Turner Contemporary – Margate

You realise just what a big county Kent is when you try to travel to Margate by train. A High speed train that comes out of St Pancras like a rocket on wheels seems to take for ever to get to the destination. I might say though it was slightly faster than the fish cake I ordered from the cafe at the Turner, which it turned out, was lost somewhere in the kitchen! 

Margate has a character all of its own. It feels like the sixties preserved for prosperity, without the scooters which is a great pity. It must have been quite something with thousands of noisy Italian scooters and the smell of two stroke fuel. Yes, the nearest ‘pub’ to the station is now the biggest tattoo studio you will ever see. Yes much of the front has not seen a lick of paint for decades but take time to walk round the old town and the covered market and you will be pleasantly surprised. The town simply oozes character.

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But to my reason for visiting: The Turner Contemporary, which I once described as resembling a glorious sea water pumping station. As I have remarked before David Chipperfield’s grasp of gallery design is quite superb, understanding how art should be displayed and especially how it should be illuminated.  You do have to work very hard, however, to match his architectural exteriors to the interiors (with the notable exception of the River and Rowing Museum in Henley on Thames).

I came here to see the Patrick Heron exhibition, which I missed in the more appropriate St Ives setting in the summer. Heron (1920-1999) was one of the leading artists in the St Ives School in the mid twentieth century and a significant British abstractist. The size of his painters inevitably link him with the great American abstract expressionists such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. There are of course real differences in the styles. Whereas the strength of the Americans was in the total (spiritual) experience, Heron asks the viewer to concentrate on the detail of the placement of colour and especially the edge. According to the curators, Andrew Wilson and Sara Maston, of the Tate, it is at the edge where “our visual understanding switches out of the painting and back to the three dimensions of the real world.” Heron makes his major statements in his large oils at the edge.

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View of wonderfully lit gallery in the Turner Contemporary, Margate focussing on Cadmium with Violet, Scarlet, Emerald, Lemon and Venetian, 1969, Patrick Heron, Tate Britain.

There appear to be three very different styles revealed in this exhibition – the saturated oils, as above where he really concentrated on the edges, the pale (white) figurative works, and the late gouaches. The figurative works seem to have a more overall structure than the ‘edge’ paintings and the influence of Matisse and modern Paris becomes more obvious.

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10th – 11th  July 1992, 1992, Patrick Heron, Tate Britain.

The abstract gouaches and water colours signify the latter stages of his career and reflect a year spent  in New South Wales. They represent “specific visual realities without ever depicting them”; Andrew Wilson again. The exhibition opens with some water colours completed by Heron in his last few months in 1999 which are quite awesome. Take time out with Sydney, below, ignore any distractions and enjoy how the image moves around in your head.

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Sydney: 7th February 1990, 1990, Patrick Heron, New South Wales Art Gallery.

However, for all the brilliant paintings and wonderful display of colour, I came away not entirely satisfied with the experience. This needs some explanation as a lover of strong saturated modern abstract work. The curation of this exhibition seems to have concentrated on the painterly constructions, excluding reference to Heron’s external influences. The St Ives School is such an important part of British Art History and how it rubs alongside our social history – the impact of the railways, the escapism created by war, and the school’s rapid demise after 1975. Fascinating as the construction of Heron’s work is I felt as if I was grasping for the background; looking for conversations with others from St Ives. A timeline was displayed but the viewer is left yearning for more commentary. This is ironic as Heron was a critical writer, primarily with Art New York and The New Statesman, and was brought into St Ives by his contacts, not his painting.

A comment for the Certificate and the Diploma community, especially those that struggled through ‘Eric Fernie’. This may remind  you of Morelli’s debate with his Italian friend around the importance of the visual construction of a painting rather than the documentation and iconography needed by the “art historian”!

All in all though a great day out, concluding with a walk out on the foreshore for a close up and personal encounter with Antony Gormley’s Another Time. There is something spiritual and yet surreal about these cast sculptures. Photographs always make them look larger than life but in reality against the vastness  of nature they portray man as something quite small.

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Another Time, 2017, Antony Gormley, Margate.

Footnotes

The St Ives School was a colony of mainly British and French ex-pat artists, which can be traced from the opening of the Great Western Railway in 1877 to a gradual decline after the deaths of three prominent members (Barbara Hepworth, Roger Hilton and Bryan Wynter) in 1975.

Andrew Wilson, Patrick Heron: Early and Late Garden Paintings. London: Tate Publishing. p. 17.

Eric Fernie, Art History and it’s Methods, London, 2011, Phaidon Press, p103.

