News

December 2019-February 2020

It must be time to update our NEWS! The winter weather has meant that we have virtually closed down the workshop and adjourned to the warmth of our house. Liz has joined a new print making group in Lewes and embarked on learning new skills of drypoint. Pete is considering whether to continue the set of paintings on seaside iconography mentioned in the previous post, or return to an earlier theme of ‘Sweet Thames’. Meanwhile he has completed a new group of paintings of local trees, a hedge and reeds to join earlier examples. It would be nice to think these belong to the same world Caroline Lucas evokes in her selection from the Towner (see below).    

Aside from a run of the all too common hospital visits, we’ve visited five exhibitions since December including two private views. And thanks to the Depot cinema, we’ve seen several films – including a showing of the John Ford classic The Searchers on the big screen. So far Marriage Story and Parasite get our votes; as does Adam Driver, minus his role in The Rise of Skywalker. Little Women and David Copperfield were forgettable – we thought – and 1917 was deserving. On TV Sam Mendes talked expertly, with modesty and charm, about his favourite films. But the thing to know about Sam is that Pete taught for many years alongside his dad, Peter Mendes, at Thames Polytechnic/ the University of Greenwich (!)

In December we caught the latest Collection exhibition at the Towner, curated by Caroline Lucas and titled ‘Brink’ (running until 20 May).  Lucas has chosen a varied selection of landscapes from the Towner’s stock of 5000 works. They gelled, not surprisingly with environmental concerns and current issues but evoked too a less troubled, deep and simple pleasure in landscape. One of the most remarkable examples in her selection was Robert Morris’s small pencil, ink and watercolour drawings in a diary of 1878-9. Other works we found striking were William Nicholson’s ‘Judd’s Farm’ (1912), Charles Knight’s ‘Ditchling Beacon’ (1930), Victor Pasmore’s ‘The Front at Seaford’ and Ian Southam’s photograph of Cuckmere Haven (1999).

Charles Knight, Ditchling Beacon, 1930

Of the pictures she considered, and her title, Lucas said,

‘You really got the sense of edges… That grew into this sense of being on the brink, on the edge of something new, politically, in the broadest sense. Whether or not we rise to the climate challenge, whether or not Brexit gets resolved, whether or not we have a kinder more compassionate politics going forward. It feels like we are metaphorically on the edge, just as so many of the artworks I was looking at played with the idea of different planes, different edges.’

When we visited, this exhibition was partnered by another of the work of sculptor David Nash, titled ‘200 Seasons’ (until 2 Feb 2020). Here, film and drawings accompanied dramatic examples of his large, muscular and simply amazing sculptures in wood, drawn from woodland in Wales, especially at Capel Rhiw, Blaenau Ffestiniog, his long-time home and the site of his studio.

David Nash, ‘Four Seasons’, Towner Gallery

In January we very much enjoyed an exhibition at Charleston demonstrating the work and activities of the London based Omega Workshop, founded in 1913 by Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant in a desire to extend a ‘post-impressionist’ modernist aesthetic to the circumstances and needs of everyday life. The Workshop closed in 1919 so the exhibition effectively celebrated its centenary.  The result was an unprecedentedly comprehensive display of what it produced, from a dinner invitation announcing the movement, to posters, book illustrations, fabrics, ceramics, clothes, furniture and exterior design. In its own day, the Omega was rivalled by another- Vorticist- movement, championed by Wyndham Lewis and others which split from Fry’s workshop. Both movements belonged to the dynamic innovative impulse of the 1910s (see below on Pallant House), but its absence here does not detract from the marvellously full story the exhibition tells of the Omega itself.

Vanesssa Bell, Omega Screen,1913
Duncan Grant, Omega Rug,1913

Later in January we visited the Pallant House Gallery In Chichester to see the wide and absorbing exhibition ‘Radical Women. Jessica Dismorr and her Contemporaries’(until 23 Feb). Jessica Dismorr (1885-1939) was a signatory and contributor to the Vorticist manifesto tabled in the magazine Blast (1914), as was Helen Saunders, also shown in the exhibition. It includes examples of her work of this period but much more as she joined other individuals, groups and movements, for example the ‘Rhythm’ group and magazine, through to the late 1930s, moving through different styles and engaging in different radical campaigns, for suffrage and anti –fascism, as she did so.  Several works by Dismorr and Saunders and others, for example Winifred Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth, have their first showing here. Much of the work was entirely new to us and the exhibition does a wonderful job in recovering the experimental and politically committed drive linking Dismorr, her colleagues and associates.

Jessica Dismorr, Landscape with Figures, 1911-12
Jessica Dismorr, Abstract Composition, 1915.

