Tag Archives: ben nicholson

on some things in passing

Saturday 13 July 2013

dear reader, last week i completed one large painting for the forthcoming artworks exhibition! i have been mostly painting in the evenings and at weekends to finish it on time (for the catalogue)…

i’ve also been painting some very small (postcard-sized) paintings on watercolour paper, with no particular plan or ideas in mind, merely a desire to paint shapes and colours freely and intuitively without any external influences.

the room in which i am doing these paintings is white and there are no pictures on the wall. there is a trestle table, paper, paint brushes and a shoebox of tubes of acrylic paints. this seems significant to the outcome, especially in regard to the importance most artists place on the art studio environment, surrounded by the ever-evolving clutter of inspiring objects and images.

i wondered if i could paint without any influences in sight, not even a sketchbook, although the painted postcards have become sketches now, i think. the large painting began in this way too, and i have said to artist friends that i intended to ‘paint my way out’ of a situation…  a different style of painting emerged, one that shows there is still something to be gained in traditional painting.

the postcards are visually unrelated to the large painting, and i plan to continue to to do a handful of postcard paintings each week, to see what else might emerge from the limitations of the process.

yesterday i went to see the Alfred Wallis exhibition at the Time & Tide museum (with artist friend Dee Nickerson), and i took some quick snapshots on the walk from the carpark (and one or two pictures in the exhibition). later in the day, on reviewing these images, i noticed some uncanny similarities to the earlier painted postcards…

was i intentionally looking to capture photographic images which matched my pre-existing preference/use of colours in the postcards? the postcards were not on my mind yesterday. i went to see an art exhibition, and i think, like most artists, make use of the opportunity to take snaps of small things that catch my eye. anyhow, this sense of uncanny similarity (the photographs after the fact) has caused some pause for thought today, how something seen in passing later relates back to an earlier event (enacted through painting). i cannot explain this oddly reversed visual connection any better, other than displaying it in pictures (the subsequent photographs are shown in the order they were taken yesterday):

orange black grey abstract postcard painting

[quick snapshot between buildings, on the walk from the car park to the museum]


orange green abstract art postcard painting

[through an alleyway, on the way to the museum]


green white black grey abstract art postcard painting

[looking up at a fern growing out of a brick wall, in an alleyway]


green grey abstract picture postcard

[closed shop storefront in the high street. unusual name, skippings]


turquoise white grey abstract art postcard painting

[house on the other side of the street, the door and the shape of the arch, medley of red brick buildings beyond]


beige blue abstract art postcard painting

[view of the exhibition, wanted to include the metallic blue barrier in the composition]


orange pale grey abstract art postcard painting

[another view of the exhibition, pale blue-grey wall panels display a quirky and compelling arrangement of picture frames and painting sizes]

p.s. i enjoyed seeing this exhibition (it is on until 8th september 2013). there was much to digest and discuss about the paintings in the exhibition: Wallis’s seafaring life before painting, intrinsic motivations to paint and draw, loneliness and solitude, change, the past, recalling memories and the paintings as process into and out of memory, painting/responding to contemporary incidents, the correspondence or contact with others more knowledgeable about art and their contact with Wallis, how collectors selected or framed his work (the arbiters of taste), the techniques & media in his modest and practical re-use of materials (the tattered board of a book, a box lid, household oil paint) using the card colour as atmospheric background/sky, vigorous brushwork of the sea, attempts at perspective, the detail of boats and other structures, etc…

it is interesting how Wallis’s work relates to artists today, those who knowingly paint in a faux naive style or incorporate mundane materials for aesthetic or conceptual reasons. there is a purity of intention and process in Wallis’s paintings and drawings – they seem to incorporate elements of both, the paint is sometimes drawn, or pencil used as a heavy, decisive outline to the paint. this honesty and naturalness now seems slightly tainted (a sad irony) by the spectacle of the exhibition (and the many private collectors), but this exhibition gives a generous insight into a humble and hard won life.

most of the work is undated which gives rise to questions about the work before and after being discovered, how much was Wallis influenced to paint pictures by Jim Ede (a notable collector, who never actually met Wallis, and his letters to Wallis are now lost), or how Wallis felt about the many educated collectors and admirers (most notably, Ben Nicholson, who discovered him), the people with whom he had little or no cultural or social connection – i imagine a sense of earnest politeness mixed in with some apprehension about being understood.

much credit to kettle’s yard and time & tide museum on a compelling, meaningful, and visually rich display (including letters, photographs and film) which avoids any over-sentimentality. the museum’s maritime context is perfect. and there is much content in this exhibition which could be compared or contrasted with lowry…

