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.

 

 

Des Chats comme Félix

Félix Vallotton: Painter of Disquiet (Royal Academy of Arts, 30 June—29 September 2019)

I had a grumpy wander around the Pierre Bonnard exhibition at Tate Modern, but it wasn’t doing much for me, or the crowd were getting in the way. Bonnard was part of a group of French artists, Les Nabis or The Prophets, who had mostly been to the Académie Julian in the late 1880s, and who were fans of Paul Cézanne and Paul Gaugin. Other members included Maurice Denis, Paul Ranson, Ker-Xavier Roussel and Édouard Vuillard.

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World Munching

Edvard Munch. There are Worlds Within Us

Bergen has one of the world’s largest Edvard Munch collections in the world, largely collected by Rasmus Meyer from the artist himself, and donated to the city. A whole room in KODE 3 is normally devoted to his version of The Frieze of Life, Munch’s overarching but flexible depiction of the cycle of life and death. Two more rooms bring together earlier and later work, with a spill out room that sometimes contains prints. But for now, those rooms are filled with photographs — more to come — as the collection moves to an exhibition in KODE 2 alongside selections from the National Museum of Art and Design, the Munch Museum and the Gundersen Collection.

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Munch’s Oslo

I’m scrambling down a granite and grass hillside, increasingly realising that whilst this is path, it isn’t the path. I’m wary of checking the phone, because I’m at 70% of battery life and the cable is dying. Frankly the phone is dying. Somewhere to my right is a music festival, and I see cars and people passing by on the road I’m aiming for.

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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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Save All Your Kisses for Me

One of the most loved paintings in the world is Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss (1907-8), aka The Lovers. Sometimes I’m in agreement with this — Edvard Munich’s Scream and Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. It was bought by the Austrian Gallery before it was completed, originally shown at the Lower Belvedere and in the Upper Belvedere since then.
7a077d20-eea5-4c50-8f6d-6288b2b8e1c2This canvas is nice, but it doesn’t quite do it for me. I saw a load of Klimt drawings alongside works by Egon Schiele at the Royal Academy of Arts, but Schiele won. He was, however, key to a generation of Viennese artists before the end of the First World War.

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