In February we milled with other Towner members to see youthful work by Alan Davie and David Hockney (from Feb 15- May 31). This follows an original exhibition at the Wakefield Art Gallery marking the date of the first exhibition of Davie’s work there in 1958, which the young Hockney attended. He felt that Davie liberated him to experiment with form and colour. A few works here do suggest a debt to Davie’s rough vigour, classed as abstract expressionism, but these are less engaging – we agreed – than the wit, evident skill and bold composition the young Hockney came to show. The difference in approach emerges quite clearly in fact. Whereas Davie wrote how ‘painting just happens’, Hockney, in a short film included here, carefully explains ‘this is what I did’ in talking us through making an etching.

David Hockney “Arizona” 1964.

The next day – as it turned out, in wretched weather – we sought out the studio, at the end of a fabulously stocked long barn, used by Lewes based artist Julian Bell (the son of Quentin Bell and grandson of Vanessa Bell). This included some recent drawings and small paintings, but the primary focus was the series of works comprising his new work ‘When the City is Built’. This depicts scenes comprising a day in the life of London (in an office, a market, a rooftop club, a building site, a mother and child watching TV) and featuring a recurring set of imagined characters. Bell brings a practised eye to bodily shape and movement and his fluent skill is evident here and in preliminary sketches as well as in other drawings. His use of colour and composition, too, varies impressively scene by scene. Of his purpose in this series he writes:

“I hope it says that painting is a good way of thinking about contemporary life and the textures of experience. What things feel like these days. I want to show the maelstrom of the contemporary world: there are divine possibilities, but more of the time you are in the middle of the shit.”

Julian Bell, ‘Fridge’, 2020.

This show was limited to two days. We thought of buying a small Julian Bell painting but emerged only with a signature to our copy of his very good book What is Painting?

July – December 2019

A strange set of months. We took part in Art Wave in August and were asked to exhibit our work at the Chiddingly festival in September. These were good events where we were able to show some new work and, which, as usual, included a welcome number of chats with visitors who wanted to comment on or ask about our work or discuss their own. We had little opportunity to visit other Art Wave venues but did enjoy the work of local photographer Rick Turner and the textiles of his wife Louise. It was good to meet them and know there are other fellow makers in Ringmer.

There was, however, a long shadow over these events and the following months. Pete was hospitalised with sepsis in the middle of Art Wave and was self-monitoring on new medication for a subsequent three months. Liz suffered bravely meanwhile with hyperparathyroidism. Her condition deteriorated and she had an operation in November, followed by a month or more of close monitoring and tests. Which continue.

What happened to our art work? Well, it stalled, soon to be dwarfed by the election campaign and the nightmare of King Boris.  Pete did start a possible series of small paintings of seaside scenes and iconography. The result is three pictures: of a paddle steamer, a bandstand, and an amusement complex remembered from his boyhood and youth living in Southend. Yes, it sounds like and is a nostalgic bid for simpler times. We did combine on making a Christmas card featuring turtle doves and a partridge. We wondered if our note that these are threatened birds might prove too sombre a message but friends’ reactions gratifyingly proved otherwise.

MAY-JUNE 2019

High Days and Holidays

          This year we holidayed in Andalucia, the Lake District, and Antibes in the South of France. Pete managed to draw and paint a little along the way but this was at the edges of things. Our short stay in May at Coniston in the Lake District was a walking holiday but we (re)visited John Ruskin’s house Brantwood and were very impressed by and learned more from the Ruskin Museum in town. This provides a wide and well-illustrated guide to his own art in drawing and water-colour, his art criticism – as, oddly, both defender of the young Turner and vilifier of James McNeill Whistler – and his social philosophy. His morally grounded thinking across these spheres inspired a radical mission to bring art and design and a pride in labour to all and resonates through to our own times.

          At the end of June we stayed with friends Marc and Sharon in Antibes. They introduced us to a feast of galleries and museums –as well as to Antibes’ bountiful daily market and wonderful seascape. The names of major artists just kept coming: Picasso, Miro, Matisse, Chagall and Leger, along with literally walls of other painters and printers, as well as gardens and a workshop of sculpture. 

           To pick out some of the most exciting venues for us:

              The Picasso Museum is in Antibes where he was invited to stay and work in 1946. The exhibition is a testament to his endless invention and sheer productivity and included also the work of two other artists, memorably paintings by Nicolas de Staël (see below) who was himself a resident of the town where sadly he committed suicide.

              Secondly, The Maeght Foundation in Vence offered a thematic organisation of an amazing range of artists across several rooms (only a few images of which are included below) and the marvels of Jean Miro’s sculptures in its grounds and gardens. This sunny outdoor scene had colour, comedy, delicacy, mass and magic: enough for Marc to nominate this setting as the preferred heaven of his afterlife

                The third, and perhaps most informative of exhibitions we saw was at the Leger Museum in Biot. The scope and variety of his work displayed here was a revelation as was the information – in the best notes we’ve ever encountered in a gallery – on his association with fellow artists and movements over his life-time across Europe and in the USA. The massive mosaics of his work on the exterior walls of the Museum were simply a marvel to behold. Be good to have these in a heavenly garden too.

