Ships and Suns

Quentin Blake: The New Dress; Roy Oxlade & David Bomberg; Roy Oxlade: Shine Out Fair Sun; Tal R: Eventually All Museums Will Be Ships (Hastings Contemporary)

About a decade ago, the Jedward Foundation brought culture to Hastings. Hastings was having none of it, it would appear, preferring a coach park in the Old Town. And now what appears to be a dark wood clapperboard gallery has rebranded as Hastings Contemporary and the splendid collection of rather brown British twentieth century paintings has vanished. This is a shame, but the excellent Paula Rego exhibition will be mirrored by one by her late husband, Victor Willing. In the meantime, we have an Israeli Danish artist I’d never heard of, a mid century British artist I’d never heard of and the latter’s tutor. And a bonus room by Quentin Blake, who lives around the corner and remains prolific as ever. His drawings of Her New Dress are as charming as you’d expect.

But it is David Bomberg who steals the show and inevitably comes off better than his pupil Roy Oxlade in the same room. His art seems to be from an elevated perspective — Tower Bridge and the streets of London from a rooftop, the great bridge (aqueduct?) of Ronda from a distance, an odd perspective on a Ronda cathedral. He had dabbled in Vorticism, even before there was such a thing, but it is the perspective and diagonals that he keeps. Meanwhile there’s a hint of Walter Sickert in the colour range. More brown.

I kept recalling (and miss) the paintings of Palestine I saw at Towner — payed for by the Zionist Organisation in the 1920s — of a curiously unpopulated Jerusalem and environs from on high.

In the 1950s, impoverished and suffering from ill health, he worked in a bakery at Borough and taught art, with students including Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff and Roy Oxlade. I didn’t know Oxlade’s work, and inevitably I compared his paintings to the heavily contoured palimpsests of the other two. His work sometimes also includes a three dimensionality of layered paint, but not as heavy as Kossoff’s. His figures are curiously isolated, stripped of a spatial context, hanging in space. Whilst this isn’t always the case, he has a habit of naming his paintings Colour Object — White Back, Yellow Lamp and so on. He can draw a reclining nude, but not the supporting couch or bed, substituting abstract backgrounds. Presumably his Two Cherries are on a table, but you wouldn’t know it.

He wrote that “Paintings need the personality of a ‘face’, things, points of focus, without them they are like heads of people with eye-sockets.” I confess I struggled to find that personality but I think he needs more attention. At his best, his work reminds me of Cy Twombly, but Abstract Expressionism isn’t quite the right label. He claims to be reaching for a sense of authenticity, interested in “things, trees, houses, cats, people.” I wanted more cats.

Tal R was also new to me, and the title inevitably makes you think of the boats piled on the shingle visible through the first floor windows of the gallery. The ships are tall cruisers, a striking blue, but the main room is dominated by dozens of crayon drawings which are rough landscapes. In his canvases, the colours are scarcely less subtle, and they reward a slow looking. He’s an Israeli born artist, long resident in Copenhagen and I am assuming he’s Jewish, but the exhibition doesn’t state this. This becomes relevant with the boy in striped pyjamas and mask, who I took to be stood by a bed, Masken (2019). I wonder know if I misread the perspective and it’s oartway down a staircase. At first sight it seems naive, but perhaps is an inmate of a concentration camp. And then there’s Red House (2019), where the flat red colour echoes Munch’s red ivy covered house and the painted wood of Sohlberg, although they are Norwegian rather than Danish.

 

Also striking is Lords of Kolbojnik (2002-2003), that last word a kibbutz used term for the rubbish left over from communal meals. It is a colourful collage, leaning towards Pop Art.

E8D3DF4C-6E7E-47C9-93EF-7574285E0033So an interesting start as the gallery enters a new phase — Hastings will still get culture, even starved of some favourite images.

 

 

Norwegian Blue (and Red)

Harald Sohlberg: Painting Norway (Dulwich Picture Gallery)

Everyone knows The Scream, but Norway’s favourite painting is a remarkable nighttime mountainscape, by Harald Sohlberg. I’d been struck by his incredible yellow skies in paintings either side of doorways in Kode 3, just before the French Impression era Munch room, and again by his work at the Oslo National Museum, but he was still at number five in my top five Norwegian artists. Dulwich — who made me take notice of Nikolai Astrup — now brings Sohlberg to the UK, making it two Norwegian exhibitions at once.
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Etches at an Exhibition

Edvard Munch, Love and Angst (British Museum)

img_7864This is a slice of Edvard Munch’s career — one of my top five favourite Norwegian artists — between about 1890 and 1910, which perhaps doesn’t make sense without knowing the rest of his career. For a start, there is a Norwegian habit of repeating the same motif in a way I’ve not seen with other artists other than Picasso. Munch has several paintings of Puberty or The Vampire, for example, and this raises questions about whether he is obsessively exploring a theme, seeking out the perfect version, displaying artistic unity or exploiting the design for maximum revenue. Or all of the above.

