Tag Archives: norwich castle museum

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

a musing at the museum

Sunday 15 April 2012

taxidermy in the museum, birds

isolated poses looking in different directions for the purpose of understanding

the ornithology room at the museum was quiet on the afternoon i visited. with the current trend for the quasi-museological in the art world, the artfully ‘animated’ array of bird species started to take on the uncanny presence of a contemporary art installation. naturally, i could not resist relating the experience of many preserved, dead animals in a room in a museum to the current retrospective of damien hirst’s work at tate modern, london

taxidermy in the museum, stuffed tiger

the physical (im)possibility of life in the mind of a taxidermist

a prime example of taxidermy is exhibited in this ‘lively’ looking tiger – simultaneously both frightening and quite frightful, a curious inversion of the hunter and the hunted

the castle museum‘s natural history collections, as seen in the old mahogany wood cabinets (above) to the meticulously staged landscape dioramas (some with sound effects), altogether display an exhaustive if slightly eccentric fascination with all things natural and wild. many of the specimens on display are acquisitions from the collections of local edwardian or victorian naturalists – expertly catalogued, neatly labelled & now tamely presented. it reminded me of a time when i visited tring natural history museum many years ago, and ‘seeing’ (unbelievably, absurdly, curiously) two fleas dressed as mexican dancers

however dear reader, i digress… this museum visit was really an opportunity to see Titian’s painting, Diana and Actaeon, in the flesh (the painting is currently on a national tour, cost a staggering £50 million and it was ‘bought’ for the nation by a consortium of funders). i sat quietly in its great presence for many minutes, but it failed to animate my interest beyond the myth of the young hunter (Actaeon) who stumbles upon the chaste goddess of the hunt (Diana). deep thoughts about Titian the great painter and the great skill of this painting were slightly distracted by two toddlers who found the pattern of the air-conditioning grid on the floor more fascinating. it was perhaps not the admiring, attentive audience that the great Titian would have wanted.

Diana and Actaeon is one of six large mythological paintings by Titian (inspired by Ovid’s series of stories, the ‘Metamorphoses’), as part of an ambitious commission for King Philip II of Spain – and it would seem that Titian relished the challenge.

titian, diana and actaeon, nationl gallery london
Diana and Actaeon, 1556–9, oil on canvas, 184.5 x 202.2 cm, © National Gallery, London

even with the protective barrier of ‘glass’ Diana and Actaeon the painting pulsated with epic drama and spectacle – in sheer scale, in the dynamics of composition, in the lushness of colours and with every florid brushstroke. i sat on the bench, i looked and i observed, and then i began to wonder; Titian may have been a great painter of full-bodied flesh but he was no painter of women.

it bothered me that diana had a very small head (for a goddess) and that her legs were out of proportion with her torso (and with each other too, it seems – and, as if my eyes wanted to deceive me even further into finding more faults, i started seeing a third leg?! i take it art historians forego these small anatomical inaccuracies (as we might do when watching a sci-fi movie, the special effects versus continuity, etc)

however, when viewed in the context of a museum exhibit (this is a painting that comes with its own personal security guard) i felt compelled to admire Titian’s ‘Diana and Actaeon‘ for its art historical significance. by all accounts Titian was at the top of the art hierarchy when he created this magnificent series of paintings, a showman in command of his medium (and his audience) and a wealth of rich patrons, and the art ‘critics’ of venice praised him (is that an oxymoron?) – does this ring any bells with anyone?

however, when removing the lavish ‘history’ of Diana and Actaeon (expertly provided by the museum to enrich the visual experience) i later began to ponder how an outsider might ‘interpret’ the dramatic scene.

idle thoughts led me to make a comparison of Diana and Actaeon with this quite well-known advertisement from the 1970s (badedas), as a number of visual features are superficially similar – outside/inside retreat, the swathe of the curtain, the private pleasure of bathing, a moment of alarm or surprise, the intrusion – and what might happen next. in fact, a number of the badedas adverts played on a kind of faux-historical tableaux.

badedas bath advert, 1970s

however, unlike the hunter goddess diana, who is clearly enraged and will later seek her revenge (in the next episode of the story), the badedas bathing lady does not appear to be in any hurry to reach for her shotgun to do away with the red-shirted voyeur. it’s all in the semiotics (reminded of my MA thesis, which was on beauty, women & advertising).

when i first saw Diana and Actaeon i was put in the position (or mind) of the King who commissioned it, and from that perspective the painting becomes an object of status, wealth, and with that the delight and desire of looking & owning. the badedas advertisement’s original message was [good] ‘things happen after a badedas bath’ and it has resonances with many other ‘luxury’ lifestyle advertisements of this bygone era, such as ‘imperial leather‘ and ‘milk tray‘ (the milk tray man). how times (and contexts) change as this advertisement now seems very sinister.

when we look at an object or image (as art), into that context of looking comes prior knowledge or cultural experience and this influences interpretation and understanding. what is discussed or written about the art beforehand (and afterwards) is often more persuasive and conveys more meaning than by the simple act of just looking. the viewpoint changes, the viewer changes, the context changes, the meaning changes.

In the end, the art of the past is being mystified because a privileged minority is striving to invent a history which can retrospectively justify the role of the ruling classes, and such a justification can no longer make sense in modern terms.

John Berger, Ways of Seeing