                 And then, finally, as examples of directly sacred work, there was Matisse’s chapel in Vence and Chagall’s depiction of the opening chapters of the Bible and Solomon’s ‘Song of Songs’ in Nice.

Nicolas de Staël, ‘Parc de Prince’, 1952.
Joel Kermarrec, ‘Sans titre’, 1979.
Bernard Moninot, ‘Dessin Pour Chambre Noire’ , no.10, 1979.
Konrad Klapheck, Le Démon du  progress, 1980
Valerio Adami, ‘Sigmund Freud, Voyage  to London’ 1979.

                                                                     

                               All in all, our touring visit was quite an education. Has it influenced our own work? Not directly, but we both feel encouraged and emboldened to try more and try differently.

            And so, on into August. We are showing at Art Wave once more, over two weekends, 17th -18th and 24th – 26th, after having missed last year. Unfortunately Liz’s print work has been hampered by illness, but we both hope to be able to show some new things, along with pottery by Rosemary Land, and some digitised portraits of stars and pop icons by our son Will. Here’s one:

April-May

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The main news has to be that we are booked in for this year’s Art Wave in late August. Peter meanwhile has some postcards of Andalucian villages and Moorish design made during a holiday in February included in an exhibition of postcards in Eastbourne, held under the aegis of the Devonshire Collective gallery and workshop. Here’s one of the postcard designs.

Liz has now joined a print group there and is being encouraged to use new techniques such as monoprinting and collagraphy. Currently she is working on lino/woodcuts of The Owl and the Pussycat and Lewes Castle.

Peter’s picture of Lewes station’s defunct signal box is destined for the Runaway Café on platform 2. He has done a commissioned painting of Chalcot Crescent, Primrose Hill; two studies of Blakeney shore line (another short holiday); further studies of our nearby Norlington Lane; more small paintings on 18x 13cm panels of ‘things’ bringing the total to 24 (see the Portfolio) and a set of drawings featuring early C20th moderns (James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Bertolt Brecht and others).

                       ‘The tiniest place imaginable’. Vivien (Vivienne) Eliot with Eliot’s first corona typewriter in their flat in Crawford Mansions, Marylebone.

He’d like to find a way of introducing a sense of movement, a changed angle or elementary narrative into otherwise stationary views, making them more like movie stills or frames in a comic strip. Perhaps this is one way.

Our visits to galleries and shows have been sparing (though we have seen a lot of films) but have included the exhibitions of Anni Albers’ work and Pierre Bonnard’s paintings, both at Tate Modern, and a double exhibition at Charleston, practically on our doorstep. So here’s a few words on these.

Anni Albers at Tate Modern. This comprehensive exhibition was a revelation in its display of the range of Albers’ innovative work in weaving first as a student and then, alongside Joseph Albers, as a teacher at the Bauhaus in Weimar and subsequently at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. She is renowned for her technical experiment and geometrically patterned weavings. Of particular, additional, interest, brought out in the exhibition, was her creative investigation of the relationship between pre-written languages and text and textiles and the representational and abstract qualities of woven threads resulting in her ‘pictorial weavings’. In later work she further investigated the visual and structural affinities between weaving, 3-D design and architecture. The overall impression was of an adventurous, productively sustained project which crossed boundaries, including the gendered compartmentalisation of weaving as domestic and female.

Anni Albers, Black White Yellow (1926, re-woven, 1965)

                    

Pierre Bonnard. The Colour of Memory. Tate Modern.

We visited this exhibition with friends Marc and Sharon. It covered Bonnard’s career from the 1900s to the mid1940s. His own words ‘I leave it … I come back’ and ‘the presence of an object … is a hindrance for the painter’ are an apt description of his practice. Objects, interiors and landscapes were regarded as starting points, prompting an exploration of colour rather than a pursuit of representational fidelity. Clearly Bonnard was reluctant to ‘finish’ a work, either in its surface or as a statement. Characteristically he would prolong or revisit a work, even over several years, in a search for the emotional inspiration of its beginnings. A striking prose example of this was his late work Correspondances (1943), a series of fictional letters between members of his family, set in the 1890s, a period of happiness when he met his life-time partner and the subject of much of his painting, Marthe de Méligny.

What was our opinion? Here, clearly, was an oeuvre of commitment, integrity and originality. The paintings expanded our knowledge and in some ways challenged our taste and expectations, but did not (Peter would say) present a model to follow.

Pierre Bonnard, The Studio with Mimosa (1939-46)

                             

In Colour. Sickert to Riley; Philip Hughes. Charleston.

