Ken Hughes was a charming, questioning character who had an acute feeling for the stylized theatre of human relationships. Trained as a figurative modeller, he made life-sized figures throughout his life, many of which he subsequently destroyed. Hughes followed the changes in art practice often experienced through working with students during challenging times for sculpture.

This terrific exhibition of his paintings, drawings and sculpture is a selection from a lifetime’s work revealing the range of his intellectual interests that to some extent worked against gaining public and commercial success. After an academic training at the Slade School of Fine Art, largely based on drawing and modelling from life, he gravitated towards his painter contemporaries including Euan Uglow and Craigie Aitchison.

Adept as both a painter and a sculptor, this duality found a perfect outlet in painted plaster stage sets and reliefs – colourful and pictorial yet using the plasticity and finger touches of clay. Some artists, including Giacometti, held the view that painted sculpture is the highest form of the art. The classical friezes of the Parthenon were originally richly coloured.

Groups of figures, on a stage or against a backdrop, were a recurring motif, usually modelled in clay and cast in plaster before being painted. His most substantial commission was the Holy Family for Southwark Cathedral, which evolved from relatively representational to semi-abstract.

Sources of inspiration included a fascination with the art of Germany in the early 20th century, especially Expressionists Max Beckman and George Grosz. But Hughes’s speciality was lifelike and carefully observed portrait heads, including his own.

He continued to work after losing the sight of an eye and having problems with mobility. Late work includes a group of grinning and grimacing faces after the character heads of C18th German-Austrian artist Franz Xaver Messerschmidt. This instructive exhibition includes some of his final poignant works which are a record of his experience of old age.

Until May 13 at 10 Market Place, Chippenham SN15 3HF. 01249 705 020


Anthony Caro & Alison at the Old Piano Factory, Camden Town

To mark the 10 year anniversary of Anthony Caro’s death, there are two exhibitions of his work in London: The Inspiration of Architecture at Pitzhanger Manor in Ealing and Caro and Music at Annely Juda Fine Art in the West End.

In his foreword for a catalogue for a previous exhibition at Annely Juda, Tim Marlow, then Artistic Director of the Royal Academy, says Caro’s studio at Georgiana Street was the first major artist’s studio he visited and over the next 30 years he never encountered anywhere remotely like it: “It felt both serious and playful; functional and creative; private and generous. It never lost that aura for me – a place of material transformation utterly without glamour but full of magic.”

The artist Roger Bates was taught by Caro at St Martin’s School of Art in the late 1960s and he described his tutorial style as “kindly but combative”. He expected a sculpture to engage him emotionally, physically and viscerally. At a seminar given by the conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth, Caro told him “You’re thinking about H2O and I’m taking a bath.”

Courtesy of Pitzhanger Manor and Gallery. Photo by Andy Stagg

Both exhibitions open on what would have been Caro’s 99th birthday – born in 1924 he died in 2013. He heralded a revolution in sculpture in the ’60s, redefining what it was and could be. His abstract constructions in painted steel overturned current ideas about materials, methods, surface, scale and space.

Writing about Caro’s heavy works on display at Pitzhanger, critic Edwin Heathcote describes them as “radical, strange and enigmatic” and says in this setting they “simultaneously shine, intrigue and bear down on the building”.

Architecture was an important source of inspiration and this exhibition has 16 key works created between 1983 and 2013. These explore contained space and its relation to the human figure, with features including passages, doors and steps, and using coloured Perspex which echoes Soane’s use of stained glass.

Courtesy of Pitzhanger Manor and Gallery. Photo by Andy Stagg

Highlights include The Child’s Tower Room 1983-4 and Autumn Rhapsody 2012-13, which shows how Caro developed the language of sculpture with enclosed spaces through which the viewer glimpses surrounding walls in Perspex.

The Annely Juda exhibition highlights the importance of music as an influence on Caro’s sculpture and includes works from the Concerto series of the late 1990s and early 2000s, including Crescendo (below). The perspicacious catalogue essay by Paul Moorhouse explains that Caro amassed discarded instruments including a French horn, a trumpet and a euphonium which he prized for their expressive shapes and the material from which they were made.

Elements formed the beginnings of the Concerto series: “Dismembered into distinct parts, each with their own character, the instruments were divested of their function.” Moorhouse says that these works “take on a new mysterious existence that celebrates the communion of feeling and form – as well as raising a smile”.

Crescendo: Concerto Series 2000 brass & bronze, cast & welded

The music that Caro regularly listened to will be played whilst viewers experience the sculpture. Mozart was the conspicuous presence but depending on the sculpture in hand Caro would make specific requests – perhaps a Brahms symphony for substantial works or a Schubert sonata or string quartet for smaller detailed works – all played surprisingly loud.

The Inspiration of Architecture runs until September 10 at Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery, Ealing Green, London W5 5EQ. Caro and Music runs until May 6 at Annely Juda Fine Art, 23 Dering Street London W1S 1AW.


The Close gallery is a remarkable space in rural Somerset, perfect for displaying Brian Rice’s dramatic abstract works as can be seen from the photograph above. The curators believe this is the first time the suite of nine prints has been shown together as an entire series. The oil painting The Creation of the Buddha of Time Passed, on the end wall and below, makes a dramatic complement.

According to Close, Brian Rice was inspired by colour supplements and articles, transforming an art history education learnt in black and white. He moved from Somerset to London in 1962 and his encounter with Bauhaus inspired road and underground signs and symbols is thought to have resulted in the paintings and prints where chevron, bar and ‘U’ shapes are used in different combinations. A further influence at this time was Japanese banners published in magazines.

He was part of a lively circle of artists throughout the so-called Swinging Sixties and most of the 70s, celebrated for a cameo in the film Pop Goes the Easel, seated and smiling while Hockney & Co bop. But he became disillusioned with his career and wanted to find something he felt was more unique to him.

In 1978 he returned to the West Country and bought a 50 acre sheep farm near Bridport in an area rich in archaeological remains from the Neolithic period onwards. His interest in ancient cultures and artefacts and association with archaeologists led to a change in the nature of his art as he returned to painting and printmaking. He moved to a fine but dilapidated 15th century farmhouse which he restored and where he still lives and works. His work subsequently showed the inspiration he derived from ancient artefacts and primitive art including rock art motifs and aerial photography of archaeological sites.

The gallery has included a display of archival material organised in rows reminiscent of the reading room of a library to reflect the work as a philosophical pursuit for truth and a vehicle for communicating knowledge.

Frances Aviva Blane: Zuleika Gallery & ecArtspace

In Italy

Frances Aviva Blane has two exhibitions opening in November: paintings and drawings at the Zuleika Gallery in Woodstock on 10th and paintings and works on paper in On Paint at Burgh House in Hampstead on 22nd. In an illuminating essay for the catalogue accompanying On Paint, the critic Sacha Craddock observes “For Blane, the use of colour is one of loving but fighting. Because colour has such ability to attract immediate attention, however unconsciously, she somehow holds back any sense of pleasure or ease.”

Craddock says that Blane’s self portraits can be obtuse, blunt and obscure and not about a perceived likeness to anything. This echoes Blane’s view that she sees her painting as before speech: “I dislike talking about them because I believe it dampens the impact. Paintings must stand alone.” The exhibition is curated by Angela Diamandidou.

Grey Portrait

In a perspicacious catalogue essay for Blane’s exhibition at Burgh House in the Spring, the critic Sue Hubbard observed “There’s a physical savagery to her mark-making, as if stirring her images out of the ether by spells and incantations.” She says her heads “reverberate like Bacon’s furious, screaming Popes” and “dense, scribbled and blotted images…. brazen scarlet and bile-yellow blotches (have) an anarchic, chthonic sensuality”.

Blane’s observations come across well in a video for Zuleika. The exhibition runs until December 9th –

The Burgh House exhibition runs from November 22nd to December 4th and is curated by Angela Diamandidou. It can be seen online at


L’Hotel Royal, Dieppe 1894 Sheffield Museum Trust

Although I looked carefully and with enjoyment at Walter Sickert’s paintings and drawings at the press view of Tate Britain’s exhibition I took few notes. It’s a large exhibition and I had a train back home to catch so the viewing had to be taken at a pace. But fortunately I was able to ask two people who were also there for their views so will quote generously from their perceptive accounts.

First I asked my sister Clare San Martin which work she would have chosen to take home. As an architect it is no surprise that it would be of a building: “I was drawn to The Facade of St Jacques, Dieppe because I felt it radiated joy in light, colour and the act of painting. It had a melting quality and evoked many memories of turning corners in quiet sunny continental city streets and coming across amazing architecture. I love the way white paint is used to catch sunlight on details of the buildings and the soft hallucinogenic quality blended mauve and orange – it would make me very happy to see this every day.” Her choice of an architectural image is not cleared for press use but mine is: L’Hotel Royal, Dieppe (above). I like the way Sickert experimented with how changing light transformed facades and also his rendition of shops, as in Easter below.

Easter c1928 National Museums NI, Ulster Museum Collection

The second account I had was from Polish art critic Andrzej Maria Borkowski and it is so illuminating that I quote at length. We met in the final rooms of the exhibition where Sickert’s paintings are shown alongside works by contemporaries. “He was an artist with wonderful resources of curiosity, but for the first time, thanks to the presence of two Degas paintings and one Bonnard, I realised how much I regret his usage of Whistler’s subtle greys and killing of light.” He felt Whistler was responsible for a lack of joy emanating from many late paintings, though a lack of sun in the days of fog and smog also contributed.

La Hollandaise c1906 Tate Purchased 1983

Borkowski said Whistler used the grey-blue milky tones in a more sublime way as an aesthete. “Sickert seems to use it to emphasise that all is just material, earthy substance; it is all only dust. He does not preach and yet I feel he hates glamorising and he may feel that light, strong, contrasting colours are a sort of lie. I found so much joy in both Degas paintings and quite a bit in Bonnard’s – while Sickert’s to my surprise were clever and intelligent but a bit sarcastic, sad, with a distance, observing, noticing, drawing methodically but closer to illustration (like Hopper) than painting as a pure art – wise but somehow unable to enjoy life.”

Brighton Pierrots 1915
Purchased with assistance from the Art Fund and the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1996

I was impressed by the characterisation of Sickert by the Observer’s art critic Laura Cummings as someone who “wished to be seen and known as a man who must never be taken for granted: a disrupter, an actor, a menace, a taunt.” Also by her appraisal of Brighton Pierrots (above) where Sickert shows a performance at dusk to a sparse audience. “It is a hectic interplay of lime green, sulphur and pink in which the performers’ faces – typically featureless – are rouged by gaslight and dying sun. The gunfire of the western front could already be heard, at times, along the south coast. The picture has a brilliantly false end-of-the-pier gaiety.”

In his final years paintings became larger and brighter and were based on news photographs and popular culture. According to the Tate, this pioneering approach was a precursor to Francis Bacon’s use of source material and to pop art’s transformation of images from the media, and this reveals Sickert’s role at the forefront of developments in British art. An exhibition that is as enjoyable as it is instructional.


Blue Black Head by Frances Aviva Blane

In a perspicacious catalogue essay for this intriguing exhibition at Burgh House in Hampstead Sue Hubbard suggests as common ground between Basil Beattie and Frances Aviva Blane: “Form, process and subject are inextricable. The line and mark a graphic, dynamic delineation of their thinking.”

Of Blane she writes “There’s a physical savagery to her mark-making, as if stirring her images out of the ether by spells and incantations.” She says her heads “reverberate like Bacon’s furious, screaming Popes” and “dense, scribbled and blotted images…. brazen scarlet and bile-yellow blotches (have) an anarchic, chthonic sensuality”.

