suggested awarding the prize to an institution outside London - as a cultural olive branch, if nothing else. But then, how on earth would you justify not giving it to the resurgent V&A?

OK, I'll stop grumbling and accept that the best team won (been doing a lot of that lately). Besides, there is much to be learnt from the V&A's victory. Look at those numbers, first of all. Almost half a million people went to see the Alexander McQueen exhibition, which suggests that we are hungry for culture. That rogue one-man art corporation Banksy has shown more than once that people will travel a long way if you offer them something new or exciting enough - to Weston-super-Mare, even. It's up to curators everywhere to think creatively, break down boundaries between art, fashion and pop culture - and really put on a show.

PS If you like a flutter, I'd put my money on Tate Modern for next year's prize.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Century: 100 Modern British Artists

Dora Carrington, Iris Tree on a Horse, c1920s (Ingram Collection)

Monday got off to a good start with the press release for 'Century', the exhibition I'm curating at The Jerwood Gallery, Hastings, in October. Somehow I've managed to choose more than a hundred works, spanning a hundred years, by a hundred different artists - I hope it will be not only the most-wide ranging Modern British show in years but also an adventure in art - by turns funny and moving, quiet and boisterous, technically dazzling and delightfully simple.

I've chosen what I feel to be the strongest works from the Jerwood and Ingram Collections, focusing particularly on artists of historical importance and/or those who are well represented in one or both collections. I hope people will come away feeling that Modern British art is lively and fun.

Highlights of the exhibition include Dame Elisabeth Frink’s 'Walking Madonna', Sir Eduardo Paolozzi’s 1988 self-portrait sculpture, the delightful 'A Curious Cat' by Ruskin Spear RA and David Hockney’s 'My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean'. The show introduces artists as individuals, but also explores the movements and groups to which they belonged; with a room devoted to the Pop Art and collages of John Piper, Gerald Laing and Sir Anthony Caro.

Women artists are represented with works by Dame Laura Knight, Mary Fedden, Eileen Agar, Rose Wylie and Dod Procter given co-starring roles amongst the box office draws of Dame Elisabeth Frink and Dame Barbara Hepworth. In the case of Hepworth, her reputation is enjoying a renaissance and 'Century' gives Jerwood Gallery visitors a chance to see why.

'Century' also includes works drawn from local artists, as Jerwood Gallery Director Liz Gilmore explains: “We are particularly pleased to be displaying outstanding works by so many artists who lived and worked in East Sussex: including, John Armstrong, Frank Brangwyn, John Bratby, Edward Burra, Eric Gill and Eric Ravilious.”

The show ends with a room which is slightly crazy, which I hope will send people away with the feeling that they’ve had an adventure. It will feature Dora Carrington’s charming portrait 'Iris Tree on a Horse' realised in oil, ink, silver foil and mixed media on glass (see above).

'Century' opens at Jerwood Gallery, Hastings, in October. For further info, please contact the gallery.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Coming soon! Angela Carter at RWA Bristol

Frontispiece to The Virago Book of Fairy Tales, by Corinna Sargood
An exhibition of artworks relating to the work of British fiction writer and all-round fabulous fabulist Angela Carter will be bringing some winter cheer/terror to Bristol art lovers this December. I understand that one of the contributors is Corinna Sargood, whose illustration work you might have seen in the book of fairy tales Carter edited for Virago in 1991.

There's some info on the exhibition here







Thursday, 23 June 2016

An O'Keeffe Centenary

Georgia O'Keeffe, Drawing XIII, 1915, Metropolitan Museum of Art, copyright artist's estate.
A hundred years ago an unusual exhibition was held by photographer and impresario Alfred Stieglitz at 291 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan. Previously Stieglitz had shown work by Picasso and Matisse, as well as pioneering American artists like John Marin and Arthur Dove, but the works on display this time were by an unknown artist. They were not paintings but charcoal drawings on paper. And the artist concerned only found out that they were being exhibited when a stranger came up to her in New York and asked her, wasn't she Virginia O'Keeffe, whose work was on display at Gallery 291?