Charleston Trust currently stages two exhibitions in the newly converted barns, a striking addition to the Charleston experience. We went along with our younger son Joe who was down for Easter.

In Colour is curated by Cressida Bell, and presents a personal selection of over 20 works from the 1900s to the 1990s (book-ended by Walter Sickert and Bridget Riley) of interest in their use of various colour palettes, including the Charleston members Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant and associate Roger Fry. The works themselves, not surprisingly across the span of several decades, are quite different in their subjects and execution. We found ourselves choosing favourites. Amongst many paintings she enjoyed, Liz picked out Roger Fry’s and Vanessa Bell’s views of Charleston pond, respectively from 1918 and 1919; Peter chose Euan Uglow’s ‘Quince’ (1988) and John Minton’s ‘Bridge from Cannon Street Station’ (1946) and Joe liked Bridget Riley’s abstract ‘Sapphire 2’ (1995).

John Minton, Bridge from Cannon Street Station (1946)
Roger Fry, The Farm Pond, Charleston (1918)
Bridget Riley, Sapphire 2 (1995)

                                

The second exhibition was a thrilling introduction to Philip Hughes’s ecologically inspired landscapes. He has travelled, studied and painted across several continents including Antarctica and the works shown here were of the East Sussex Downs and St Ives, beautifully and precisely sketched in situ and selectively painted in bright segments, often across large sheets of rare, roughly textured paper. In a word they are terrific; not least as a fitting accompaniment to ‘In Colour’ next door. See his work if you can.

October-December

Mid-late October saw us making a flurry of visits to local galleries, some with an American friend who was visiting.

On 13th we attended an interview at the Towner with the artist Simon Ling whose work we had known from an earlier exhibition at the Tate (paintings of unnervingly unstable East End shops and buildings) a few years back, and whose new work in his first solo exhibition was on show at the Towner. This comprised a set of purposely untitled close-up paintings of chopped logs and of collaged sections of skeletons. The interview, which concentrated on his relation to objects, essentially the subject of his work, was fascinating. While Ling was content to think carefully in his own time about the process of becoming intently familiar with the subjects of his work, his interviewer was looking for comparisons with Heidegger, William Burroughs and Object-Oriented philosophical theory. The paintings and Ling’s conception of his engagement with their subjects do raise psycho-philosophical questions, but the interview presented us with quite different ways of thinking these through. We then revisited the exhibition with Ling’s preoccupations and experience in mind. It did mean we could literally look more closely.

The exhibition continues until 27 January.

On the 19th we dropped in to the Private View of Fire! Art inspired by Bonfire Night at Keizer Frames Gallery in Lewes, curated by Laina Watt and including paintings, prints, photography and mixed media work by Peter Messer, Jo Lamb, Emily Warren, Marco Crivello and others. Lewes Bonfire took some explaining to an East Coast American friend who was visiting, but she could feel some of the heat it generates. The exhibition ran until the 5th Nov. We’ve always admired Peter Messer’s work and especially liked the painting ‘Trouble Sleeping’ shown in a previous exhibition in September. Since then, and since Bonfire, we’ve had a chance to buy a print of this work. Visitors to 2 Church Villas will be able to appraise it for themselves.

Next we visited the newly converted barns at Charleston Farmhouse, now comprising an impressive exhibition space, an auditorium and a café. There were two exhibitions: both in different ways responses to and a celebration of Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando. One exhibition, including paintings, sculptures, collages, letters and a playlet on video also showed an original 1928 copy of the novel which included photographs confirming the association of the androgynous character Orlando with Vita Sackville-West and her family history. A second exhibition of black and white photographs by Zanele Mukoli ‘Faces and Phases’ addresses the question of sexual/gendered identity raised by Woolf’s novel and the very current debate on these questions, presenting specifically an ‘inside perspective’, says Mukoli on ‘black lesbian and transgender experiences … I have met on my journeys’ The result is sets of photographs of the ‘same’ person, presenting as male and female and in different social roles. The effect is stunning. A smaller third exhibit was of the dinner plates of ‘famous women’ painted by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant while they lived at Charleston. The exhibitions are open until 17th February 2019.

A further visit was to Farley House (formerly Farley Farm) the celebrated ‘Home of the Surrealists’. This was, for some reason, our first visit. We knew it was there but just not ventured the 30min car ride to Muddles Green, Chiddingly. Others may have the same experience. It is though really worth a visit. The gallery, next to the house, was currently showing recently-discovered photographs by Lee Miller who lived there with artist Roland Penrose from the late 1940s after a very full life of travel, modelling and photo-journalism. She looked, in her kind of surrealism, for the juxtaposition of unexpected objects or people and objects in uncanny situations. There is also a tour of the house which points out the work, including paintings, sculptures and decorations to the house itself, of some of its European visitors, including Picasso, Max Ernst, and Man Ray, along with works by Roland Penrose. Please note: both house and gallery have now closed for the winter, and will re-open on 7th April 2019 with a new exhibition in the gallery.