Untitled by Basil Beattie RA

Recurring symbols in Beattie’s work, she says, are ladders, staircases and ziggurats: “The sense of existential alienation is palpable….. flights of steps lead only to ambiguous passageways and uncertain voids. The rungs of his ladders collapse or are bound onto their wooden struts with a savage carelessness.”

In a second catalogue essay, Manick Govinda perceives this link between them: “Both find the medium of expressive painting, as both action and image, as journeys within the self.” He sees Beattie’s work as Jungian – “universal, mythic, religious symbols” – the ladders go nowhere, the marks of his paintings are “controlled but also furious, expressions of frustration and uncertainty”.

Blue by Frances Aviva Blane

Govinda sees Blane’s allegiance as being to Freud: “She excavates the struggling fury with the human self, colour is aggressively applied without formal shapes or boundaries.” His descriptions are perceptive. Of the work illustrated here he says Blue Black Head is unsettling, “awash with intense, scribbling vivid colours” and Blue conveys “a far more tranquil inner landscape, like a musical interlude, a calm between storms”.

Frances Aviva Blane and Basil Beattie at the exhibition opening

Curated by Angela Diamandidou, the exhibition can be seen online at ecArtspace and until April 18th at Burgh House in New End Square, Hampstead, London NW3 1LT. Open Wed, Thu, Fri & Sun 10am-4pm.

Download the catalogue from


Asta at the wheel

If this column was The Shipping News and the year was 1937, I would have a thrilling contemporary tale to tell. It would relate how a cargo of arms for the Republican Army under siege by Franco’s fascist forces was apprehended off the coast of Spain. The dramatic painting below, by marine artist David Cobb, depicts the episode and shows Franco’s cruiser Canarias on the far left.

The Bizkaya and the Yorkbrook by David Cobb

The ship in which the arms were being transported, the Yorkbrook, was run by Evald Jakobson. His son Peter has written an engrossing account of his father’s family and career – including the Spanish Civil War episode – in a newly published book, The Estonian Sea Captain.

It relates how Evald went to sea soon after World War I and built up a shipping company which carried all manner of cargoes including vodka smuggled into Finland. In the late 1930s, perceiving the danger to his family in Estonia from encroaching Nazi and Soviet forces, he relocated to England with his wife Asta, settling in Surrey. In WWII Evald worked on integrating Estonian ships and crews into the Allies’ convoys and participated in a covert mission to Sweden.

If, like me, you have little clue about Estonian history there will be many revelations in this book. And for so recondite a subject it is a gripping read, aided by the plentiful and sometimes dramatic photographs, as above.

Published by Peter Jakobson. Matador biography series: £18. 


In Praise of the Harp Dr Camilla Nock RWA

The ceramicist Michael Emmett and the painter Dr Camilla Nock RWA are hosting a Winter Studio Show near Honiton from December 5th to 24th. The exhibition includes new work and a festive drink is on offer. Having visited their studios several years ago I welcome the chance to return to this rural idyll and talk to these interesting artists.

In the meantime I rely on their online explanations of their work. Michael Emmett’s is the more straightforward: “My methodology and projects are driven through walking and drawing the landscape; observing the way the light changes, the sound of the wind amongst the branches, the softness of the rain and the power of water. I aim to create surfaces that reflect this environment in which I live – the richness of the soil – the ash from the fire. I find myself increasingly attracted to this organic world. The wilder the weather, the more dramatic is my response. And conversely, the stillness is reflected in a more meditative approach.”

Dr Nock’s explanation is more challenging but still illuminating: “Painting evokes a temporal and psychological crossing that travels far into one’s depths to retrieve a neglected longing. Sedimentation implies the idea of a work of art, not as a final product in itself but as relics of events or as a process of thought. The ceaseless piling up of broken splintered text becomes a means of ordering, disordering and unravelment. Unsubstantial traces cross surfaces and become subordinate to immaterial fragmented thoughts.”

But the boon of studio visits is the opportunity to talk to the artists in front of their work and see the circumstances in which it was made. The studios are usually open 11-5 but it is important to phone or email to check: 01404841254 / You are welcome to bring friends and family. Higher Slade Farm, Sheldon, Devon EX1 4QS


In 2019 Patrick Jones said of his paintings, “My work now has its own momentum, sense of purpose and inner joy.” The latter is especially evident in many of the works in an exhibition at Sou’-Sou’-West, a welcoming light-filled gallery on the Symondsbury Estate near Bridport.  

The Language of Colour is a joint exhibition with Nigel Moores who lives, as does Patrick, in South Devon. Both exhibit large canvases and small works. The latter includes Patrick’s intriguing study, above, of St Augustine’s first monastery in Skellig, Co Kerry in South West Ireland. It has more distinctively figurative elements than most of his work and, much as I love the purely or mostly abstract paintings, I’d be happy to take this evocative image home.

The gallery publicity describes Patrick’s technique succinctly: “He uses his experience of the real world, such as movement, atmosphere or sound, without needing to illustrate it.” He works flat on the floor, thus allowing thin washes of colour to overlay and dry. Critic Lionel Phillips has aptly described his work as “colour and drawing inextricably bound together in a gritty lyricism”.

The title of Helen’s Blue, above, refers to his friend Helen Frankenthaler, whose striking woodcuts are currently at Dulwich Picture Gallery. Art writer Mel Gooding has said that Patrick has a distinguished place in British colour abstraction: “He is widely admired for his painterly virtuosity, and above all for the vibrancy of his colour and the boldness of his formal invention.”  

The gallery suggests a reason why the pairing with Nigel Moores is apposite: both believe the language of colour is open to all though each person will have a subjective response – “It can communicate, move us and transcend words.”  In describing his creative process Nigel says, “The subject is discovered or uncovered some way into or even at the end of the painting. I never set out to express a particular idea or story.”

His explanations give a way in to appreciating his achievement. Of Cello Suite, above, he says it is a response to Bach – “to the slow, low cello notes that underscore the faster, lighter sounds and melody”. The intention is to express “a range of emotion that seems to summarise the human predicament: a sadness in joy and a strength to continue”. 

Shift, above, is one of the small oil paint collages made during recent lockdowns when he began to reassess and then destroy some work: “A feeling of wanting to move away from the norm of the rectangular or square format and embrace a more irregular, three dimensional form was the impetus. Collage became a process of reforming, rebuilding.” 01308 301 326


Jenny Blake’s painting Upriver (top) and a scene at the Ladies Pond below

A love of painting water unites the two artists who recently had an all too brief exhibition at Burgh House in Hampstead village. Heath, Moor and Water- a celebration was the apposite title of this uplifting evocation of the charms of the Heath and of Dartmoor where Jenny Blake and Martin Atkinson met more than 10 years ago, although ironically they then lived close to each other in Highgate.

The meeting came about at a summer painting retreat which Jenny regularly organises in Devon. The moorland rivers, especially the Teign, inspired many of their paintings, as did the Heath ponds. For Jenny, “motifs that incorporate looking across water are symbolic of journeying, travelling through space and time imaginatively and emotionally”.

She has been swimming in the ponds for over 15 years and started painting them as a way of dealing with loss – she believes many people swim for its restorative qualities. The bathers depicted can be amalgamations of different bodies and poses or sometimes imagined. “It is important for me to hold the memory from the feeling and sensation of swimming or looking and then try to translate that into paint.”

Martin Atkinson: Stock Pond – Reflections

Martin Atkinson aims to convey light and movement in his oils and pastels. He admirably succeeds with Stock Pond – Reflections, the work I’d have chosen to take home. A terrific image – shimmering, lively, full of interest.

Martin discovered his passion for painting through a course in watercolour, a 40th birthday present. He describes his style as mainly representational but also impressionistic: “I look to respond to and describe the beauty of our precious natural world, energy, rhythms, patterns and colours.”

Martin Atkinson: From the Moor to the Sea

The show had only a five-day run but the engaging images reflecting these artists’ enthusiasm for the natural world can be viewed on their websites: /


Between Kilburn and Willesden Green, Winter Evening 1991
© The Artist’s Estate.  Private Collection

Like Leon Kossoff I spent most of my adult life living in Northwest London, latterly close to him and in a situation very like his, where the back garden is bounded by a railway line. The sound of passing trains and their flashing lights in the dark was a comforting experience, connecting me with friends I knew who lived near stations along the line. So this is the painting I’d choose to take home to spark memories of those times and places.

For me in Queens Park it was the North London Line connecting Richmond with Stratford, and for Kossoff in Chatsworth Road, Willesden it was the Bakerloo tube line. But other London railways featured in paintings throughout his working life: “Railways open up the territory: they give you space, and they give you light, and they give you movement.”

From 1961 to 1966 his studio was close to the tracks of Willesden Junction, depicted in the scene below looking towards Harlesden. The three concrete cooling towers on the left are a power station since demolished. His reaction to such landscapes is not perhaps as universal as he suggested when he said “Something happens when you see Willesden Junction stretching out in front of you. What else can you do but draw it?”

Willesden Junction, Summer No.2 1966 © The Artist’s Estate
Alfred East Gallery, Kettering Borough Council Collection

Website images cannot convey the texture and utmost liveliness of the works in a comprehensive retrospective A Life in Painting at Annely Juda Fine Art in London. Unable as yet to see the exhibition I rely on observations of my colleague, the artist/conservator Philippa Abrahams: “It’s such a curious use of paint, very little to do with colour. The process comes through as akin to breathing, rhythm, vibration – very physical and overwhelming.”

The star of the show for her was the painting below, of a scene in front of the yellow-brick facade of King’s Cross station. In the catalogue notes Andrea Rose draws attention to the rhythm developed by figures moving in different directions, seen from multiple directions. Waldemar Januszcsak expressed this effect graphically in his Sunday Times review: “The passing crowd shimmers and throbs like a bag of Mexican jumping beans.”

King’s Cross, March Afternoon 1998 © The Artist’s Estate.  Courtesy Annely Juda Fine Art, London, Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York, and LA Louver, Los Angeles

The exhibition has a wide range of self-portraits and portraits, including the series of double nudes of Spanish models described by Martin Gayford in the Daily Telegraph as “grand, humane and visually opulent”. Willesden swimming baths seething with bodies and the demolition of the YMCA building in Bloomsbury are among the singular subjects chosen to portray London life. Below is one the last paintings he worked on, of a cherry tree in his back garden. The severed limb that is seen at the foot of the trunk survived and flowered the following year.

Cherry Tree in Spring 2015 © The Artist’s Estate

Leon Kossoff has weathered periods when his work was deeply unfashionable – in 1995 after he represented Britain in the Venice Biennale, one critic described him as “irrelevant”. Even David Sylvester, an admirer, once said his work was “a footnote to history”. But his reputation revived and in 2018 he was at the heart of Tate Britain’s survey of modern figurative painting All Too Human, alongside Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach, Paula Rego and Lucian Freud. Jonathan Jones wrote in the Guardian: “Whatever it is that makes art profound, they have it. They are the true heroes of modern British art.”

Until December 4 at Annely Juda Fine Art, 23 Dering Street, London W1S 1AW 020 7629 7578


“Disconcerting, Discombobulating, Discomfiting”

I found it curious that two of the three contributors to a new book about Frances Aviva Blane should use a word to describe her paintings of heads that is not in common parlance. Susie Orbach and Eddy Frankel both find these images “discombobulating”, which on investigation means “throwing into confusion”. Frankel goes further and says they have a disconcerting and discomfiting feeling. And he is right.

Her subject matter, Frances tells Frankel, is “the disintegration of paint and personality” and with the heads she is “trying to paint the surface of an emotion”. Many are clearly self-portraits, often with her signature dark glasses as in Summer 2021 (above), but there are also images of loved ones and friends, including Orbach (below), and depictions of emotions.

The portrait of Orbach, drawn from observation during the pandemic, has been selected for the Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize 2021. Frankel has a deft round-up of what the head paintings offer: “They are familiar and alien, abstract and figurative, earthly and ethereal, real and fictional.”