 

The Fosse Gallery at Stow

Art Galleries. The presentation of art to the public, either for display or commercial enterprise, or both, is a fundamental aspect of the World of Art and its history. During my recent study at Oxford I wrote no less than three essays around the subject. While this makes me no expert it does mean that I cannot visit a gallery without considering the museology and the academic viewpoint.

Stow on the Wold is one of those rural settings which is blessed with a number of galleries. Some have been here for many years while others come and go with the wind (which as you know blows cold as in the old nursery rhyme).

The Fosse Gallery in the Market place has a longevity which is ample reward for the quality of its art and presentation. Founded in 1980 by established art dealers Gerard O’Farrell and Brian Sinfield its early reputation was based on Victorian work and water-colours. Don Steyn introduced a modern theme and the Gallery can now be considered among the finest outlets for modern contemporary art and the work of Royal Academicians outside the capital. The current owner, Sharon Wheaton, acquired The Fosse in 2006 and has continued and developed Steyn’s lead adding her own personal expertise to the enterprise.

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I spoke to Sharon recently to get an insight into running a gallery of this quality in such a competitive market. “There are no set rules for gallery management,” she said; “you have to see a lot of art and trust your eye.” She does appreciate the contributions of her mother, who introduced her to art as a young teen, emphasising the skill of looking, and her early mentor, Don Steyn; “I was lucky to have a great teacher in Don”.

I asked her how The Fosse Gallery can retain such a portfolio of quality artists including so many Royal Academicians. She explained that the rôle of the gallery has changed over the last thirty years from a buying and selling business to becoming an important outlet for artists. Steyn had established the trust of the Royal Academy and their artists, and they were delighted with the Cotswold promotion for their work. Sharon believes that the gallery’s continued loyalty to good artists “is fundamental to our success”

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Mick Rooney (RA), Open Air Aviary (detail), 2012, Private Collection.

The emphasis of the Fosse Gallery is on solo shows, although she does run two seasonal shows at Christmas and the Summer. With a quality portfolio of artists, recent exhibitions have featured the likes of Mick Rooney, George Underwood, the fabulous Charlie Calder-Potts and Lydia Corbett (see Côte d’Azur 4). The current show, which opens on Sunday stages Jane Ford with her passion for British wildlife, unusual settings, northern sense of humour, all delivered with a gothic twist and powerful tone.

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Jane Ford, Mr Blue Sky, 2018, Fosse Art Gallery, Stow on the Wold.

What makes a good purchase I enquired,  to which Sharon thought for a while before answering; “the buyer must like the artist and not just see an investment, they should have an idea where it will hang, but once having decided, go forward and buy the very best. I was encouraged when I browsed her website to notice not only one of our acquisitions, a William Gear (from his centenary show), which you know we like, but of yours truly weighing up whether it would work in our Dining Room Gallery!

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What I especially enjoy about seeing art presented at The Fosse is its simplicity. In so many galleries in the Cotswolds you are invited down tunnels and up stairs to view room after room of paintings to a point beyond saturation. At The Fosse Gallery the ‘Double Cube’ presentation gives a simplistic approach and allows each piece the opportunity to contribute to the whole. Galleries will come and go in Stow but I do hope the The Fosse thrives and Sharon Wheaton’s programme of excellent ‘solo’ and seasonal eclectic exhibitions continue to bring quality art to this rural outpost

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Lydia Corbett (Sylvette David), Sylvette’s Memories, 2002, Private Collection.

And for those who only know two lines!

At Brill on the hill,

The wind blows shrill,

The cook no meat can dress.

At Stow on the Wold,

The wind blows cold,

I know no more than this

Bridget Riley

I have a new header image by the British Op Art artist, Bridget Riley (born 1931). This week I have been reading some old catalogue notes from the excellent exhibition at Compton Verney in Warwickshire in 2017, ‘Seurat  To Riley: The Art Of Perception’. It reminded me how the handling of perspective changed in the twentieth century. After five hundred years of single point Brunelleschian perspective based on the vanishing point, artists started reconsidering how we see images in two dimensions. 

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Massacio, The Trinity, 1428, Santa Maria Novella, Florence showing Brunelleschian architectural perspective.

The main thrust of single point is recession into the plane of the painting, as with Masaccio, in a very architectural way (Brunelleschi being primarily an architect). Very few artists managed the reverse of bringing art out of the picture plane to the space between the painting and the spectator. This has been the realm of modern art; cubism and much abstract work.

Riley, probably the best known British abstract artist has mastered this feat majoring in the Op Art phenomenon. Stand in front of a Bridget Riley work and let the brain try to bring the work under control while the eye continually deceives it. Fall, 1963 is a wonderful example which this media does not do full justice being nearly five feet by five feet. The simple black and white image dances around in colour and fills the space between the painting and the eye. There is, as Riley describes it, “maximum visual energy”

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Bridget Riley, Fall, 1963, The Tate Museum, London.