We’d recommend anyone who hasn’t been to visit both Farley Farm and Charleston: evidence – along with other artists, notably Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden and Peggy Angus at Furlongs, as well as those based at Ditchling, including Eric Gill and David Jones – of the rich artistic history of the region. In the gift shop at Farley House we met Anthony Penrose, Lee Miller’s son. He was very open and enthusiastic about Farley but also very conscious of the varied artistic heritage available to us in Sussex. Someone should think of organising co-ordinated tours!

Thinking of Sussex artists, you may still be able to catch up on the following range of exhibitions at St.  Anne’s Galleries, 111 Lewes High Street and at other local venues:

  • St Anne’s has a Christmas Show from 3rd November until 23rd Dec. which is open Saturdays and Sundays.

Sarah O’Kane is presenting the following:

We went along to this one, liked the work a lot, and bought a painting titled ‘Still Life, Blue Dress’.

  • A  Spring Show including recent work by Julian Le BasJo LambJane  Hansford and Kathleen Mullaniff at Lewes House.
  •  A solo show by Nick Bodimeade in May to be held at his studio in Hamsey.
  • A three week event in June, titled Moon Gazing to be held at the new Lewes arts venue Fitzroy House showing work by a range of artists in different media on the theme of the moon.
  • And in October, a solo exhibition by Lewes based artist and author, Julian Bell, ‘When the City is built’ to be held at Menier Gallery, Southwark St., London.

On our own work, aside from deciding on this year’s Christmas card (two pictures on the theme of ‘Under the tree’), Liz has been working on a lino-cut of ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’. Can this perhaps inspire a set of works on fairy tales, songs, and rhymes? Peter has completed a work commissioned by two American friends, who wanted a reminder of Primrose Hill which they’ve grown attached to on their many visits to London. The result is a painting of Chalcot Crescent – the real-life street used in the Paddington movies where it’s renamed Windsor Gardens. The Browns’ house is number 30 Chalcot Crescent. In Peter’s painting, our friends’ grandson, – a Paddington fan – is standing outside this house.

Another picture is of Blakeney, North Norfolk, which we visited earlier in the year and a third project is a set of drawings of literary figures. This picks up on a group of three drawings Peter did many years ago of Bertolt Brecht, Ezra Pound, and Yeats and Ford Madox Ford. New drawings will be of James Joyce (this one is done), T. S. Eliot (in progress) Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield. All of them C20th ‘moderns’ and a bit of a throwback strangely to the academic interests Peter thought retirement had, well, retired.

August-September

There was one big event in August: our Golden Wedding Anniversary on the 31st. We took a brief but thoroughly enjoyable holiday in Blakeney, North Norfolk the week before and organised a ‘get- together’ of family and friends, new and old, at the Depot in Lewes for the 1st September, during which we showed the film Guys and Dolls. One thing we didn’t plan for was the outbreak of a fire nearby (luckily after the screening). This meant we had to decamp from the Depot building itself to the lawned area in the grounds. Everything went very well in spite of this hiccup. Thanks to all for coming!

Repeated Hospital visits since January meant  we weren’t able to participate in Art Wave this year We did, however, take in 2 Ringmer and 3 Lewes locations over a couple of days. As always, even on such a limited acquaintance, the work we saw was varied, skilful and innovative. We both feel we’ve got to catch up with ourselves and are sure to plan for Art wave next year. Unfortunately, Liz’s class in lino-cutting has ceased, although at least one workshop day has been planned, and she has now joined a drawing class at St Andrews in Lewes.

Amongst other things (books, films, choir, yoga) September saw us resuming our visits to Galleries. Here’s a brief mention of four shows we went to:

At the Towner, Eastbourne.

9th Sept. Edward Stott: Master of Colour and Atmosphere (16 May- 16 Sept).  Stott (1855-1918) was a British artist born in Rochdale whose paintings of rural scenes in particular earned him a reputation as ‘the poet-painter of twilight’. After a late start he came under the influence in the 1880s of French naturalist and early impressionist painting. This gave his painting its admired rendering of light and atmosphere though at the cost, in our view, of the vitality and definition (in a painting such as ‘Feeding the Ducks’, 1885) which was more akin to the similarly ruralist work of the so-called Glasgow Boys (James Guthrie and George Henry amongst several others). After his success in Paris, Stott returned in 1885 to live and work in Amberley. West Sussex. Here, his continued commitment to depictions of everyday life and settings employing local people gave way to careful and sombre works on religious themes.  I’m afraid we hurried past these last works.

 
        Edward Stott, ‘Feeding the Ducks’,1885

  Edward Stott, ‘Labourer’s Cottage – Suppertime’ 1893.