Yet the odd thing is that although so many of the heads are bleak – the drawing Yellow Head 4 (above) alarmingly so – most photographs in the book show Frances smiling. And with good reason because these are works to be proud of. Equally so the book. The essays are illuminating, as is the presentation, with details of large paintings opposite images of the whole work, as with Letter 2, below.

This painting elicited a spirited response from Corinna Lotz who saw in it “a joy, an elation in heavily worked textures” catching the light. She lists the reds used: vermillion, ruby, crimson, burgundy, scarlet, cardinal – intensified by scoring to reveal the black undercoat.  “The gashes surge, carrying the paint along with them, yellow flames leaping in and out of a red ocean.”   

Which brings me to my usual practice in this column of choosing which work I would want to take home – or in this case two, an abstract and a head: the darkly sumptuous Fool, and the enigmatic Closed – both below. Illustrations can never convey one of the vital aspects of Frances’s art – the exuberant painting technique – but here their quality is so superb that they make a fine try.    

FRANCES. Starmount Publishing £50.

For more information visit


  1. Landscape Portrait: Now and Then at Hestercombe Gallery near Taunton
  2. Dorset Art Weeks 2021
  3. Botticelli Recreated by Philippa Abrahams
  4. Both Keen at Coleman Project Space, Bermondsey, London
  5. Fragmented at Zuleika Gallery, London
  6. Frances Aviva Blane: FAB & Broken Heads Broken Paint
  7. Brian Rice; 60 Years of Paintings and Prints at RAMM, Exeter
  8. Patrick Jones, home exhibitions in Budleigh Salterton
  9. The Miserable Lives of Fabulous Artists, book & talk by Chris Orr
  10. Into the Night at the Barbican Art Gallery, London
  11. Helene Schjerbeck at the Royal Academy, London
  12. Vuillard: The Poetry of the Everyday at the Holburne Museum, Bath
  13. Lee Krasner at the Barbican Art Gallery, London
  14. The World as Yet Unseen at Falmouth Art Gallery
  15. On Paper at the Thelma Hulbert Gallery, Honiton
  16. Albert Irvin and Abstract Expressionism at Royal West Of England Academy, Bristol
  17. Modern Couples at the Barbican Art Gallery, London
  18. 50 Years, 50 Artists at Annely Juda, London
  19. Virginia Woolf: An exhibition Inspired by her Writings at Tate St Ives, Pallant House, Chichester and most recently the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
  20. Trail@14 at the Devon Guild of Craftsmen’s Riverside Gallery, Bovey Tracey
  21. The Royal West of England Academy’s 166th Annual Open, Bristol
  22. Looking For Jeffery Edwards, Brook Gallery, Budleigh Salterton
  23. Howard Hodgkin Last Paintings at Gagosian, Mayfair
  24. Sculpture @ The Walled Garden in Moreton, Dorset
  25. Jane Hedges, Chris Dunseath and Jacy Wall in Dorset Art Weeks 2018
  26. Kate Westbrook’s Diana and Actaeon at The Malthouse Gallery in Lyme Regis
  27. David Haughton in St Just at Penlee House in Penzance


Better late than never is definitely the case with a visit to this fascinating exhibition whose two-month run ends on Sunday. It juxtaposes contemporary works by artists who are already famous and others who deserve to be so with paintings and illustrations by a past owner, the painter and garden designer Coplestone Warre Bampfylde (1720 – 1791). It was to have been the final event of a year of celebrations marking his tercentenary but was delayed by lockdown.

The pairings are often imaginative, rarely obvious. My favourite of the many small rooms pairs Bampfylde’s dramatic oil The Storm (above left), exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1774, with two works made in 2011. One is an acrylic, Apple Green, by the Indian painter Balraj Khanna, who employed an unusual technique to conjure up an “essence” of the place that inspired it – a pond on Hampstead Heath. The catalogue essay by Lizzie Lloyd describes how Khanna breathed across the canvas, creating “an uneven speckled surface that shimmers and undulates” echoing the action of the wind. Squiggles of string suggest aquatic creatures. The other contemporary work is an embroidery by Alek O, born in Buenos Aires and now based in Italy. For Edward Higgins White 111 she unpicked gloves found on walks around Helsinki and used the fibres for an embroidered grid. The title was inspired by the American astronaut who lost a thermal glove on his first walk on the moon. According to Lloyd, both artists “make literal the sense of landscapes as an enactment of coincidental human action and movement”.

The wall texts are helpful in explaining less obvious connections to landscape, as with Anna Liber Lewis’s abstract paintings. She found her residency at Hestercombe in 2019 gave her permission to slow down – the gardens were a refuge – and to mine a deeper understanding of her personal history. This resulted in a series of works, including You and Me (2020) on display and pictured below, that reflect the influence that Russian Constructivism and Ukrainian artefacts had on her upbringing.

But of all the engaging works in this ambitious exhibition, the one most likely to live on in my memory – though I’d much rather it didn’t – is Trish Morrissey’s Self Portrait with Two Snails (2021). I won’t spoil the surprise by describing it – but eeuugh! It’s closer to nature than I’d ever want to be.

11am-5pm, Hestercombe Gallery, Cheddon Fitzpaine, Taunton TA2 BLG

01823 413923


I love open studios for the opportunities they offer to see work in the context it was made and talk to the artists about it. In Dorset this often involves ventures into the countryside as disused farmyard buildings have long been a lure for artists looking for studio space. Indeed, it’s what brought us to Devon and the Shippon Gallery is a former milking parlour – hence the name.

Even when the art is abstract, rural experiences can have an impact as I discovered on a visit in 2018 to the studios of Brian Rice and Jacy Wall, neatly described by the DAW website as abstract artists with established reputations who live and work alongside each other. Their farm, with a house that dates back in parts to the 15th century, is near Hewood in West Dorset.

Although Brian Rice’s work has been almost entirely abstract since he began making paintings and prints in 1960, prehistoric archaeology and ancient landscapes were a source of inspiration for many years. However, after what he has described as a life-changing exhibition of early work in London in 2014 he has reverted to exploring and developing sources of his work in the early 1960s – Russian Constructivism and the Bauhaus, as is evident from the painting below. “Kasimir Malevich and Wassily Kandinsky were and still are my heroes.”

A group of photographs of a line of ancient trees intrigued me on my earlier visit to Jacy Wall’s studio but her primary involvement is with textiles, not as a woven picture but for themselves: “A narrative is revealed simply through the act of structuring a textile, there is no need to create a figurative image.” She has described her work as telling a wordless story by subverting traditional tapestry techniques by cutting, stitching and reassembling – “working with pattern, structure, wear and tear, considering the way light works.” Themes developed in her textile works also appear in prints and recently ceramics.

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Bjork Haraldsdottir makes ceramic sculpture from stoneware slabs in a studio nearby at Higher Holditch Farm. She sees her preference for monochrome as a reflection of the palette of the landscape of Iceland where she grew up – “black lava peeking out from beneath snow covered planes”. Her professional background in architecture is also a strong influence. She has described her pots, with their subtly warped planes, as “a conversation between the pseudo-perfection of geometric pattern and the tactile impurity of hand-manipulated clay”.

A farmhouse studio in Shaftesbury, North Dorset, has recently become the base of Carolyne Moran. Interiors, gardens and views through Portland windows are favourite subjects for her thoughtful images, mainly in gouache and oils. She describes herself as an abstract figurative painter because she looks at objects as shapes. For DAW she has a large exhibition, principally paintings and giclee prints. Enticements include affordable small works and refreshments with home-baked cakes.

Workshop complexes are another prime source of studio spaces and in South Dorset these include the Old Timberyard, West Bay, home to Amanda Wallwork’s practice. She describes this as “a continuing enquiry into landscape – a quest for a real understanding of what lies beyond the aesthetic” through painting and other visual work. Most recently she has explored what she describes as “geological deep time – how the rock beneath our feet, that we barely give much thought to, stores the data of landscapes millions of years ago.”

Untitled 11 - 148 x 153cm oil on canvas
Untitled 11

Also at the Old Timberyard is the studio of Jon Adam whose recent oil painting (above) confronts you on entering the first room, its luminosity and depth drawing you towards it. He achieves the texture with hand-ground pigment and attributes his feeling for light, so distinctively conveyed, to growing up on an isolated estate in Cornwall. These paintings, suggestive of the elements and often of skies and water, are haunting works. Also intriguing are the studio’s unusually wide C18th floorboards made from tree trunks shipped back from America as ballast for sailing ships when West Bay was a thriving trade harbour.

Dorset Art Weeks has almost 300 venues, mostly studios. Its exhibitions and displays include an extensive installation of sculpture in the Walled Garden at Moreton in central Dorset. This is a three-acre garden, with pond, wetlands and woodlands, which makes a beautiful contemplative backdrop for sculpture.

This year’s highlights include Dorset artist Ian Middleton’s patinated bronze Bewildered Bystander. He has described how his sculptures develop: “Through a process of introduction and elimination an image or news footage might resonate with a junk-shop find, an online purchase, a chance encounter, past preoccupation or a childhood experience.” After the modifications, changes of scale, casting or building into assemblages, he says that whether loosely figurative or abstract, “all retain the intensity of their origins, inviting responses in the light of individual imagination, experience and associations”.

Other advantages of open studios are the chance to buy direct from the artist and that the works can range from early to late. Also sometimes there are singular pieces which I suspect might not easily find their way to a gallery display but would be a pleasure to possess, such as Jacy Wall’s wittily titled cups.

Before visiting studios or exhibitions it is essential to check on the DAW website whether you need to make a booking and which days are available. Also re-check on the day of the visit in case of last-minute changes.




My painting was not a commission but a labour of love – a unique, authentic re-creation not a copy. There is a tradition of such paintings stretching back to artists in their own lifetime, executed by their workshop assistants or themselves. Few can afford or access such a rare survivor as the Young Man, so my re-creation is a worthwhile addition to the canon.

The making of it was prompted by reports in the media of the upcoming sale (Jan 28th) in Sotheby’s New York of the painting for an estimated $86 million. It sold for $92.2. It is the last Botticelli portrait in private hands from the collection of the late Sheldon Solow. 

I created my Botticelli using my experience as artist, conservator of paintings and teacher of historic materials and techniques. Cennino Cennini’s 14th century treatise was my guide, still relevant today and the one I used for my re-creation of Verrocchio’s Madonna and Child before a Ruined Temple, commissioned by the Guild of St George and now hanging in the Millennium Galleries in Sheffield. I followed the process from preparing gesso to using the appropriate pigments and egg tempera.

The young man has not been identified nor the saint in the roundel, an insert from the previous century. His look is timeless, reminding me of Ancient Egyptian Fayum portraits. 

Whereas the Botticelli is not available to the public, my painting is now in the front window of my house in Queens Park, London. I hope to sell it, preferably to an institution where it would be seen and used for educational purposes.

The painting became my lockdown project and companion, a dialogue with the past, creating a portrait of a portrait. If you would like more information please contact me:

Alexander Nagel, Professor of Renaissance Art History at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University,  gives an illuminating account of Young Man Holding a Roundel on Sotheby’s website:



Florence Shaw & Natalka Liber Stephenson

Coleman Project Space, Bermondsey, London

Both Keen 2 (1)

Sadly I won’t be able to visit Both Keen, locked-down as I am in rural Devon, but how I wish I could see these sparky pieces in the flesh. What’s more, in an adventurous space that’s new to me and perhaps others. Coleman Project Space was established in a former hairdresser’s shop in 2003 and combines a gallery with what’s termed the Shed space. According to the press release, from which I have to draw liberally in the absence of experience, the exhibition has been conceived as if two parts of a material conversation.