(i should edit this draft, but for now…)

views from the castle, to cornwall

Tuesday 23 October 2012

last weekend the norwich castle open art show 2012 opened to the public and i was privileged to be on the guest list to attend a packed preview evening. i didn’t apply for this open art exhibition (and i was reminded by someone on the evening that if you don’t try, you’ll never know), but it was good to see some artists i know who had paintings selected for this showcase exhibition. so i have decided to show some pictures of their work here (taken at the exhibition preview).

this densely textured landscape oil painting by the artist mary spicer perfectly encapsulates the local farmland views; i felt like i could walk straight into the scene of this painting…

[furrowed field, january, by mary spicer, oil on canvas]

i’m just looking at the chunky, carved-up clods of black earth, treading carefully between the tractor tyre rucks, boots lead-heavy with mud, breathing the damp, cold air on a still winter’s morning, the motionless grey sky, the hazy orb of the sun barely seen through a soft blanket of cloud…

another artist who focuses on the rough, carved-up and deeply-sculpted patterns of ploughed fields in the agricultural landscape is david page

[starston ploughing swirl by david page, oil on canvas]

david page has said this is one of his most ‘abstract’ pieces. in some of his paintings there is a glimpse of an horizon at the very top of the picture plane to situate us in the landscape, but here the focus is squarely on the striated pattern of the ploughed earth, as if these marks are made not by ordinary mankind, recalling crop circles…

i then came across a lovely painting by the artist mike ashley, who i know through the art group i belong to, artworks. when i first saw this painting from a distance i thought it was a snow-covered fieldside (perhaps fields had over-preoccupied my thoughts, given there are quite a few rural landscapes in this exhibition)…

[rising tide by mike ashley, acrylic on board]

another artworks artist, genista dunham, has one of her splendid papier mache vessels on display in the exhibition. ‘incendiary’ is an interesting fusion between the visual narrative and the pentimenti of the process, powerful stories revealed by the emergence of words which belie the humble materials of newspaper and paint …

[incendiary by genista dunham, papier mache]

it was also good to see some work by chris gamble, yet another artworks artist.

[just looking by chris gamble, drawing on paper]

i like the naturally expressive fluidity of chris’s loose drawing style, seemingly light-of-hand & immediate, having just the right amount of gestural detail to be visually enticing. this series of small ‘heads’ are quirky and amusing, reminding me of the work of jean dubuffet. chris gamble won a purchase prize (or was it two prizes?) at the recent Eastern Open art exhibition at King’s Lynn Arts Centre…

another artist in the exhibition, david rock, also relishes in quickly observing and drawing scenes of everyday life, often with a wry sense of humour. here is a drawing and watercolour study of the disorderly array of tv aerials on rooftops disrupting a more scenic view, a pun in the title.

[aerial views, san gimignano by david rock, ink, pastel and watercolour]

david rock is a previous president of RIBA and his architectural practice is evident in his drawing style. david rock was instrumental in the formation of the harleston & waveney art trail collective (together with his wife, Lesley), elected as chairman and then treasurer for a number of years.

it was a lovely surprise to see this painting by anthea eames, an artist who i showed with last year in the six abstract painters group show at the halesworth gallery. it was a pity that this painting was hung so high on the wall, so the textural surface qualities could only be seen from a distance.

[iceni dreaming by anthea eames, norfolk woad, coastal sand, ochres, chalk, gold pigment on panel]

i overheard someone say the show was like the royal academy summer exhibition, the standard response to any mixed exhibition where the walls are chock-full of art and all of it is for sale. all the 2D work is hung traditional salon-style, mixing and matching, but most are not placed too high nor too close to each other, and the walls and dividing partitions are painted in a very light grey, complementing most artists’ work.

from the rather hectic viewpoint of the preview evening there was a wide spectrum of styles and sizes of work, from the miniscule to the mammoth, mostly figurative (or semi-figurative) to some bold abstracts, and mostly paintings, but there were some drawings, photography, mixed-media works and small sculptures too.

it’s always a delight to see a dee nickerson painting, given that they sell so quickly in commercial galleries.

[flock of pigeons by dee nickerson, acrylic on paper]

this painting depicts a small farmhouse and outbuildings, rolling fields and some grazing sheep. it’s a scene into which one wants to explore and travel through at leisure, curiously delighting in the small incidents and tiny details: up and over a gate or fence, down a quiet lane, through a door or into a shed. this painting feels very much like a map of place that may or may not exist in reality. dee nickerson is represented by the southwold gallery (among many others) and will soon have some paintings included in a group exhibition at the fry art gallery.