At Tate Britain

20th Sept. Aftermath, Art in the Wake of World War One (5th June -24th Sept).

We’d postponed visiting this exhibition but were in the event much impressed by the range of work displayed (from British, Belgian, German and French artists) and by its narrative organisation. Thus the display moves room by room from depictions of iconic aspects of the conflict itself (ruined landscapes, abandoned helmets), through grand public memorial ceremonies and generic sculptures, to bitter, satirical portraits of the maimed along with registrations of deep social and psychological disorder, and so to signs of broad change and a recovered or re-imagined world in the longer post-war period.

As the exhibition shows too these stages of reaction and response were marked by the adoption of different media, from paint, drawing and sculpture to photography and collage – whose cut-ups and juxtapositions told their own tale of jangled social and inner disturbance. Amongst many memorable works the Dadaist works by such as George Grosz and Otto Dix are perhaps the most striking in their innovative form and boldly politicised critiques of the war’s after-effects

         George Grosz, ‘Grey Day’, 1921.

   John Nash, ‘The Cornfield’, 1918.

A key motif through all this to our eyes was machine technology; first of all in the automatic weapons, the tanks, and aircraft introduced in what was the first advanced industrial war and subsequently in the post-war advent of newly industrialised labour and the appearance of new workers’ organisations. While some (John Nash’s ‘The Cornfield’ here is an example) turned to the solace of the natural world, others (as here in Paul Citroen’s Metropolis) responded to new urban environments as a multi jig-sawed portrait of the modern world or as a beacon of new hope. New York City assumed a lasting symbolic role in this respect, but as the double title of C.R.W. Nevinson’s painting in the final room (‘New York – an Abstraction’ and ‘The Soul of a Soulless City’) showed, the new life of the new mass city could also appear empty.

        Paul Citroen, ‘Metropolis’, 1923.

                  CRW. Nevinson, ‘The Soul of a  Soulless  City’ (New  Y0rk –An Abstraction), 1920.

Keizer Frames Gallery, Lewes.  

24th Sept. Peter Messer, ‘Tricks and Resolution (22nd Sept. – 7th Sept)

Simon Keizer curated this excellent small exhibition of new work by the Lewes based artist Peter Messer. Many will know Peter Messer’s extraordinarily meticulous paintings in egg tempera of familiar – but not so familiar, scenes in Lewes. We both found the works in this selection as engrossing as ever.  Personally, Peter was pleased that while several somewhere secreted a comic or surrealist aside which upsets the otherwise normal and everyday, some paintings were ‘straight’ – which, in the context, was itself a little disarming. Messer had also included a written statement of his aims which in its unpretentious claims, less for himself than for the craft of painting, was itself winning and inspiring for anyone who wants to paint expertly.

Peter Messer, ‘Bitter Winter’

Blue Door News June- August

 

Blue Door News, June – August

Dungeness and the National Gallery

The saga of clinic and hospital visits has continued to mark our calendar over the last couple of months. However, in June we managed a few days at Dungeness. It is really a unique landscape, as many will know, full of a variety of wild flowers, grasses, pebbles, and scrubland and the signs of a long-standing fishing culture. Quaint or, in increasing numbers, modernised sheds and cottages are pitched at random across the flat terrain, threaded by the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch miniature railway (yes, we took a ride), while behind everything stands the Dungeness Nuclear Power Station.

 

We photographed everything and Pete did a pen and crayon sketch of Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage. He has also, now in early August, finished an oil painting of a scene commanded by a boardwalk stretching out to the sea.

This is included along with some other new work by us both in the Portfolio under ‘Recent Work’.

July came and went, first hot, then hotter. At the beginning of August we visited two related exhibitions at the National Gallery with American friends. These were ‘Thomas Cole Eden to Empire’ (including his series ‘The Course of Empire’, 1833-36) and the American artist, Ed Ruscha’s ‘Course of Empire’ (1992 and 2005) which clearly alludes to Cole’s series.

Cole was a largely self-taught English-born artist, influenced by Turner and Constable amongst others, who became a premier figure in the American landscape tradition. His ‘The Course of Empire’ depicts the ascendancy and decline of Empire from pastoral idyll to glory, defeat and devastation in large, appropriately epic canvasses. It is seen, as is the major work ‘View from Mount Holyoke’ also displayed in the exhibition, as a warning to America of the impending ruination of its natural riches signalled by the advance of mechanisation and uncontrolled growth. One thing which struck us all was Cole’s depiction of people, always miniature, and given allegorical roles as representing, say, the coming of farming, or art and learning, or the military. Their small size would seem to stand as lesson on the smallness of human society in the scale of things where the natural world is immense but imperilled.