In the main gallery the artists’ works hang in pairs: “Liber Stephenson’s colourful linear expressions connect the strategies of high art with that of the doodle, while Shaw’s freestyle marbling technique speaks of old-world print processes and the happy accident as a useful creative starting point.” However, the work I’d like to take home (below) pairs the artists in a different way. It’s a collaborative piece combining Shaw’s marbling with Liber Stephenson’s ceramic faces.

Both Keen 3

The press release’s description of the sculptures is intriguing if momentarily baffling: “Shaw and Liber Stephenson have worked together to create a joyfully irreverent crew of sculptural works which they appear to have stuffed into the Shed space as if family bric-a-brac in storage. These reactionary 3-D responses to the works on paper have been fashioned and engineered, like a series of experiments, from balloon foil, bags, ceramics, soft articles and projected light.” Reactionary as in opposed to radical change? Surely anything but!

Both Keen 4

94 Webster Road, Bermondsey SE16 4DF

Both Keen 5



Frances Aviva Blane & Claudia Clare


frances blane-1528-edit (1)

White 2020

In pre-pandemic days I would certainly have visited any new exhibition by painter Frances Aviva Blane if geographically feasible. Fab, as she is sometimes known, has an enthusiastic following of collectors and fans as I have witnessed at private views where people tend to hover near a favourite work. They also often peer at surfaces as a key element in the appeal of her paintings is texture. There’s no way that this can be conveyed in print or online but something of this aspect of their distinctive character is revealed by close-ups in a film of a studio interview with Penny Woolcock, currently on YouTube – see below.

The details thus discernible in the work and the artist’s explanations of thought processes – or deliberate avoidance of these – offer some compensation for those deprived of seeing the real thing. Who would otherwise have suspected that White, (above), which Fab says is her favourite painting in the show, was at one point almost entirely black? One part that wasn’t is the lower right-hand corner – an instance of her habit of leaving canvas bare “to give the image a chance to breathe” and create a quiet area in an otherwise busy image, as she explains of its occurrence in other work. “Whiting out” is also a familiar part of her practice when she feels a painting is not progressing – “And then very often something emerges and then I leave it. It’s like ghosts of paintings.” Well said.

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Smile 2020

The film begins with an account of how Smile evolved from early days as a completely abstract painting. At one stage the whole canvas was pink, then black scribble was added – still visible up close. “I didn’t draw the image, it just emerged and I thought ‘This isn’t my work’, but then as days went by I kind of got used to it.” For me, the discussion of Smile has the most telling statement in the interview: “When I talk about the life of a painting I really have no idea how they are going to end up because then obviously I wouldn’t do them.”

Claudia Clare makes what she describes as narrative pots and the selection for Fragmented is mostly of those made during the first lockdown. She perceived this as a time of peace without demands and interruptions, as she explained to Eddy Frankel in the catalogue essay: “What I found was that I had time to put the love into the pots I was building and painting – time I’ve so often wanted but rarely found. I could seek out the tenderness and intimacy I wanted to achieve with them.” Friends commemorated range from Hossein, described as her best friend and housemate, who has been “caught in the Covid whirlwind” in Iran since January, to an isolated young family new to London, whom she has befriended. “Throughout all these scenarios, these stories, you see that life has been split apart, blown to pieces: fragmented.”    Claudia Clare 1

But the pot that most interested me is an earlier work – Continental Brexit 2018 (above) – an example of breaking pots that has been part of her practice since 1985. Usually they are a response to traumatic stories, specifically of surviving sexual violence. But she describes Continental Brexit, based on Hansel and Gretel, as the most light-hearted of her broken pots: “It is pear-shaped with a curved bottom and no footring so inherently unstable. I dropped it onto a tiled floor on its base so the bottom fell out. (The bottom fell out of the market.)”

To reflect the prevalence of language revolving around confectionery in the Brexit discussions, Clare includes Don Tuskio as a character inside the pot plying a trade in cakes and sweets. She uses aluminium to edge gaps in the rebuilt pot, suggesting sweet wrappers. A rhyme inscribed on the pot starts “Junker Hansel and Gretel May/ Got lost in the Eurowoods one day” and ends “Brexit Crumble was fudged. Nothing Changed.” Clever and engaging.

And what would I take home? Though I’ve only seen these paintings and pots in the catalogue and films, I agree with Fab about the cool, violent White. I imagine it paired with Clare’s 2018 pot below Wootton, Drifting Snow – winter distilled.

Claudia Clare 2

Zuleika Gallery 3rd Floor, 6 Mason’s Yard, St James’s, London SW1P 6BU         07939 566085

The exhibition was to run until 14th November but due to lockdown the gallery is now closed. Enquiries: 



Why does an artist feel such a need to create that every other activity is of lesser significance? And why is the job never done? Self-discovery is the answer, according to composer Aaron Copland, who is quoted in the celebrity psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Anthony Storr’s landmark study of the motivation of artists, The Dynamics of Creation: ‘I must create in order to know myself, and since self-knowledge is a never-ending search, each new work is only a part-answer to the question “Who am I?” and brings with it the need to go on to other and different part-answers.’

These words and ideas came to mind when looking at the series of heads in the Works on Paper section of Frances Aviva Blane’s latest book, FAB. It’s 15 years since I first encountered her work and there is both constancy and progression in her part-answers. These are the heads, which can easily be taken for hers although she has claimed they are experiences rather than depictions, and the indisputably non-figurative canvases which she has described as “investigations of paint and its capacity to disintegrate”.

Both elicit fervent admiration and fine writers have contributed catalogue introductions. These include Diana Souhami for Broken Heads Broken Paint at the 12 Star Gallery last year. She perceptively described the heads as “inner turbulence” and Blane herself as “entirely serious and mischievously funny, both self-deprecating and self-assured”. The disparities of character are suggested by the enigmatic Yellow Head (above), one of the dozen Heads in FAB., which would be my choice of a work to take home.

The text is by a contemporary celebrity psychoanalyst and psychotherapist – Susie Orbach. She draws attention to parallels between the paintings and emotions engendered in psychoanalytic sessions: “feelings, thoughts and screams that startle with rawness.” She describes the Heads as “mangled with pain” and “lost in incomprehension, screaming with private anguish, disillusionment”. Yet Orbach also picks up on elements of the paintings that “pulsate with an opening, dare we say, to hope?” – the vibrancy amidst the pain akin to Blane’s laugh and trademark red lipstick.


Pink and black make a potent combination in many of Blane’s paintings, including Black on Pink (above) in FAB. It brings to mind one of the first pieces of writing I saw on her work, Morgan Falconer’s essay for Delinquent Paintings at ecArtspace in 2001: “Blane manipulates the colour to its logical extreme. The pink is of a pitch reminiscent of bubble gum, ice cream and cherry blossom. This sickly sweet nostalgia is counteracted by rough handling and violent gesture. The black is cold and shiny. It speaks of nightmare void. This combination of lush sensuality and deep torpor introduces an air of dis-ease.”

By coincidence, a painting included in that exhibition is now owned by Susie Orbach who ends her essay in FAB. by describing its effect: “It pulls me in daily. The thickness of the pink and black paint, so dense I wonder if it will ever really dry, tells me of beauty and sorrow, of the struggle for life.”  She describes herself as lucky to own it, a feeling voiced by many collectors I’ve met. Likewise regret by those who can’t and will have to make do with my solution….. fantasising about which work to take home. Or in this case, works – I’ll have Black on Pink too please!

FAB., Starmount Publishing, £40 is available from Joe Corr: and from Amazon. For more information on Frances Aviva Blane and more images, see my review of Broken Heads Broken Paint – below and No 17 in the Archive.


Frances Aviva Blane: Broken Heads Broken Paint


“I don’t get it. What does it mean?” is an all too common reaction to abstract art for which Sir Anthony Caro had a pithy answer. When asked the question whilst installing a sculpture outside the Financial Times building, he famously replied “What does your breakfast mean?”

The painter Frances Aviva Blane, who had an exhilarating exhibition at the 12 Star Gallery in Smith Square in London in May and June, also has a neat reply which suggests long experience with the question: “I hope my paintings articulate something before speech. My paintings are not about anything, they are of themselves.”

Confronted with the paintings, the answer may seem curious because as well as the wholly non-figurative compositions she habitually depicts heads which sometimes have aspects of self-portraiture. Her insistence that both forms are abstract made an impression on first encounter with her work, some 15 years ago. “They’re not really heads, they’re experiences,” she told Diana Souhami who wrote the illuminating catalogue essay for Broken Heads Broken Paint.

It’s a rich source of anecdotes – Frances’s father told her he couldn’t sleep in a room with one of her paintings and she carries a work in progress from room to room to live with it. Souhami’s observations are perceptive – she says of the latest pictures “They reveal the conundrum of her painterly intervention: construction in tandem with disintegration not at odds with it; flux and disharmony which take on a creational order.”

But most pertinent to paintings like Box (above), with its luscious, dramatic textures, are the artist’s explanations: “Preoccupation with paint is the fundamental idea in all my work. What happens to paint when you brutalise it with turps or stand oil; when it falls apart; when you’re not really in control. Thick paint, thin paint, no paint. Paint that’s allowed to drip. It’s always different. I like watching paint fragment and take on another form. The unexpected is exciting. Stasis is terrifying.”

Blane was one of the 60 artists selected from 2,700 submissions for the John Moores Painting Prize 2018.


Askerswell Hoard 1982 copy

                            Askerswell Hoard 1982, gouache on Bockingford paper

Brian Rice’s painting life falls into two periods. Put simplistically it might be said that in the first his imagery was at one with the modern world and in the second with the ancient. He was part of a lively and successful circle of artists in London in the Swinging 60s, with a cameo in the iconic film Pop Goes the Easel, where he is glimpsed seated and smiling as Hockney, Pauline Boty & Co bop by.

Paintings and prints were shown at leading galleries and appeared in TV commercials, fashion shoots and set designs in the 60s and early 70s. But he became disillusioned with his career, reaching a crisis in 1975 at an exhibition of his geometric paintings in Brighton. As he told Dorset writer Sara Hudston in 2016: “I remember thinking ‘This is really boring and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life doing this. I want to find something which is more unique to me.’”

And he did. Though the different phases of Rice’s earlier period are well represented in this rewarding retrospective, the inventiveness of the paintings and prints in the second half is proof he was right to take what became a seven-year break from art practice. In 1978 he returned to live in the West Country where he had grown up and bought Nallers Farm in Askerswell in West Dorset, in an area rich in archaeological remains from the Neolithic period onwards.

His interest in ancient cultures and artefacts and increasing association with archaeologists led to a marked change in the nature of his art as he gradually returned to painting and printmaking alongside sheep farming and art school teaching. His symbolism now related to artefacts such as the Bronze Age ceramic fragment he found on his own land, as seen in my choice of a work to take home – Askerswell Hoard (above)

Blackdown 2001

                            Blackdown 2001, acrylic and mixed media

Subsequently, a major hoard of Bronze Age, Iron Age and Medieval pottery was discovered at Nallers Farm during excavations for a car park. By then Rice had moved to Hewood near Chard, to a handsome but dilapidated 15th century farmhouse which he restored and where he still lives and works. Some 3,000 shards of pottery he found during the restoration were included in his Art and Archaeology solo exhibition at Somerset County Museum in Taunton in 1998.

Inspiration from external sources extended from ancient artefacts to primitive art including rock art motifs, as in Blackdown (above). Aerial photography of archaeological sites became a key part of his vocabulary from 1996 and African textiles from 1999. His hybrid method of image-making is well illustrated by the singular work from the Pennant Series below which combines screenprinting overpainted with gouache and collage shapes formed of the inside of paint tubes. An original twist to the tradition of making art from rubbish – visual magic.