Future Knowledge at Modern Art Oxford

Back home and back to Modern Art Oxford. The element of modern art I enjoy is the collage of different media and the fact that art should have a message; a conscience. The current exhibition, Future Knowledge is no exception, asking us to make the connection between climate change and the human contribution, seeing the complexity of the relationship and consequences.

The centre piece is Loop (2018), which this post concentrates on, a two part piece of choreography and two dimensional sculpture. On 21st September Eve Mutso, freelance dancer, choreographer and former Principal Dancer of the Scottish Ballet, performed an aerial dance suspended from the ceiling of the gallery by steel ropes. The contact she made with the ground was by dipping her pointe in a small amount (about three and a half teaspoons) of graphite powder. As the dance progressed so she traced her drawing, which has been left for the duration of the exhibition.

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The residual image represents the mark we all leave behind. It is only recently that humanity has been really serious about understanding the future changes resulting from the mark we are leaving now. The point is that we do not really know  the impact and try to shy away from it. Future Knowledge is how four artists have considered the science of the future and the power art can have in alerting us to knowing it. Mutso’s work introduces the First gallery, which invites the spectator to understand the systems of climate change. The second shows works looking at current innovation and the third is an interactive gallery presenting future materials in art, design and architecture.

Eve Mutso at Modern Art Oxford by Ian Wallman

Future Knowledge is at Modern Art Oxford until 28th October.

Bourges Cathedral, France

My final post from our France trip is Bourges Cathedral, dedicated to St Etienne (St Stephen), situated to the south of Paris, some 120 miles away from Chartres. It offers some interesting aspects, architecturally, most notably not having any transepts, unusual in a gothic edifice. Firstly, there are two aisles either side of the nave, which travel all around the east end as two ambulatories. There are therefore five portals at the west facade instead of three. The heights of the nave and aisles are 121 ft, 70 ft, and 30 ft giving the building a triangular cross section. This configuration, together with the slender flying buttresses allowing much more light in, compared to say, Notre Dame in Paris, which seems so dark in comparison.

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Floor plan, Bourges Cathedral showing the ‘five aisles’ and lack of transepts.

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West Facade of Bourges Cathedral with five (refurbished) portals, the central one representing the last judgement and the right hand side, the life of St Etienne.

The second interesting aspect of Bourges is its being relatively unscathed from the French religious wars and the great twentieth century conflicts, which damaged so many Cathedrals further north. This results in what you see being mainly what has stood since the thirteenth century. The current building was commenced around 1190 and mainly completed by 1260, although not consecrated until 1324.

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Bourges Cathedral with obligatory scaffold. Note the receding rooves of the aisles allowing so much light into the nave.

The third area of art to note is the stained glass at the east end. The majority of the windows have the original glass dating from 1215, around the same time as Chartres and Canterbury. There are typological windows (where the Old Testament foretells the New Testament) similar to Canterbury and various hagiographical programmes (telling the life of saints). Being a great enthusiast for medieval church glass this was a fabulous surprise and treat, especially as, unlike Chartres and Canterbury, you can very nearly enjoy it to yourself (Millionaire’s tourism)

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The Prodigal Son Window in Bay five, Bourges Cathedral.

Bourges is not really on the tourist trail and the town, quite quiet, but if you do go, you will be very well rewarded.

Aix en Provence (2) Musée Granet

The University town of Aix en Provence is an absolute delight. What with the old Provençal buildings, avenues and squares, the plane trees shading the cafes with dappled light, and the numerous fountains. Having enjoyed the huge Saturday market and a lunch on the Cours Mirabeau we set about some of the museums.

Top of the list was the Musée Granet. This refurbished museum shows a rich collection of works including Ingres and Rembrandt. A fine collection but in truth, you could say typically  provincial. Dominated by regional artists, whose better work is elsewhere. There is a good opportunity, however, to see the works of François-Marius Granet (1775-1849) whose name was adopted for the museum by Aix on the centenary of his death in 1949. An accomplished painter himself with examples such as his own Montaigne Sainte-Victoire.

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Le Montaigne Sainte-Victoire seen from a farmyard at Malvalat, François Marius Granet. Musée Granet, Aix en Provence.

It is also an opportunity to see his exquisite portrait by Jean-August’s-Dominique Ingres. Ingres painted his portrait in 1807 in a series using scenes of Rome as background, this one showing Granet foregrounding the Quiniral, one of the seven ancient hills and now a metonym for the Italian President.