So the well-known story goes, Georgia O'Keeffe had sent the drawings to a friend in New York, who had seen fit to show them to Stieglitz, who immediately displayed them. When the artist found out she furiously demanded they be taken down (according to legend, at least), and so began a long and often rather difficult relationship between this pair of driven individuals.

Georgia O'Keeffe, Drawing VIII, 1915, Whitney Museum of Art, copyright artist's estate.
I love the immediacy and simplicity of these drawings. In 1915 O'Keeffe was in a sort of artistic limbo, having been through the whole rigmarole of training in Chicago and New York before deciding that she didn't want to be the painter she had been taught to be, ie a realist with a French accent. So she trained to be an art teacher, and while teaching and studying at Columbia College, South Carolina, met Arthur Wesley Dow, exponent of a very different way of looking at the business of making pictures. This is from his 1899 book 'Composition' (with thanks to wikipedia):

Composition ... expresses the idea upon which the method here presented is founded - the "putting together" of lines, masses and colors to make a harmony. ... Composition, building up of harmony, is the fundamental process in all the fine arts. ... A natural method is of exercises in progressive order, first building up very simple harmonies ... Such a method of study includes all kinds of drawing, design and painting.

Georgia O'Keeffe, Drawing XX, 1915 National Gallery of Art (US), copyright artist's estate.
Another teacher was encouraging students to draw to different kinds of music, the aim again being to express the feelings and ideas that lay within, rather than focus on external things. Evidently stimulated by these methods, and with plenty of free time for experiment, O'Keeffe set to work. Having been a perfectly good painter of conventional subjects, she put her training aside and made compositions with charcoal that expressed something important to her. Feelings, mental images, personal visions.

It was the combination of intimacy and design that I think appealed to Stieglitz. Here was an artist working in a modern idiom, and an artist of a kind he had been particularly looking out for: a woman. With his encouragement, O'Keeffe became over the next few years a formidable modern artist. Then came the flowers...

Look out for the Georgia O'Keeffe exhibition this summer at Tate Modern, starts July 6.



Monday, 20 June 2016

Coming Soon! The Lost Watercolours of Edward Bawden

Edward Bawden, My heart, untravel'd, fondly turns to thee (aka Derelict Cab), 1933, Kettering Museum & Art Gallery (© artist estate)

Widely admired today as an illustrator and printmaker, Edward Bawden (1903-89) is hardly a ‘forgotten artist’. Yet one aspect of his career has been neglected until now: his role in the 1930s as a critically-acclaimed modern painter.

The purpose of The Lost Watercolours of Edward Bawden is to set the record straight by bringing together the largest collection of the artist’s pre-war watercolours ever assembled. Most were originally exhibited at one or other of Bawden’s major solo shows – at the Zwemmer Gallery in 1933 and the Leicester Galleries five years later – exhibitions that impressed critics and delighted collectors.

It has taken three years to assemble this remarkable collection of pictures, many of which were, as the title of the book suggests, lost. Privately-owned artworks can be hard to find after eighty years, but in this case even paintings in public collections were sometimes hidden thanks to Bawden’s choice of obscure fragments of verse or concise descriptions of time and place as titles for his work. These were often replaced by descriptive names. Thus (for example) ‘My heart, untravel’d, fondly turns to thee’ became ‘Derelict Cab’, making the researcher’s task rather tricky.

The remarkable quest to find and identify Bawden’s pre-war watercolours is described by publisher Tim Mainstone in an amusing, informative essay, which forms the third part of this richly illustrated volume. The Mainstone Press has once again teamed up with James Russell, author of the popular series ‘Ravilious in Pictures’ (and curator of the 2015 blockbuster ‘Ravilious’), who sets the ball rolling with an introductory essay exploring Bawden’s life and career in the 1930s. Scholarship is leavened with humour here, as it is in the wide-ranging captions accompanying the most important element of the book: the watercolours themselves.

These are grouped by exhibition, with additional sections of works from the mid-30s and from the decade’s end. Having photographed many of the watercolours in high resolution specifically for the book, we have chosen a format that allows us to maximise the size of the images. There’s a good reason for this. As one critic observed in the 1930s, these are paintings that deserve more than to be looked at. They deserve to be looked into.


The Lost Watercolours of Edward Bawden will be available soon from The Mainstone Press. For further information, please contact the publisher.