Pennant XV

    Pennant Series XV February 2010

Brian Rice: 60 Years of Paintings and Prints  was at RAMM, Queen Street, Exeter, Devon EX4 3RX  Most works are for sale.

Patrick Jones

new Painting 1

The genteel Devon coastal town of Budleigh Salterton is an unlikely place to find Patrick Jones, who established his reputation as an adventurous abstract artist in London and America in the 1970s. But it’s virtually home territory as he grew up in nearby Sidmouth. Now references to the area can be discerned in paintings and references in titles. And he exhibits paintings at his home in The Bank Flat, 8 Fore Street, which can be visited by arrangement. Works recently on view there include Colour Field Painting (above).


But the painting I’d like to take home, Spirit (for JH), above, a tribute to fellow abstract painter, British artist John Hoyland RA, who died in 2011 aged 76. The ethereal browns, greys and golds suggest Hoyland’s frailty when close to death and the bright gestural core of the image expresses his intense and positive spirit.

Hoyland was over a decade older than Jones and already having major solo exhibitions in London when Jones was a student at Exeter School of Art and Birmingham College of Art in the 1960s. There is an affinity between them in their work and approaches, except that Hoyland disliked the term abstraction – “it smacks of geometry to me, of rational thought” – and the label “abstract painter” whereas Jones is comfortable with both.

Patrick's picture 1

Spirit is atypical of the paintings for which Jones is best known, where colours are predominantly vibrant, applied in a lively improvised manner for joyful impact, as in the 2017 acrylic painting Vision (above). At the time he made this he was using thin glaze and deliberate brush action to impart delicacy and intensity as in the series, Sidmouth. Figurative elements, such as a discernible horizon, made for accessible and often atmospheric works. Yet their abstract forms and mark-making hark back to his time in America, where he lived and worked for eight years in the 1970s.

His website includes an excellent introduction to the work of this artist’s exhilarating practice, his impressive exhibiting record and images of diverse phases of his paintings. Look out for the link on the Patrick page to Painter’s Table, an illuminating “conversation” with Jones at 64, featuring descriptions of how his painting evolved when in America. There he participated in the legendary Triangle Workshops and worked with the Abstract Expressionist Helen Frankenthaler.               

The Miserable Lives of Fabulous Artists

                          by Chris Orr

Orr Hepworth

I used to subtitle films about artists for exhibitions, including one for Tate St Ives about Barbara Hepworth made in the 1960s. In my favourite scene she wanders in her studio garden at night, wearing a black and white diamond-checked fur coat and peering through the holes in her sculptures. This part of the film was discoloured and everything had a neon tinge.

So it’s easy to see why An Unfortunate Incident in Barbara Hepworth’s Studio (above) by the celebrated artist/printmaker Chris Orr MBE RA had immediate appeal for me when I saw it screened during his entertaining illustrated presentation at Ilminster Literary Festival about his book The Miserable Lives of Fabulous Artists. This volume, published by the RA, has all 30 works in his eponymous series with sketches and text.

Another engaging image that Orr used depicted LS Lowry in a version of his typical northern cityscape as an abject raincoat-clad figure heading for a street corner and about to collide with an exuberantly plump Beryl Cook. Others pair married artists: Diego Rivera makes a fry-up for his wife Frida Kahlo and Lee Krasner searches for a button lost by Jackson Pollock during a vigorous floor-based action painting session.

Orr has succinctly explained his intentions: “Artists have a lonely job and success is often elusive. Life in the studio is not all that it is cracked up to be, but it is there that dross can be turned into gold. Each of my ‘miseries’ are subjected to the cliche and reputations that haunt them.”

The Ilminster audience was not entirely sympathetic to the hardships endured in the name of art. The first question was: “Do you think Jason Pollock was really an artist?”

£16.95 Outlets include the RA shop at Burlington House, Piccadilly and online.  


Into the Night at the Barbican Art Gallery


All my reviews follow a theme – fantasising about a work that I’d like to take home from an exhibition but know that I never could. This time it’s different – if I was willing to part with £214. My choice would be these cat’s eyes tiles that are among retail offerings in the Barbican Art Gallery’s shop for the current exhibition, Into the Night: Cabarets and Clubs in Modern Art.

The original pair of tiles was part of the decorations of the Cabaret Fledermaus which opened in Vienna in 1907 as a place where the “boredom” of contemporary life would be replaced by “ease, art and culture”. A dramatic black and white striped marble staircase descended into a basement bar lined with over 7,000 tiles with often fantastical motifs.

Using the slender documentary evidence available, of a black and white photograph and a colour postcard, by zooming in on every detail a team of teachers, students and archivists at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna reconstructed the design of the bar and its tiles. It has been recreated at the Barbican and is arguably the showstopper.

into the night 4

But it has stiff competition from other exhibits, notably the films of dancers in the clubs. Perhaps the most dramatic is the earliest – American dancer Loïe Fuller who performed at the Chat Noir in Paris in the 1890s. A former circus performer and “skirt dancer”, she used poles, lengths of silk and continually shifting coloured lights to mesmerising effect.

Into the Night 1

Although her admirers included early filmmakers the Lumiere brothers, she refused to be recorded but many imitators were – there’s a wonderful whirling dance on display here. However, the patrons of the Chat Noir included Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec who interpreted Fuller’s dancing in a series of lithographs included in Into the Night.

Into the Night 2.

Two other dance sequences that are unforgettable are the crouching, shuffling, hypnotic movements of a couple performing at a Mbari club in Nigeria and the outrageously flaunting routine of Valeska Gert in Berlin in the 1920s. She performed expressionist solos enacting uncouth behaviour: “Because I didn’t like solid citizens I danced those whom they despised – whores, procuresses, down-and-outs and degenerates.”

This exhibition has not been kindly reviewed – criticisms include “feels like a book on the walls – worthy but essentially lifeless”, “a vibrant topic dryly realised”, “feels like a nightclub when the smoke has cleared, the dancers have gone home and the sick’s been cleaned up”. This is undeserved. It’s a fascinating exhibition that repays close attention.

And some exhibits are gems, as Lucy Davies acknowledged in the Telegraph. She cites, as a masterpiece, A Night-Club Map of Harlem drawn in 1932 and including notes like “Nothing happens before 2am” and “Ask for Clarence”.  The original may be faded and torn but a copy is available in the Barbican shop – for only £15. I’ll have that too!

More information:


Cat’s eyes tiles © Tristan Fewings / Getty Images

Recreation of the bar at the Cabaret Fledermaus, originally designed by Josef Hoffmann (1907), 2019. Conceived by the Barbican Art Gallery and Caruso St John, in collaboration with the University of Applied Arts, Vienna © Tristan Fewings / Getty Images

Unknown photographer (attributed to Falk Studio) loïe Fuller, c. 1901
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Archive, Washington DC

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec Miss Loïe Fuller, 1893 Bibliothèque de l’Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, Collections Jacques Doucet Inv. no. NUM EM TOULOUSE-LAUTREC 49 e
Courtesy Bibliothèque de l’Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, Collections Jacques Doucet
© DACS, 2019


Helene Schjerbeck at the Royal Academy

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Helene Schjerfbeck: The Door 40.5 x 32.5   Finnish National Gallery / Atenum Art Museum. Photo: Hannu Aaltonen

I am hugely grateful to my friend Philippa Abrahams for insisting I see the Helene Schjerfbeck  exhibition at the Royal Academy. If I had followed the guidance of Jonathan Jones in the Guardian, I would never have bothered. “Schjerfbeck’s uninspired miserabilism is a cold shower of second-rate art”, he wrote. How absolutely wrong he was.

From the very first painting I had an idea of why Philippa, an artist, conservationist and celebrity connoisseur of painting techniques, would be entranced. It was the treatment of hair, also remarked upon by my brother . Both agreed that the room of self portraits was outstanding. But for my sister and I, who uncannily always agree on the painting we’d like to take home, it was the treatment of light and stone that moved us to select The Door.

This painting was described by Laura Cummings in the Observer as “devoid of human figures and full of mystery…sunlight creeps between the edges of a gothic entrance to a church interior”. She said it showed a feeling for the potential of the impressionism that Schjerfbeck encountered in France “to explore the quiet, introspective recesses of experience”.

For Philippa the exhibition brought home “the difference between painting and photography, at that time developing and becoming its own art form, challenging painters to question what they were doing with regard to portraying what they see”.

“Painters make something that wasn’t there before and a photograph takes something and records a moment so the lens is a barrier to the feeling and understanding of what you are looking at,” she explained. “It seemed to me that Helene reacted and was compelled to make images and stories in paint, recording life – hers and others. She creates an atmosphere, I wanted to know more about the scenes and portraits. The room of self portraits is on a par with Rembrandt but less grand and therefore not taken seriously. I get the feeling she knew her own worth and what she was doing.”





For me there are two wonderful things about this exhibition. The first is the selection of paintings. I have long loved Vuillard’s small works, especially the “intimiste” works dating from the 1890s when he asserted his predilection for minor chords and uncontrasting values. He spent almost his whole life living at home in the vicinity of Square Vintimille in Montmartre and many of these paintings depict the quiet life he lived there. But the more modest the setting, the more moving his interpretation.

The second is the clear wall text. For instance, the explanations of how the subtle psycho-dramas portrayed almost disappear into decorative patterns. Of my choice to take home, an oil painting dating from 1895, Two Women in a Public Park, the text draws attention to the influence of Gauguin’s deployment of interlocking blocks of colour to create flatness: the green grass sits apparently level with the patterned fabrics of the dresses. A further influence cited is the impact of photographs seen in the informality of the left-handed figures pose with her arm outstretched and the framing of the composition.

The later part of the exhibition includes portraits of the love of Vuillard’s life, Madame Lucy Hessel, a domineering character nicknamed the Dragon. The above depiction of her some five years after they met in 1900 reveals that he was well aware of her foibles. Though much of his work celebrates innocent pleasures, there is a dark aspect to his imagery. Explaining why she prefers Vuillard to Bonnard, co-founders of the Nabis, Paula Rego reportedly described him as “spookier”. It’s right on the nose.

Until September 15, daily 10am to 5pm. The entry fee (£12.50 for a standard adult ticket) also covers access to special displays including selections from the collection of over 4,000 fine and decorative art works and objects bequeathed to Bath in 1882.   



Lee Krasner painting Portrait in Green in her studio in Springs, 1969. Photograph by Mark Patiky.

Lee Krasner painting Portrait in Green in her studio in Springs 1969.                      Photograph by Mark Patiky.

Lee Krasner first made abstract works after enrolling in 1937 at a school in New York run by German modernist Hans Hofmann. He was famed for his abrupt methods of criticism, including tearing a student’s drawing in half to demonstrate a more dynamic arrangement. But he responded positively to Krasner’s early abstract drawings, some of which are included in this enlightening and enjoyable exhibition. Her work was so good, he said, that “you would not know it was done by a woman”.

Krasner went on to become a pioneer of Abstract Expressionism and had a successful career though she never became a household name like her husband Jackson Pollock. It was only in 1973, when Marcia Tucker curated an exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, that Krasner had a major presentation of her work in a public institution in her native New York. The Barbican exhibition is the first in Europe since 1965.

But with characteristic optimism she regarded the lack of critical attention as a “blessing” because it meant she did not have to repeat herself to please collectors and dealers. Instead, she has said, she could flow with each direction as it came to her and this exhibition gives real insight into how she was able to constantly move on creatively.

It begins with the work I’d choose to take home. I found the painting Untitled 1946 (below) so intriguing that I inadvertently crossed the line on the gallery floor delineating a viewer’s minimal distance. It is one of the works known as Little Images – jewel-like paintings often with tiny repeated patterns which she began making soon after moving with Pollock to a clapboard farmhouse overlooking the salt marshes of Long Island.