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Portrait of François Marius Granet, 1807, Jean-Augusta-Dominique Ingres. Musée Granet, Aix en Provence.

I thought the collection of Cézanne, however, was very ordinary, except perhaps his hauntingly good portrait of Madame Cézanne. The great artist painted over forty portraits of his wife, Hortense, so they do crop up quite a few times but I found this one exceptionally good. There is, of course a “Bathers” on show, showing the early experimentation with multi point perspective.

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Portrait of Madame Cézanne, 1885-86, Paul Cézanne. Musée Granet, Aix en Provence 

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The Bathers, c1895, Paul Cézanne. Musée Granet, Aix en Provence.

However the temporary exhibition featuring Picasso and Picabia takes your breath away.

Picasso Picabia: La Pienture au Défi, or the “Painter Challenges”,  considers the comparisons between the two artists as part of Picasso Mediterranée 2017-2019. The 150 works from around the world show the comparisons  exhibiting the skills in figurative work, cubism, mechanical modernism, Surrealism and abstract ideas. The theme is that Francois  Picabia (1879 – 1953) the local Parisian greatly influenced Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973) as a young man in the French capital. This influence was then reciprocated with Picabia in awe of Picasso later in the century. The colour and dynamism of the work goes all through the exhibition, and I have included just two of the exhilarating exhibits, from around 1925.

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The Woman with the Monacle, Francois Picabia, 1924, Private Collection.

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The Lover, Pablo Picasso, 1925, Musée National Picasso, Paris.

Having missed Picasso in Vallauris and Antibes we had more than our fill in Aix where the extension of the Museum (Granet XX) features the collection of the painter and collector, Jean Planque. This amazing collection is housed in old chapel a few yards away. There are Picasso’s that Planque bought and those he commissioned together with an astounding collection of twentieth century art featuring work of all the greats in French Modern Art. I’ll save for another day.

Back home now after a really great tour of Southern France. We probably saw only a fraction of what is available in public galleries, and of course the numerous gothic and Romanesque Abbeys. Still – a good excuse to go back some time.

Aix en Provence (1)

Aix en Provence is stunning. More in another post. Today we went to the Terrain des Peintres away from the city centre to see the spot where Paul Cezanne painted Le Mont Sainte Victoire so many times in his old age. The view is amazing and the feeling of being in the great man’s footsteps – the so called father of modern art.

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Le Mont Sainte Victoire with large Pine, 1887, Paul Cezanne, Courtauld Institute.

The Courtauld Sainte Victoire has been my iPad wallpaper for years so I tried a sketch but was amazed how the mountain changed colour and tone in just the short time we were there. No wander Cezanne was so taken by the view.

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Le Mont Sainte Victoire, September 2018, unknown artist!

St Tropez – Musée de l’Annonciade

St Tropez never fails to marvel. There are several ways in and road is definitely not one of them though. The views from the water taxi from St Maxime is stunning, with the sun picking out the lovely sandy pinks of the old fishing port. Naples Yellow should have been called St Tropez Yellow as it sums up the colour so well. We visited the Musée De l’Annonciade, primarily to see the work of Paul Signac, who discovered the old port in 1892 and stayed.

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Interior of the delightful Musée De l’annonciade, St Tropez, founded in 1922 in an old chapel, with pointillism from Paul Signac and bronze by Aristide Maillol.

One of my essays at Oxford was about The Bathers at Asnieres by Georges Seurat (in The National Gallery) so I was well versed in pointillism and the theory of adjacent colours, and was looking forward to seeing the work of Signac, so inspired by St Tropez. There are more Signac’s  than you can throw a stick at in this delightful ex-chapel including his famous L’Orage, but at the same time a number of other delights.

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St Tropez, l’orage, 1895, Paul Signac, Musée De l’annonciade, St Tropez.

I was taken by the sensual life size bronzes by Aristide Maillol, and other works by other postimpressionists, Bonnard, Vouillard and Matisse, of course, who we missed in Nice. Interestingly, in addition to the French post impressionist works was a large collection of what seemed like seventeenth century Dutch landscapes. All donated or borrowed from the Musée De Beaux Artes, Dunkerque. Why – I have no idea and am still trying to find out.

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La Nymph, 1932, Aristide Maillol. Musée De l’annonciade, St Tropez.

I suspect the best days of St Tropez are long gone but it is still a good day out and if you do go, search out La Sardine for good value harbourside food and the Annonciade for visual delights. Also look out for the old old harbour to get a flavour of what Paul Signac saw and fell in love with in the 1890s.

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La Port De St Tropez, 1899, Paul Signac, Musée De l’annonciade, St Tropez.