Cole’s ‘The Course of Empire’ consists of five paintings. Ed Ruscha’s ‘Course of Empire’, without the definite article, comprises two series of five paintings each. The first titled ‘Blue Collar’ depicts five black and white canvases of premises in Los Angeles (or strictly the tops of these buildings), a Tool and Die factory, a Trade School, and a Telephone booth, for example. Set below them in the exhibition are depictions of the changed aspect of these same buildings in the present-day, now painted in colour. The logos have faded, The Tool and Die factory has swapped its title for Korean Style calligraphy and a wall of graffiti, the Trade School is boarded up and fenced off, and the Telephone booth is simply defunct in an age of digital communication ousted by a concrete telegraph pole and a tree. Ruscha himself does not own an iphone. Thomas Cole’s ‘hatred of the progress of mankind’, he says, would make him weep at the ‘poetry of change’ witnessed today. Of himself, he says he prefers the black and white world, Oddly enough, this is the ‘blue collar’ world gone missing for supporters of Donald Trump. But if Ruscha is nostalgic for a lost America, Trump is not the answer to present day woes. ‘Oh Boy’, he says in interview at the mention of Trump’s name; ‘the art world is still in shock’ at his election … We’re all sitting in an electric chair’.

Ruscha is probably best known for his homage to US gas stations and it would be good to catch up with this work. Meanwhile, in a critical note, while the present two exhibitions of Cole and Ruscha’s ‘Courses of Empire’ are evidently companion shows, and both splendid, they are installed on different floors some distance apart. There is no encouragement by the National Gallery to see them together, no directions on how best to physically get from one to the other, nor the simple guidance that it would be best to see the Cole first.

August 8th

An uncanny sequence of events: the Summer Special of the New Statesman includes the following poem by Hugo Williams:

Ghost Signs

I was trying to read your mind

in London’s palm, looking for reasons

in the blank faces of shops.

 A ghost sign for REFRESHMENTS

high on the wall in York Way

 and one for WEIGHING MACHINES

 round the corner in Gray’s Inn Road,

  were growing fainter, harder to read.

 The sun was going down

  on The Poor School of Performing Arts,

  Espiritu Santo Hairstyles and Nails,

  “Hurricane Pool Hall Opening Soon”,

   a battered tin advertisement

   spinning illegibly in the wind.

Hugo Williams had earlier written a set of poems on his experience of dialysis and had a transplant in 2014. We read these poems in the LRB and today Liz read his ‘Ghost Signs’ on her way to the Renal Department at Brighton Royal Sussex Hospital and pointed it out to me later. The route Williams takes in the poem was his route to the Dialysis Clinic at St Pancras. But she pointed it out for another reason too. The first ghost sign he describes was the subject of a painting I did last year

Some kind of serendipitous affinity of one kind and another at work here, it seems. Happenstance, you might say.

 

 

Jan – June 2018

Liz: In January I received a kidney transplant after 3 years on dialysis. This was wonderful news, but has for four and more months involved many unanticipated side-effects, a cupboard full of medication and a routine of hospital visits up to three times a week. My art and craft work was not surprisingly suspended. However, in late April and into May, I was able to return to my lino printing class in Lewes. Returning to favourites I have been able to do versions of a Winter picture showing a cat in the snow and a Spring picture of a blackbird with foliage.

Peter: January to late April was, as Liz explains, a fallow period for us both. I barely visited the Workshop (it was also very cold) but did do some small paintings at a desk at the top of the house, chiefly of ordinary everyday objects. These are pictures of things which we tend to take for granted but which might take on some interest, whether in their structure, colour, texture or surface when we look again

There are now some 20 of these pictures (oil on 18x13cm canvasses on board. See ‘Recent Work’). I‘m thinking of combining them in one composite 4 x5 set: a sort of in praise of ordinariness.  Maybe, maybe not.

At the back of my mind, as so often, anyway, is the phrase ‘So much depends upon’ from a favourite and famous short poem by the American poet William Carlos Williams, a friend and co-worker of the painters Charles Sheeler and Charles Demuth who I mention elsewhere on this site. The poem runs:

So much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white chickens.

The poem has been much discussed but for my purposes it’s a poem about a startling, illuminating moment when an ordinary, humdrum object and scene take on a special uplifting quality, in a kind of waking moment. All I need for this series to find is a red wheelbarrow glistening in the rain!

Other work by me just before and just after this fallow period for us both, are paintings of the remains of the West Pier at Brighton, a planned picture at a distance of the existing pier, a painting of Harvey’s Brewery in Lewes from the top of School Hill and one of the signal box at Lewes Station.  Each picture is a re-working of striking photographs by family members and a friend. This has become a standard practice for me and I may try something more directly abstract just to see how satisfying, or not, I would find this. I’ve become very conscious of – what seems like – the coarse surface of the standard canvas I’ve been using and am trying linen canvas or may return to board.