Initially she worked indoors in makeshift studio spaces – simulated in the Barbican’s upstairs rooms – while Pollock painted, famously on the floor, in the barn outside. But a year after he was killed in a car crash in 1956 Krasner moved into his space, first making the melancholy, dramatic series of paintings that became known as Night Journeys.

Exuberant colour returned in the 1960s, with the Primary Series, aptly described in the wall text as “bold forms somersaulting across the canvas in dissonant hues”. The speed with which she worked is revealed by photographs where she appears as a blur. An indication of the success of this well presented exhibition and of Lee Krasner’s artistic achievement is that on completing one viewing tour I at once went around again.

Lee Krasner: Living Colour runs until September 1. £15 plus concessions.


Lee Krasner Untitled, 1946. Collection of Bobbi and Walter Zifkin. © The Pollock-Krasner Foundation. Photograph by Jonathan Urban

The World As Yet Unseen: Women Artists in Conversation with Partou Zia

Falmouth Art Gallery


Art as alchemy was at the heart of the late Partou Zia’s conception of what art is suggests Dr Penny Florence in her catalogue essay Poetic Alchemy; Poetic Reality: “It is a joyous act of the imagination that garners all experience and time into a vibrant present. It affords a glimpse of the world as you’ve never seen it before; a glimpse that changes that world.”

Certainly the protagonist of Partou’s exuberant painting Typewriter is an instrument with more vitality than any I’ve seen in real life. Typewriters are machines imbued with the romance of literary creation and this one looks to be fizzing with anticipation.

I trace the impetus to select this work as the one I’d like to take home to seeing it shortly after admiring a splendid chrome-embossed typewriter in a second-hand shop near the gallery entrance. This antique artefact brought to mind a world long unvisited rather than one unseen – the newsrooms of my youth. I recalled the cacophony of typewriters at full tilt, the erratic flourishes of speed when inspiration struck and the emphatic carriage returns when the story was honed – a far cry from computer keyboard use.

Typewriter shares with other paintings of interiors by Partou a sense of bringing the outside world indoors, here through the luminous netted window and the back wall resembling a cloudscape. But it is her compositions of figures, often self-portraits, set in Cornwall’s landscape that predominate in this selection of work. Her subtle appreciation of the county’s coast and moors is a delight in these paintings and evident in descriptions quoted in her essay by Penny, the co-curator of the exhibition: “At a distance almost reachable with one eye shut sits the Wolf lighthouse, and a hazy silhouette of intrigue on the very nib of this grey horizon salutes the outer plots of the Scillies.”

Born in Tehran in 1958, Partou referred to her origins as Persian not Iranian. She came to England in 1970 and settled in 1993 in Newlyn with her husband the painter Richard Cook. Diagnosed with cancer in 2005 she died three years later. This ambitious exhibition juxtaposes, though not by simple contiguity, her paintings with works by sixteen artists many of whom knew Partou and all but one with Cornish connections. The hang is meant to allow for visual, poetic and emotional dialogues between works to speak for themselves, according to co-curator Clare Cooper of Partou’s London gallery Art First.

The World As Yet Unseen serves as a triple commemoration. It’s also for Rose Hilton who died on March 19, exactly 11 years after Partou, and is represented by the aptly named mysterious oil painting Into the Night, and for Gillian Ayres who died in April last year. She established her reputation in the late 1950s with abstracts ranging from large to gigantic – she has described them as “bloody great things” – and was the sole woman artist in the notoriously unsuccessful 1960 exhibition Situation. All works there had to be abstract and over 30 feet square but the dynamic, thickly encrusted oil painting Cinnabar included here is almost double that size and viewing is a powerful experience.

However, it’s clearly not a candidate for a work to take home – the query put to my viewing companions at the end of our visit. Liz Le Grice, Cultural Advisor at Trereife House, selected Nina Royle’s ink drawing Head with Cows: “It feels like a moment snatched in time from the natural world. The simple lines give an energy and expression to that moment.”

Kissing Cows side

The drawing is from a collaborative project involving five women artists walking in Penwith then contributing to an 8 metre-long secco-fresco. Nina said they were attracted by the rich symbolism connected with cows and also their relationship to earth.

Surprisingly, given the wealth of choice, my friend Selina Craze and gallery director Henrietta Boex selected the same work (below) by Bridget Riley, who is rarely associated with figurative art. The crayon and pastel drawing Woman at a Tea-Table is thought to be from the mid 1950sBoth cited the pleasing way the curve of the human arm mirrored the chair’s. Henrietta, who has the good fortune to see these fine works almost daily, had an answer tailored to my question: “I can imagine living with it.”


Woman at a Tea-Table by Bridget Riley. Courtesy of The Ingram Collection of Modern British Art. © Bridget Riley 2019. All rights reserved.


On Paper at the Thelma Hulbert Gallery in Honiton

08 MELLIS, Margaret ACC36_2000

Margaret Mellis: Dying Daffodils 1989, oil pastel on paper @ the Estate of Margaret Mellis Courtesy Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London

It was by coincidence rather than design that the three works I chose to write about after visiting On Paper have banal subjects: half-dead flowers, a torn cinema ticket and flies. Likewise that although the press release finds reasons to cite a generous 25 of the 40 or so artists exhibited, none of my choices made the list.

But research revealed I am not alone in my high estimation of the modernist artist Margaret Mellis whose perceptively observed drawing Dying Daffodils is the work I’d most like to take home. Damien Hirst, the first artist named in the gallery’s selection, believes she deserves to be “up there – large on the map with her contemporaries”. Appropriately his Relationships, a ping-pong ball in a glass of water with a certificate, is shown in the same room.

Hirst sought out Mellis in 1986 when he was a would-be art student and she was in her seventies, living in a ramshackle house in coastal Suffolk subsidising her art with a smallholding. She is perhaps best known for the driftwood reliefs made there but a year after they met, Mellis began drawing half-dead flowers on the inside of envelopes.

According to her Telegraph obituarist Peter Davies, in doing so she was emulating the Cornish primitive painter Alfred Wallis in using found materials and makeshift supports. Mellis came to know Wallis’s work well in the late 1930s when she moved to Carbis Bay outside St Ives with her first husband, the art historian Adrian Stokes.

As well as being an admirer of her reliefs, Mellis’s personal story has long appealed to me for its happy ending. When her marriage to Stokes failed and he formed a relationship with her sister Ann she fell into deep despair. It was alleviated by meeting the painter Francis Davison, also romantically bereft. They married and were rarely parted for the rest of their lives.

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Derek Boshier: National Film Theatre 2000, graphite on paper  @ the artist Courtesy Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London

Romance from the mundane is the lure of Derek Boshier’s drawing National Film Theatre, with its lively, intensely worked background – runner-up for a work to take home. Boshier is associated with the Pop Art movement of Swinging London but he has a West Country connection – he studied at Yeovil School of Art from 1953 to 1957.

On Paper is a rewarding and entertaining exhibition drawn from the Arts Council and British Council Collections. It includes collage, drawings, burnt cardboard, graph paper, newsprint and 3-D objects by 20th century and contemporary artists. Well worth seeking out are works by Linder, Kenneth Martin, Eduardo Paolozzi and Roland Penrose.

My third choice is an international star: the Russian conceptual artist Ilya Kabakov. He is represented here by Two Friends (for Parkett 34) which features flies, a constant theme though he doesn’t know why.  Made in 1992, it’s a timely choice for an exhibition in 2019 as this is the Year of the Fly for dipterologists. Coincidence rather than design, I suspect.

This enigmatic work is tiny whereas Kabakov is famed for large-scale installations such as Labyrinth (My Mother’s Album), a recreation of a maze-like Moscow apartment. A modest piece but still – a Kabakov in Honiton!





Albert Irvin and Abstract Expressionism at Royal West of England Academy

Untitled 3

Untitled 3 by Albert Irvin  Mid-1970s  Courtesy of the Albert Irvin Estate

As I write this piece we are two days away from the 60th anniversary of the opening of a Tate exhibition credited by the RWA with changing the visual vocabulary of C20th British art – New American Painting. The works in our own current show, Abstract Reflection, can be seen as descendants of that seminal exhibition, although both of our artists were schoolboys living in the provinces. But Albert Irvin, then in his mid 30s, did go – and he later described the experience as “like a bomb going off”. It radically changed the nature of his painting practice from figurative art of the “kitchen sink” school to abstract expressionism.

The RWA exhibition demonstrates what this transformation involved for Irvin by dividing the works into four spaces. One has his early figurative paintings, often of domestic subjects, alongside like-minded contemporaries such as John Bratby and Edward Middleditch. Another room has artworks by participants in New American Painting although only two of the paintings included were in the 1959 exhibition. The black and white Jackson Pollock has an explosive presence. And the main gallery is mostly devoted to the paintings by which Irvin is best known – vibrant abstract canvases on an imposing scale.

Irvin’s dramatic architectural composition Untitled 3 (above) is just over two by three metres –  dimensions he frequently used – and exemplifies his technique of layering acrylics with thin stains of paint on raw canvas. Were it not so huge, it would be the work I’d take home not least because it achieves with panache the immediacy he sought. In Studio Visit, a film based on an interview in 2012, this is how Irvin described his approach to making a painting: “I think about it a lot, I work on it a lot, but I’m trying to make it look as though I didn’t think about it at all and it took five minutes.”

But it is in the fourth room, with paintings and prints by abstract artists mostly associated with the West Country, that I came upon the work I’d like to take home – by Sandra Porter. She made Untitled – After Rothko + Reinhardt 1981 (below) as an MA student at Chelsea School of Art, when she was drawn to the meditative and minimal abstract paintings being made in postwar America, rather than the gestural works.

When I asked her to describe her intentions she did so succinctly: “I was interested in dividing up the picture plane in an apparently balanced way whilst disrupting the format with rectangles and edges in shifts up or down. In the way that rectangles in a Rothko seem to move up and down and in a Reinhardt in and out.” The key features for me were the intense texture of the black paint and fizzing energy of the broken red lines, both only to be discerned at close quarters to the canvas, hence the urge to take it home.

Untitled-after Rothko + Reinhardt (1)

Untitled – After Rothko + Reinhardt 1981 by Sandra Porter  Courtesy of the artist

In this room I had a further encounter with the works of an artist unfamiliar to me but to be sought out from now on – the painter and printmaker John Eaves who studied in the 1950s at Bath Academy of Art at Corsham Court. The Fine Art course was renowned for its focus on abstraction with tutors Peter Lanyon and William Scott, both well represented here.

However, the last words should be on Irvin, who has won reverence and affection in the art world through his dedication to abstraction and his vitality in art and life; a Telegraph obituary recorded that he was observed aged nearly 90 running 50 yards full pelt for a bus. He also had a subtle wit: in the interview for the film Studio Visit he says of his supportive wife Betty: “She gave me her youth, I gave her my old age.”

Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde at the Barbican

3. Modern Couples, Barbican Art Gallery, John Phillips, Getty Images

Installation view featuring Romaine Brooks, Portrait of Luisa Casati 1920                              © John Phillips / Getty Images

An extraordinary thing happened when I visited Modern Couples with my sister, architect Clare San Martin. As readers of this page will know, from every exhibition I select one work that I would like to take home, even if I can’t. Modern Couples is a vast exhibition with hundreds of artworks. Some are famous, others rarely seen. Yet when I compared notes with my sister, we found we had chosen the same work although we had never discussed the artist. Why did Romaine Brooks’s At the Seaside – Self-portrait 1914 appeal to us both? My guess was that there is something of our mother about it though my sister disagreed.

There is certainly nothing of our modest mother about the subject of the only image of a Brooks painting offered to the press – the dramatic nude portrait above of the Italian heiress Luisa Casati. Her life, as an extravagant exhibitionist who inhabited, in the early 20th century, the Palazzo Venier on the Grand Canal in Venice, now home to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, is the subject of the most gripping episode of Judith Mackrell’s book The Unfinished Palazzo. Casati’s lovers included Augustus John, whose haunting portrait of her makes a marvellous frontispiece for the book, and the Italian writer and poet Gabriele d’Annunzio, who was also painted by Brooks.