[liquid dawn I by sue laughlin, oil on canvas]

last year i visited the studio of the painter sue laughlin and i was able to appreciate the spiritual dimension of ancient trees and woodlands in her oil paintings, and how the process of painting in glazes of colour contribute to an atmospheric, sometimes other-worldly aesthetic in her work. sue laughlin, dee nickerson, david page, david rock and mary spicer are all artist members of the art group, HWAT.

it is no surprise that elements of the landscape should feature so strongly across the range of work in this exhibition, reflecting as it does, the work of east anglian artists. vision & reality aims to ‘celebrate the vitality and diversity of the region’s creative talents’, and the exhibition has been largely sponsored by the East Anglia Art Fund, in partnership with Arts Council England & the Norfolk Museums Service. the East Anglia Art Fund is a charitable foundation working to support and enable new exhibitions in Norfolk, notably the high-profile art exhibitions at Norwich Castle museum, in addition to supporting regional artists by providing opportunities to sell their art (such as vision & reality, the Norwich Castle Open Art Show 2012).

according to the exhibition leaflet there were seven hundred and thirty nine entries from three hundred and twelve artists from across norfolk, suffolk, essex & cambridgeshire. the selectors were looking for work inspired by east anglia as a broad theme for the show. did i mention that i didn’t enter any work into this particular show?

the exhibition subtitle, vision & reality, is a quote from the artist cedric morris:

there must always be great understanding between the painter and the thing painted, otherwise there can be no conviction and truth… this might be called ‘vision and reality’, as opposed to realism. reality is knowledge and realism only the appearance of knowledge.

the three esteemed judges on the selection panel for vision & reality were: John LessoreHumphrey Ocean and John Wonnacott – but at the time of advertsing for the open call to artists the selectors had yet to be revealed, making it difficult to judge what kind of work ‘they’ might select, and whether i should ‘go for it’, or not. the judges selected one hundred and forty five works for this exhibition (from one hundred and forty artists) – so well done to all the artists who had work accepted – and commiserations to those that didn’t.

running concurrently with the open exhibition vision & reality, is Cedric Morris & Christopher Wood: A forgotten Friendship. due to the hustle-bustle of the preview, talking to artists (and taking these photographs!) i didn’t get a chance to view this new exhibition in full (in the adjacent gallery), although many paintings caught my immediate attention, particularly the wall of portraits. this exhibition includes loans from many national museums and galleries, including this wonderful christopher wood self-portrait from the collection of kettle’s yard, which i remember from the recent BBC four documentary, the art of cornwall.

cedric morris (born in wales) is most known for establishing the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing (with his partner arthur lett-haines), with its most acclaimed ex-student being the painter lucian freud. early paintings by freud (as seen in the recent BBC tv documentary) show the initial influence of his teacher. compare this early painting by lucian freud of his teacher cedric morris with this equally mesmeric painting by cedric morris of the young lucian freud in the tate collection. the painter maggi hambling was also a student at the school, and she will be participating in a special panel discussion to coincide with the exhibition at castle museum.

whilst cedric morris’s artistic career was a long and distinguished one (later inheriting the title of a baronet), the life of the artist christopher wood (aka ‘kit’) is more tragic, having apparently taken his own life at the age of twenty nine by jumping in front of a train, just as he was becoming more well-known as an artist – too many issues to discuss here. in the early 1920s christopher wood spent time studying in paris, meeting picasso and other influential artists, connections which proved instrumental to his development as an artist. so, a longer visit to the ‘forgotten friendship‘ exhibition will be necessary to find out more about the connection between cedric morris and christopher wood, with their many artistic associations which are subtly entwined within the history of modern british (and european) art.

i like hearing stories about the history of artists in suffolk, how it sometimes takes an outsider (or outsiders) to stir things up a little. suffolk-born painter alfred munnings (who later rose through the artistic establishment ranks to become president of the royal academy in the 1940s), was famously intolerant of ‘modern’ art, and was probably quite scornful of cedric morris’s new school of art, situated as it first was, in dedham (constable country) where munnings lived for most of his adult life. after a fire broke out in the original art school it relocated to a large house near hadleigh. it seems their paths had crossed previously, as cedric morris had once worked alongside alfred munnings at a military horse stables in buckinghamshire during the first world war.

incidentally, i discovered earlier on in the year that there is, still in the making, a film (called summer in february, based on a book of the same name) on the early part of alfred munnings life and the troubled relationship with his first wife, florence carter-wood (who tragically took her own life soon after they were married). you can read a little about that time here. curiously, there is no mention of this in the artist’s biography at the munnings museum (castle house, dedham), probably in respect to his second wife violet, who founded the museum after his death.

alfred munnings stayed for a short while in newlyn (in cornwall) and then lived at lamorna (1911-1914, where he met his first wife, florence). cedric morris also visited newlyn a little later in 1919-1920, which pre-dates what was to become something of an exodus of artists to cornwall from the 1920s right up to the 1960s and 1970s. christopher wood visited st ives in cornwall with the painter ben nicholson in 1928 and it was then that they discovered the paintings of the naive artist, alfred wallis.