When not painting or wondering how to paint in this same period I’ve been reading a number of books on painting: three by John Berger (Landscapes, Portraits and Confabulations), Grayson Perry’s Playing to the Gallery,  Julian Bell’s  What is Painting?  Most are critical works on the practice and theory or philosophies of painting or drawing, over time in Berger’s Portraits and Bell’s book, as well as in Perry’s book on the cultural institutions governing taste, judgement, value (in money terms) and fame. Bell’s book is particularly careful and impressive in tracking artistic practice in relation to other cultural and critical theory (for example postmodernism and deconstruction). It is perhaps the most scholarly of these books. Perry’s is the most iconoclastic, and Berger’s the most searching and intensely felt in his reflections on art practice and most radical in his lasting adherence to a very direct and uncompromised Marxism.

I’m not sure what I’ve learned from these author/artists to advance my own taste and practice. I think maybe I was looking for some vindication of what I’ve been doing and feel drawn to in the artists I admire. They’re all open enough to allow for that (none, that is to say, are dictatorial or feel there is one way especially today for art to go).

So, carry on …

2017-18.

We have attended the following events in recent times

Three events at the Towner art Gallery, Eastbourne

July, Ravilious and Co. The Pattern of Friendship (27 May- 17 September)

This very full exhibition, which we needed to visit twice in July to fully appreciate, marked the 75th anniversary of Ravilious’s death in 1942. It documents his relationship with friends, lovers and affiliates who were also frequently his co-workers; amongst them Paul Nash, Enid Marx, Barnett Freedman, Tirzah Garwood, Edward Bawden, Peggy Angus and Helen Binyon, all of whose work is also displayed. The exhibition works chronologically through Ravilious’s own and the others work, from their time at the Royal College of Art to life at Peggy Angus’s cottage ‘Furlongs’ in East Sussex and their roles as artists in the Second World War. Most noticeably and illuminatingly, for us, it gave a strong sense of the various media these friends worked in from water colours and pencil to woodcuts and prints, book jackets and illustrations, posters, wallpaper and fabric design.

A further visit to the Towner in August for a talk Prints by Ravilious & Co. with Jeremy Greenwood highlighted the role of Paul Nash in inspiring the revival in printmaking carried forward by Ravilious, Tirzah Garwood, Douglas Percy Bliss, Edward Bawden and Enid Marx.

The book by Andy Friend Ravilious and Co. The Pattern of Friendship (2017) provides an absorbing, illustrated account of the work and networked lives of these artists from the 1920s through to the 1940s with a brief Aftermath.

Our third event at the Towner was a preview of the exhibition A Green and Pleasant Land (running until 21st January 2018) devoted principally to photography, with film and some sculpture, from the 1970s through to today. As the curator Greg Hobson explained the exhibition illustrates a governing tension between those works which view the British landscape with a social or political eye and those who bring to it a more meditative or spiritual perspective. Whereas the first show a populated landscape of people, buildings, ruins or industrial sites, the second draw attention to light, texture, mystery and a suggested transcendental ambiance. Of the fifty or so artists included we would pick out the work of John Davies whose large detailed photographs (eg ‘Agecroft Power Station’ which shows an amateur football match dwarfed by four massive cooling towers) belong firmly to the first tendency.

Soul of a Nation at Tate Modern

In October we visited the exhibition Soul of a Nation at Tate Modern; a comprehensive exhibition of ‘art in the age of Black Power’ from 1963 into the 1980s. The change in language from the use of the term ‘Negro’ (used by Martin Luther King) to ‘Black’ and to ‘Afro-American or ‘African-American’ over these decades accompanied the changes in art, as a vehicle of protest and affirmation from street art to the inspiration of African design in representational and abstract art.  12 rooms take the viewer through this complex story.

Ashdown Gallery

Also in October we visited the exhibition of work by Lorna Kirin (formerly Holdcroft) at the Ashdown Gallery, Forest Row. We had seen her work at Lewes Art Wave in 2015 and were delighted and inspired to see these new paintings – so much so that we broke the bank to buy one! Her work can be seen on the Gallery’s website: http://www.ashdowngallery.com/ or on her own website with her husband, the artist Stephen Kirin, at https://thekirins.com/lorna-kirin/

Another purchase was a small painting in oils ‘Into the clear’ by Marco Crivello.

Tate Britain

In November, we visited the exhibition Impressionists in London at Tate Britain. It was good to see the Monet but too many works were by non-impressionist French artists who chose to visit London.

Pelham House

In February 2018, Peter had the painting ‘Their wedding, his books, our chair’ (below) selected for the Open Exhibition of work by Lewes’ artists held at Pelham House Hotel. The exhibition ran to the 7th March.

The Curator, Sarah Rigler deserves to be congratulated on a varied and stirring show. However, unfortunately, this is apparently to be the last Open Exhibition to be held at Pelham House.