For over 50 years this singular American painter was in a three-way partnership with the American writer Natalie Clifford Barney and French aristocrat Lily de Gramont. The part of the exhibition devoted to their circle, centred on the Parisian salon known as Temple de l’Amitie, demonstrates Lara Feigel’s perceptive description in the Guardian of the exhibition which she says shows “the freewheeling experimentation of interwar art to be inseparable from even more extravagant experiments in sexuality and coupledom”.

Modern Couples richly rewards several hours of viewing as there is comprehensive text for each of the 40 couples and the nature of their intimate relationships, whether obsessional, platonic, fleeting or lifelong, is well illustrated with photographs, love letters and ephemera as well as their own works.

Of particular note are Russian artists working at the time of and shortly after the revolution, including married Constructivist artists Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova (below). But Modern Couples requires extreme stamina, so it was understandable that the exhibit that my other companion, weaver Jenny Lewenstein, most wanted to take home was the Finnish designer Alvar Aalto’s 1936 stylish flexible cantilevered chaise longue.

Below: A. Rodchenko and V. Stepanova descending from the airplane (for the film The General Line by Sergei Eisenstein), 1926. Courtesy Rodchenko and Stepanova Archives, Moscow. Photographer unknown.

35. A. Rodchenko and V. Stepanova descending from the airplane, 1926, Rodchenko and Stepanova Archives, Moscow


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Annely Juda Fine Art made its name with ambitious exhibitions of works of Russian Constructivism, Bauhaus and De Stijl but has also brought Japanese artists of distinction to the rapt attention of London viewers. I was not a beneficiary of this policy until encountering two intriguing works in the gallery’s celebration marking its half century.

Words Like a Tower (above) is by Katsura Funakoshi, who has used camphor wood (laurel) for carved torsos since 1977, when he discovered that by sanding and polishing it then applying whiting he achieved a surface that resembles Japanese skin. He modified an ancient technique of using crystal eyeballs, replacing these with painted and varnished marble spheres. Figures are mounted on steel rods to bring them to eye-level. They are rarely likenesses but have the presence of real people. Spirituality may be increased by surrealist additions of animal features or transplanted body parts, as here.

Tadashi Kawamata uses construction and deconstruction to transform our environment, whether reshaping houses or regenerating towns. The first of his sculptural installations to be seen in a public open space in Britain was on the Serpentine Gallery lawn in 1997, following the building’s reconstruction, when he used elements of the original structure and leftover materials. He is represented here by a work from the same year – Plan for Annely Juda Gallery No 2, a striking relief with a chaotic sweep of miniature windows.


But if I could take one work home, it would not be either of these extraordinary pieces but the acrylic collage Double Space 2012 (above) by the late Sheila Girling. I covet it both as a reminder of her fine personal qualities and because I enjoy the juxtaposition of rich, sombre and sharp colours.

Girling’s expertise as a colourist is commemorated in a much repeated anecdote about a seminal painted steel sculpture by her husband, Sir Anthony Caro, Early One Morning. Having made it in the garage of their Hampstead home in 1962, he painted it green and put it on the lawn. Looking out from the house next morning, Sheila said “That’s definitely a red sculpture.” She was “spot on”, he later said. London 1966, the steel floor-based work representing Caro in 50 Years, 50 Artists, is an equally brilliant red.

For the online catalogue visit


Ithell Colqhoun, Alcove II, (c) NBA, Samaritans and Spire

This enthralling exhibition eschews the obvious format of pairing extracts of Virginia Woolf’s novels, essays and memoirs with apposite images. Instead it aims to make her writing act as a prism through which to explore feminist perspectives on landscape, domesticity and identity through some 250 works by over 80 artists considered to have been influenced, directly or indirectly, by Woolf’s ideas. It was devised for Tate St Ives, then moved to Pallant House, Chichester and to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

The approach taken with the surrealist painter, author and occultist Ithell Colquhoun is typical of the way that connections are suggested. Colquhoun used the decalcomania automatic technique, in which paint is squeezed between two surfaces, to create Alcove with its mirror image Alcove II (above) in 1946, the year she moved to Lamorna in West Cornwall. According to the wall text, this is a rare display of both halves of a decalcomania and the images can be interpreted as a cave or tent with folded curtains or parting rocks revealing an abstract scene that feels ritualistic, erotic and private.

These paintings are in The Self in Private section, which includes works revealing private contradictions and conflicting desires, reflecting the way Woolf created multiple narrators and perspectives rather than one authorial voice. Many of the surrealist paintings, automatic drawings, feminist collages and abstract renditions of the subconscious are by artists who present an internal self at odds with public expectations.

For viewers expecting more direct connections, the links suggested, especially for contemporary artists, can seem tenuous. But for ingenuity few rivalled those made by a reviewer who said of the currently resurgent painter Gluck, who is well represented, and Virginia: “They ran in the same art circles and Woolf’s ex-husband Leonard even played a recording of Gluck’s music ‘Dance of the Blessed Spirits’ at the writer’s funeral.”

Landscapes by Colquhoun and Gluck ensure a sizzling start to the exhibition but it is another painting in this section that I’d most gladly take home: Winifred Nicholson’s 1976 oil Glimpse Upon Waking. Most of the canvas is taken up with a pair of yellow striped curtains apparently stirred by a breeze and opened in a V-shape at the top to reveal countryside lit by a rosy sky. What makes it so desirable is that it conveys the same intense joy in existence and pleasure in natural phenomenon as Woolf’s recollection in her autobiographical piece A Sketch of the Past with which curator Laura Smith begins her catalogue essay.

Woolf describes drowsing in her nursery at Talland House, the family holiday home in St Ives. Waves break rhythmically on Porthminster Beach below as light filters through a yellow blind. Woolf comes to believe that if her life could be said to have a base, it is of this memory. “It is of lying and hearing this splash and seeing this light, and feeling, it is almost impossible that I should be here; of feeling the purest ecstasy that I can conceive.”

Ithell Colquhoun, Alcove 11, 1948, oil on board, collection Richard Shillitoe © By kind permission of the Noise


Trail - radio


I have doubts about taking home the work that first stirred my interest in TRAIL@14, the new exhibition at the Devon Guild of Craftsmen in Bovey Tracey, Devon. Solastalgia combines a 1950s radio with a dead rat sweetly coiled where the stations’ dial should be. The creature shudders when a button is pressed and I fear it might unsettle our two cats, who are dedicated hunters.

Solastalgia is by Janec van Veen, who describes himself as a fantasy taxidermist. Its intriguing title is a neologism coined by philosopher Glenn Albrecht in 2003 to describe a form of psychic distress caused by environmental change. Van Veen is a member of TRAIL, a Teignmouth-based artist-led collective dedicated to raising awareness of environmental issues through making desirable objects from the broken and discarded – often other people’s rubbish.

Trail - fish

The work I’d feel more comfortable possessing is Mr Dory and Mr Mackerel by Rhian Wyn Harrison who specialises in repurposing vintage books and maps. In this case it’s a map of the coastal area of Cornwall where I spent my teenage years – hence part of its appeal. I like the determined look on the faces of the fish, not known for expressiveness.

Also covetable is Sam Lock’s exquisitely detailed Hidden Libraries, a large leather-bound volume with a cut-out recess (popular as a drug smuggling device in the 70s) tricked out as a miniature library with tiny books, scrolls, paperweights, inkwell, quills and satchel. It’s one of many richly inventive works in this adventurous, entertaining exhibition.

The exhibition closed on November 27. For information on TRAIL – Teignmouth Recycled Art in the Landscape visit

The Riverside Gallery opens 7 days a week 10am – 5.30pm.  Excellent café and shop. For  information on the Devon Guild of Craftsmen visit



                           ROYAL WEST OF ENGLAND ACADEMY

                                       166th ANNUAL OPEN

  RWA drawing

There were an astonishing 3,200 submissions to this year’s exhibition, pared down to 605 which were eventually displayed. Not surprisingly, the viewing experience can be overwhelming, especially in the main gallery dominated by huge canvases like the striking Lost in the Pleasure Gardens by Lisa Wright RWA and a wall of abstracts by invited artist Carol Robertson RWA.

So it was only in the neighbouring smaller Stancomb Wills Gallery, devoted to monochrome works, that I began to relax and enjoy myself, specifically in my first encounter with Michael Hayter’s witty pen & ink drawings including Crocodiles and Dragons (above). According to his website Hayter, whose studio is on Spike Island in Bristol, combines his art practice with work as a veterinary surgeon. This is how he accounts for the animal symbolism and use of hair, urine and blood in some of his artworks. Curiously the writhing dragons are both fierce and sweet. It seems likely Hayter is all too familiar with such stuff of nightmares as he describes his main artistic preoccupation as “a long and passionate affair with depression and all that it entails”.

sheep piece RWA.jpg

Animals of a gentler disposition feature in Eventide by PJ Crook MBE RWA, although their relentless surge over the frame also has the sensation of a queasy dream. Country matters abound, as in the wistful Dartmoor landscape in oils by Justine Luis Thorpe and the evocative etching Two Trees under a Chaotic Sky by Mary Gillett. But if there was a work I could take home it would be one of the two small pictures of Snowhill by Kurt Jackson RWA. Best known for his dramatic large-scale paintings of coastal Cornwall, here he captures with affection and subtlety the visual charm of village life. Either would do!

RWA painting

Kurt Jackson Snowhill. Dogs Bark, Rooks Caw 2016: mixed media and collage

The exhibition closed on November 25 but works are still for sale and can be viewed and purchased online: 



Fortunately for me, Jeffery Edwards is no advocate of the doctrine that art should speak for itself. His explanations of his practice and specific works in the wall texts and hand-outs for this enjoyable exhibition of prints at the Brook Gallery in Budleigh Salterton are refreshingly down-to-earth and intensify an already pleasurable visual experience.

The Why I Do It section of the hand-out text has a quote from Scott Fitzgerald “..and so we beat on. Boats against the current. Drawn back ceaselessly into the past.” Edwards says this is burnt into his conscious, because memory is everything. “All of the imagery in the work comes from my experience and it is presented largely as I see it, or at least as I remember it…” Images are representations of events not illustrations of an idea.

The How I Do It section includes his reason for choosing printmaking over painting: “It had no characteristic surface, it was flat. A beautiful graphic medium. Painting was to me a quagmire of brush marks and textures, too redolent of painterly style, too ready to reflect the painter’s genius and ego. A flatterer. It just got in the way.”

His descriptions of imagery are equally non-precious. Of the print I would choose to take home, Morning (above), he writes that it is concerned with the difficulty in taking a first step in the art process, drawing attention to the unopened sketchbook and unsharpened pencils. “The people in the sunny picture (by Thomas Hart Benton, an American painter of the last century and mentor to Jackson Pollock) are busy reaping the harvest, an activity essential to life. In a word, they are working, not fooling around with pencils.”


Looking For Jeffery Edwards consists principally of new prints created with the aid of computer generation. These are described by local art historian Maggie Giraud in publicity for this exhibition as “poised and accomplished” and “a deceptively intimate series of portraits of his work in progress”. There is also a selection of Edwards’s back catalogue, including the witty 1990 print The Cortina of Dr Caligari, above, which gives an insight into the development of this perceptive observer of our times and foibles.

Prints available at Brook Gallery, Fore Street, Budleigh Salterton. Devon EX9 6NH and via its website Contact: 01395 443003


Frances Aviva Blane: Broken Heads Broken Paint


“I don’t get it. What does it mean?” is an all too common reaction to abstract art for which Sir Anthony Caro had a pithy answer. When asked the question whilst installing a sculpture outside the Financial Times building, he famously replied “What does your breakfast mean?”

