LOOKING FOR JEFFERY EDWARDS
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.
Until November 17 at Brook Gallery, Fore Street, Budleigh Salterton. Devon EX9 6NH 01395 443003 firstname.lastname@example.org
TRAIL@14 AT THE RIVERSIDE GALLERY
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.
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.
TRAIL@14 runs until November 27. Free. Open 7 days a week 10am – 5.30pm. Excellent café and shop. For more information on the Devon Guild of Craftsmen visit http://www.crafts.org.uk
ROYAL WEST OF ENGLAND ACADEMY
166 ANNUAL OPEN
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”.
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!
Kurt Jackson Snowhill. Dogs Bark, Rooks Caw 2016: mixed media and collage
Until November 25 at RWA, Queens Road, Bristol BS8 1PX. Tues – Sat 10-5.30, Sun 11-5.
VIRGINIA WOOLF: AN EXHIBITION INSPIRED BY HER WRITINGS
AT THE FITZWILLIAM MUSEUM, CAMBRIDGE
This enthralling exhibition, originally at Tate St Ives, 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.
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.”
Until December 9 at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
Ithell Colquhoun, Alcove 11, 1948, oil on board, collection Richard Shillitoe © By kind permission of the Noise Abatement Society, Samaritans and Spire Healthcare
Patrick Jones: New Work
The painting I’ve wanted to take home from all of Patrick Jones’s home exhibitions in Budleigh Salterton is Spirit (for JH), his tribute to a fellow abstract painter, the 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.
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 (below).
However, a combination of thin glaze and deliberate brush action imparts an increasing delicacy and intensity to Jones’s latest paintings, made over the summer. The most recent painting from this series, Sidmouth, is a subtle, haunting image. There are figurative elements, such as a discernible horizon, which makes 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 http://www.patrickjonesabstractartist.co.uk 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 home exhibition can be viewed by arrangement: email@example.com.
SCULPTURE @ THE WALLED GARDEN
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.
Gardens, café and plant nursery open daily from 10am to 4.30pm. For more information – https://walledgardenmoreton.co.uk or 07786444378.
THE SHIPPON NEWS ARCHIVE
ABSTRACTION MADE VISUAL
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. www.avivablane.com
Howard Hodgkin: Last Paintings
“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
DORSET ART WEEKS
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”.
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.
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 a ‘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 www.dorsetartsweek.co.uk or pick up a brochure – Jane Hedges 278, Chris Dunseath 205, Jacy Wall 283.
KATE WESTBROOK AT THE MALTHOUSE GALLERY IN LYME REGIS
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 http://www.theartroomtopsham.co.uk
DAVID HAUGHTON IN ST JUST AT PENLEE HOUSE IN PENZANCE
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