now, i am beginning to think that every suffolk artist needs to make a special trip to cornwall at least once in their lifetime…

Cedric Morris & Christopher Wood: A Forgotten Friendship
20th October to 31st December 2012

The Norwich Castle Open Art Show 2012: Vision & Reality
20th October to 9th December 2012

Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery
NR1 3DD (Sat Nav, nearest car park Castle Mall)

Both exhibitions are open daily: Monday – Saturday 10am to 4.30pm, Sundays 1pm – 4.30pm

some large sculptures and a few small sketches

Sunday 30 May 2010

I took the opportunity this weekend to visit Snape Maltings by way of going to see a new exhibition by SOS artists Elizabeth James, Clare Rizzo, Carol Pask and Hilli Thompson in the Pond Gallery. It’s a mixed show, with paintings, prints, ceramics and textiles. It’s a good space to exhibit but the steep stairs make access difficult for the less physically able.

Whilst there, I also had a stroll around the outdoor sculptures at Snape… these images were taken with a mobile phone, around the moment the breeze picked up and it began to rain…

Three ‘figures’ from The Family of Man by Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth was a friend of the Suffolk-born composer Benjamin Britten and his partner, Peter Pears. She also stayed in Happisburgh in Norfolk in the 1930’s with the sculptor Henry Moore and the painter Ben Nicholson (who later became her second husband). These three totems were offered a gift to Britten (who established Snape Maltings as the main venue for the Aldeburgh Music Festival) in the 1970’s. I am sure there used to be a Henry Moore sculpture sited at Snape too, perhaps on the vacant plinth across from the main music hall…

There was a very good exhibition devoted to Hepworth, Moore and Nicholson and their connection to Norfolk at Norwich Castle in 2009. Both Hepworth and Moore were inspired by their beach finds at Happisburgh (pronounced haze-burrh), in the figurative forms of weathered flints, but more notably the sea-smoothed pebbles (which they collected and often carved). Hepworth, writing to Nicholson in 1931, tells of finding ‘a most beautiful stone […] I am so pleased with it I have packed it’;  in 1937 Moore writes in The Listener: ‘Pebbles show nature’s working of stone. Some of the pebbles I pick up have holes right through them.’ So there you have it, a shortcut key to British sculptural abstraction – truth to materials and derived from natural forms…

Migrant (2003) by Alison Wilding, located in a wide ditch before the expanse of the reed beds

Alison Wilding‘s installation ‘Migrant’ perhaps needs no further explanation (they are grounded and yet outcast), but I like how the two forms allude to hooded figures as much the steely vehicles in which they might secretly travel – and the surrounding vegetation will, over the course of the seasons, alternately reveal and then hide a sense of quiet movement in the landscape…

Perceval by Sarah Lucas (photographed looking east to accommodate the wider vista)

‘Perceval’ is a life size replica of a Shire horse in painted bronze (one of a edition of five), pulling a cart containing two supersized concrete marrows (making a connection to Lucas’s other work), a work that also replicates a familiar British, and now very kitsch, ornament. Perceval also makes an allusion to the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and so many other literary associations abound.

Sarah Lucas is one of the original YBAs (and old friend of Tracey Emin), and is known for subversive (and often lewd) mixed media works that mock cultural, social and gender stereotypes. This work seems very polished in comparison (with some irony) for Lucas, who is known for combining low-tech, crude objects and materials in her smaller sculptures (tights, kapok, wire, plaster). This sculpture is undeniably Duchampian in its conceptual influences, elevating the commonplace ‘trashy’ object into a more sophisticated artform, alluding to the British preoccupation with issues of class, taste, sentimentality, nostalgia and our relationship to the (pastoral) landscape. I could also mention Constable, but Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst come to mind instead…

I did some quick panoramic landscape sketches of the ‘greening’ Suffolk countryside this weekend …

Here are four of them (14cm x 40cm) in a very small sketchbook – and for some visual contrast, are shown with corresponding photographic snapshots of the same (or near as possible) ‘street view’ from Google Maps (I did not have a camera)…

[field, looking south west – graphite pencil on paper]

[same field, looking south – watercolour on paper]

[old airfield runway with rapeseed field and green wheat – watercolour and pencil on paper)

[road towards village with church and poplars – watercolour and graphite pencil on paper]

These images are courtesy of Google Maps, cropped to correspond to the above landscape drawings…

This is not exactly an awe inspiring landscape to draw, but a sense of distance clears the mind – the clear horizons and expansive skies compensate in contemplative terms…