The painter Frances Aviva Blane, who had an exhilarating exhibition at the 12 Star Gallery in Smith Square in London in May and June, also has a neat reply which suggests long experience with the question: “I hope my paintings articulate something before speech. My paintings are not about anything, they are of themselves.”

Confronted with the paintings, the answer may seem curious because as well as the wholly non-figurative compositions she habitually depicts heads which sometimes have aspects of self-portraiture. Her insistence that both forms are abstract made an impression on first encounter with her work, some 15 years ago. “They’re not really heads, they’re experiences,” she told Diana Souhami who wrote the illuminating catalogue essay for Broken Heads Broken Paint.

It’s a rich source of anecdotes – Frances’s father told her he couldn’t sleep in a room with one of her paintings and she carries a work in progress from room to room to live with it. Souhami’s observations are perceptive – she says of the latest pictures “They reveal the conundrum of her painterly intervention: construction in tandem with disintegration not at odds with it; flux and disharmony which take on a creational order.”

But most pertinent to paintings like Box (above), with its luscious, dramatic textures, are the artist’s explanations: “Preoccupation with paint is the fundamental idea in all my work. What happens to paint when you brutalise it with turps or stand oil; when it falls apart; when you’re not really in control. Thick paint, thin paint, no paint. Paint that’s allowed to drip. It’s always different. I like watching paint fragment and take on another form. The unexpected is exciting. Stasis is terrifying.”

Blane is one of the 60 artists selected from 2,700 submissions for the John Moores Painting Prize 2018. Her painting Mother will be on display at Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool until November 18.


Howard Hodgkin: Last Paintings

HODGKIN Knitting Pattern, 2015-2016_Gagosian

“Sir Howard Hodgkin’s paintings are notoriously difficult to write about so I don’t propose to, beyond saying ‘Go and see them now.'” So wrote Lynn Barber in The Observer Magazine in 1999 and some 20 years on, I echo the sentiment. Yes, it’s a cop-out but justifiable because the only way to experience what Hodgkin was doing is to stand in front of his paintings – if possible for a long time.

And there are few better places to do so than the airy and usually quiet spaces of the Gagosian Gallery in Mayfair where Last Paintings included twenty works never before exhibited in Europe. Also – and hence the title – the final six paintings completed in India shortly before his death in March 2017; five are shown for the first time.

These are an intense response to the country which Hodgkin first visited in 1964, returning almost every subsequent year and recording sensory impressions of sunsets, rains, city, country and interior life. But “recording” over-simplifies his working process, with the essential part memory played, and does not reflect the spontaneity of the imagery, akin to what the art historian Leopold Ettlinger memorably termed “utmost liveliness” when talking of Rembrandt.

Since 1972 all Hodgkin’s paintings have been on wood panels, a choice he used to explain by saying that unlike canvas, “it doesn’t answer back”. Oil paint stays on the surface rather than being absorbed. Increasingly the scars and the grain of the wood – often second-hand – became integral to the painting and frames were not boundaries.

For Hodgkin, the naming of the work, often post-facto, was crucial. “The title is totally important, it’s what the work is about,” he has said. Sometimes his choice seems far from obvious – Through a Glass Darkly has brilliant reds, yellows and greens – at other times uncannily apposite as with my choice of the witty painting I’d take home: Knitting Pattern.

Knitting Pattern 2015-16 © Howard Hodgkin Estate. Photo by Prudence Cuming Associates. Courtesy Gagosian



This summer the wetlands and woodlands, lawns, stream-fed ponds and garden rooms of a three acre site in the village of Moreton in Dorset make a wonderful location for an eclectic collection of sculpture, mostly by artists based in the South West. Topiary and reflections enhance the setting for the playful and imposing split head In Two Minds (main picture above) by Dominic Clare, whose studio is a renovated scrapyard near Bath.


Equally dramatic though harder to spot is Andy Kirkby’s untitled piece with a gilded steel angel’s wing suspended high in a tree, apparently tethered by a rope with an anchor. Kim Francis’s Carrara marble Liminal Seed also lurks in the vegetation – although in this case on the ground. Other works, such as Ian Middleton’s idiosyncratic bronze Collision Course (below), benefit from the generous vistas afforded by spacious lawns.


Displaying sculpture outdoors, especially in bright sunlight or with evening shadows, gives definition to surfaces by intensifying texture and shadows, as with Dave King’s stoneware pieces Curious Others (below) and their neighbour in this lawned area, David Worthington’s pierced sculpture Erythrocyte in seductive red travertine stone.


There’s something likely to appeal to everyone in the variety of materials and styles, from Katarina Rose’s witty adaptation of a mailbox Karma Post to the architectural granite forms resembling fragments of a spiral column of Two Part Invention by John Maine RA – a subtle work that I’d be happy to see in my own garden.


Although the exhibition is over, some work remains and the gardens, café and plant nursery open daily from 10am to 4.30pm. For more information – or 07786444378.


                  DORSET ART WEEKS

Clovelly 2 18

From May 26 to June 10 throughout Dorset there were over 300 open studios and exhibitions featuring local artists and craftspeople. At many venues there was the opportunity to discuss what’s involved in making the work on show and buy it directly from the makers. Here is a taste of what I found at three places I visited.

Jane Hedges has turned her studio at Little Goyle in Monkton Wylde into a display space for her abstract paintings with the bonus of often witty and playful sculptures by her husband Ian Middleton. It came as a surprise to learn, from his statement on the wall elucidating aspects of her practice, that these richly coloured, interwoven webs of forms are made using only three colours of paint – magenta, yellow and cyan plus white.

Her own statement explains that places evoke emotion and are a starting point. Using photographs and drawings she reduces the subject to a grid then breaks down each square into geometric shapes. “I am using abstraction to generalise particular visual experiences: fragmentation of light through trees, the isolation of views and colour through doors and windows, the illumination of the everyday world through positive and negative shapes.” The complex process involves layers of colours which gradually harmonise and as the rhythms evoke her initial feeling the painting begins to emerge.

On my visit she illustrated how her perception of characteristics of a place which capture her interest led to focusing on elements which eventually re-establish the image by citing the chain-link fences around gardens in the main street of Clovelly. But it would be too literal an interpretation to trace the diagonal forms in Clovelly 2 (above) to these fences because the paintings are started without knowing where they are going and the stages of the process play a crucial part in the end result. Their individuality and compulsive charm is adroitly summarised by Ian Middleton – “contemplative, sensual, meditative”.

DSC_0061 (1)

An Horizon Problem (above) is a pen and ink drawing by Chris Dunseath in his exhibition at The Gallery at Duke’s in Dorchester. When I requested this work for an illustration he seemed surprised that I chose it for an exhibition in which the key works are sculptures. But on this occasion it was his drawings and prints, with their meticulous attention to detail, that had captivated me.

Dunseath draws when developing sculptural ideas, during the making of the sculpture and once it is finished, to extend the concepts into two-dimensional form. The title An Horizon Problem refers to the scientific quandary of why the Universe is homogenous and isotropic despite distant regions of space failing to be causally connected.

The moon, sky and skyline make a historical reference to an etching by Samuel Palmer called The Weary Ploughman. In the sky the constellation Orion has links to Van Gogh’s Starry Night. The cross-hatched border has partly concealed female names for reasons that remain private. There is an edition of 50 prints of the drawing.

This solo exhibition was awarded to Dunseath as the prizewinner of Dorchester Arts Open. It ranges from sculptures developed as a response to Bronze Age artefacts to pieces influenced by a curiosity about the horizons of theoretical physics. He agrees with physicist Richard Feynman when he referred to the inadequacy of science to capture the marvel of our universe and for the need for art to help bridge the gap between the tangible and the untangible.

Jacy Wall print 2 (1)

A visit to Jacy Wall’s open studio, at Newhouse near Hewood, is advocated not only for the woven tapestries and prints which are her primary concerns but a remarkable record of an ancient trackway near her house, collected into folios titled Partway I & II. There she describes how she began photographing this stretch of hedgebank a year ago, initially struck by the rows of trees, their spacings and sinuous verticals, which have had a strong influence on her printmaking.

Her timing proved uncannily prescient, as earlier this year the large trees in two sections of the hedgebank were cut down to improve access by farm machinery. Although some substitutes were planted further back, she was shocked by the destruction of ‘sense of place’. Partway I has seductive images of the hedgebank as it was. The sculptural stumps of the lost trees provide engaging albeit depressing subjects for Partway II.

Looking through the folder of unframed prints on offer at Wall’s studio I found the etching shown above. This reproduction does not do justice to its velvety texture and intense colours. Of all the impressive and intriguing works that I’ve seen at Dorset Art Weeks, this has preyed on my mind as the one I’d most want to take home.

For contact details and directions visit or pick up a brochure – Jane Hedges 278,  Chris Dunseath 205,  Jacy Wall 283.




Kate Westbrook’s atmospheric oil paintings demand intense and lingering attention. These works, from a series made in the last three years, explore the myth of the fatal encounter between Diana, the virginal Roman goddess of the hunt and moon, and the hunter Achtaeon, imaginatively transposed to Dartmoor. Enraged that a mortal has seen her bathing naked, Diana splashes water on him. He is transformed into a deer and killed by his dogs.

The dramatic Diana and Actaeon Diptych, depicting the hunter midway through his mutation with sinisterly observant dogs, is a riveting image, not least for the treatment of the woodland setting, but might make uncomfortable viewing in a domestic setting. The painting I’d love to take home is the quiet, contemplative Diana, Winter Morning, Dartmoor – but it had a red dot by the time I saw it! A moving and memorable exhibition.

May 2018. Curated by Deborah Wood. Catalogue


Haughton, David - St Just Version 1

St Just, Version 1 c1955       Private Collection Copyright: The Artist’s Estate

Apart from the appeal of its moody measured abstraction there’s a personal reason why I covet this work, selected from an intriguing exhibition of Haughton’s paintings, etchings and drawings inspired by the mining town of St Just on the Penwith peninsula. That is because it was in the exhibition Six Painters From Cornwall which toured Canada in the mid 1950s and was arranged by one of my literary heroes, Norman Levine.

The Canadian writer first came to St Ives in 1949, a year after Haughton had an epiphany about St Just, which he discovered whilst out on a bike ride one Spring day. They became friends and Levine wrote about him perceptively in the journal The Painter & Sculptor in 1962, including what became a widely quoted account by Haughton of the turning point in his art and life: “I have no idea what caused it, whether it really was the divine and transcendent visitation that it so clearly seemed to be or merely a freak of one’s chemistry. But I do know that it was all important and utterly beautiful, a trance that went beyond logic but never against it, and that I was at home and everything was mine, loving and tender, the landscape and houses a living thing.”

Haughton continued to explore his vision of St Just over the next 30 years despite moving to London to take up a teaching post at the Central School of Art & Design in 1951. Much of his work was destroyed in a studio fire and this is the first solo exhibition since his death in 1991 so it’s a rare opportunity to savour a distinctive talent.

Returning to Levine, a sample of his writing should show why I’d want a painting he admired. In his travel book Canada Made Me, the refusal of a gallery in Edmonton to display a catalogue for Six Painters From Cornwall for fear of theft is contrasted with the panache and expertise with which it was put together: “Then Anthony Froshaug, the typographer, coming over one night to the cottage, the driftwood burning in the fireplace with a salt green flame, his bulky leather jacket sewn together in small strips like the fields of West Penwith, his hair clipped like a monk, and pulling out the long scroll of paper with his workings for the catalogue in the neatest handwriting I have seen.”

January to March 2018 at Penlee House Gallery, Morrab Road, Penzance TR18 4HE

Orr Hepworth


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