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It Means Nothing to Me

Somewhat by accident, I stumbled upon a news story about a Pieter Bruegel exhibition in Vienna. I’d known his work with A Level English Literature — Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts” features several and I’d been to see some of these in Brussels last year. I’d caught a few more at the Coultard, the three grisailles, and I’d seen his Adoration of the Magi in Bath, along with works by his sons and grandsons and so on. I think I saw The Massacre of the Innocents at the Queen’s Gallery. So seeing as many more in one place seemed like a good idea, although the available long weekends that don’t clash with Christmas were like finding hen’s teeth.

So, January in Vienna.

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The Unteleported Artist

So I didn’t need to be at the theatre until 7.15 for a 7.45 start, so I thought a HS1 to Saint P would put me on the Victoria to the Royal Academy of Arts, a coffee and expotition booking, the Victoria down to Pimlico and t’Tate t’Britain, Victoria/Northern to Borough and The Royal Oak for an annual half of Harvey’s Christmas Ale, with time for a walk to a Caffè Nerd near London Bridge to sober up for the theatre.

I saw and enjoyed a preview of the Dalì/Duchamp exhibition and will write that up, but I took a second look and my sense that Dalì is the better artist but Duchamp the more interesting one stays. And I got to admire the Christ of Saint John of the Cross again, having not seen it (obviously) Glasgow.

Meanwhile, the From Life show is a group show based on the idea of art taken from life that begins with a horse’s arse (literarily) and is dominated by art student images of Iggy Pop curated by Jeremy Deller, a selection of Gillian Wearing portraits and two instantly identifiable sculptures by Yinka Shonibare MBE, based on laser scans of two statues (or casts?) in The Academy collection

But what drew my attention were three portraits by Jonathan Yeo, the central one being a Paolozzi style sculpture. I didn’t have a predisposition to like Yeo, in a case perhaps of guilt by association, having seen portraits of luminaries such as Andrew Lloyd Webber, Rupert Murdoch, the Duchess of Cornwall and Tony Blair at the Laing Art Gallery. But these two paintings were based on scans of his face and body and were called The Unteleported Man and The Simulacra.

Clearly a Philip K. Dick fan. And quite striking.

A couple of hours later I made it to the Tate and finally did the Rachel Whiteread exhibition. The first woman to win the Turner Prize, she is probably best known for Ghost, the interior of a demolished house, and her Fourth Plinth commission, a cast of the plinth.

A room full of her stuff is a little overwhelming, or perhaps underwhelming. And it is one room —the Tate having removed the walls that usually guide you through the galleries. It is the same idea repeated: lots of casts of doors or mattresses, a cast of Room 101, a cast of bookshelves, a cast of a staircase… you get the idea. I’m glad I didn’t pay, for I clearly wasn’t in the mood and I had to go in search of colour in paintings to detox. I’ve liked works individually, but a retrospective made me recall the sublime Roger Hiorns copper sulphate cast of a council flat, Seizure.

In fact, a proper Whiteread retrospective would be a cast of Tate Britain.

Your kilometerage may vary.

And then in the shop I noticed a copy of Dick’s Confessions of a Crap Artist.
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Yes, obviously, I know “crap” isn’t acting as the emphasised adjective — Jack Isidore is not an artist who is crap and I’m not saying that Whiteread is an artist who is… But I couldn’t immediately see why the book was there.

In a sense she creates alternate realities, making the space solid… but why that book? What did I miss?

Figuring It Out

Face to Face: The Figurative Sculpture of Sean Henry (The Lightbox, Woking, 12 August-5 November 2017)

I first knowingly encountered the sculptures of Sean Henry on a day trip to Newbiggin by the Sea with the Aged P. Faced with the problem of being a north eastern coastal town — and the last pub before Norway not being necessary nor sufficient — they turned to Art and commissioned a giant double statue, Couple, to be placed in the bay, an implicit answer to whatever question was being asked by a certain northern angel.

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HisWorld and Welcome to It

Terry Pratchett: HisWorld (Salisbury Museum, 16 September 2017–13 January 2018)

I’m always a little agnostic when it comes to exhibitions about writers. What is there to show? There was a little confusion when I was writing a critical book about an author as to whether I was writing a biography, and his agent contacted me with the reasonable objection that I hadn’t talked to anyone he knew. I corrected the confusion, but not before the author asserted that he wouldn’t object to a biography.

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