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.

 

 

And He Painted Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Sharks

Lowry by the Sea (Jerwood Gallery, Hastings, 11 June 2015-1 November 2015)

Whilst my birthday is all too often a series of examples of bad timing, I was lucky enough to have one which coincided with a members’ private view of the L.S. Lowry exhibition at Tate Britain. For a few glorious moments, I had the exhibition to myself. Lowry is one of those artists we’re not meant to like because people like him and because there was a one-hit wonder in the 1970s about him.

What that exhibition made clear was that Lowry was a greater artist than given usually credit for – although I suspect his faux naivitée could be objected to. Whilst Alfred Wallis was self-taught, Lowry attended the Manchester School of Art and was trained by French Impressionist Pierre Adolphe Valette. Lowry made sense in terms of Impressionism, even if you don’t accept his own constructions of working class realities as art in their own right.

I stumbled across the fact that there was a Lowry show at the Jedward Jerwood Gallery, a newish and controversial space at Hastings. It’s a fifteen minute train ride back from Bexhill (where Riley is) or a two-hour walk. The Jerwood is home to the Jerwood Collection, the philanthropic gathering of art by a pearl company which also gives prizes for painting, drawing and sculpture. The collection is mainly early twentieth century British, but I have to say it can come across as a bit muddy and grey in its pallette. I think I’ve been disappointed by the two big exhibition rooms on the right as you enter – I can’t recall a show blowing me away there. At the moment it’s a selection from the Fraser Collection, along with Scottish artists from the Jerwood, and I confess to being underwhelmed. There was some interesting sculptural pieces in the space where there was the Marlow Moss show.

But the hit or miss part of the Jerwood is the two upstairs rooms that tend to have temporary shows. At the moment, it’s Lowry, representing the seaside. Should we be surprised that his choice of holiday destination was Berwick on Tweed, South Shields and Sunderland? The Jerwood does like its sea exhibitions, but this is a good one.
There’s only really one Lowry that is immediately recognisable as a Lowry, July, the Seaside (1943), a series of tiny incidents on the beach – games being played, a punch and judy kiosk, sitting, lying, walking, prams, swings. It is the urban crowd transplanted from factory gates and football matches to the sea – possibly in north Wales. What is striking is that the people are dressed much the same – there is no concession to sea and sun. Still, there’s a war on.


Berwick Jetty
The figures are more impressionist in his Spittal Sands (1960) – perhaps it’s a mistier day, but I reognise the spot which is just south of Berwick. And is that the same harbour arm in Untitled (Beach Scene with Central Monument and Chimney), sketched in felt tipped pen? There’s a chimney or two that makes me think of the (fish?) smoking chimney in Spittal.

There’s also South Shields – Waiting for the Tide (1960) – showing Lowry’s love of solitude and quiteness and isolation. Am I misrecognising A Ship (1965) as Tynemouth?

Is that a version of the aerials next to Tynemouth Priory? But there’s a harbour arm he will have lost (and yet I recall two paintings of the same scene, I think Sunderland, where towers were moved. He’s an artist who will recompose landscapes.)
Then, there’s the Self-Portrait as a Pillar in the Sea (1966), awfully phallic. It’s not a surprise to me – do I recall drawn versions of this at Sunderland? There is another painting like this, also 1966, in Sunderland.

Lowry writes, somewhere, “Look at my seascapes, they don’t really exist you know, they’re just an expression of my own loneliness.” In some paintings the sea and sky merge – the elemental boundaries merge. And then, somewhere again, he writes, apparently about the world of art, “I spent my whole life wondering what it all means, I can’t understand it, don’t understand it at all, can’t see any point in it myself. Still, there it is, you keep on working, and you keep on wondering what it all means, and it goes on and on and on and, there you are.” It reminds me of childhood reading, it reminds me of Eeyore.

And I had to laugh.

There’s a Lowry cartoon called The Shark (1970) where the shark is the art world and the person in the shark’s mouth is Lowry. Better than Damien Hirst’s shark. There are other people in the sea. Waving. Or drowning.

I had a sudden flash, at this point, of someone else that had a reputation for being gloomy, but was also blackly comic. I wondered if they ever could have met – the other one was an insurance clerk, but Lowry was a rent collector. I thought, for a moment, he worked for the Pru. Ah well.

But this is a show to see.