|Edward Burra, Country Scene 2, 1970|
|Edward Burra, Silver Dollar Bar, 1948|
Burra doesn't even sound British, and his work certainly doesn't look British - where are we supposed to put him? What were his influences and who, in turn, did he influence? Where does he belong in the evolution of art?
Visiting the recent Watercolour show at Tate Britain I was knocked sideways by a gigantic painting of a church interior. Surely it couldn't be watercolour?! It was too big, too bold. It stuck out among the gentle washes and topographical details like the sorest of thumbs. I didn't know then that the artist who made that picture was crippled, often barely able to use his hands. I didn't know that he painted in the strangest way, starting in one corner and working his way like a spider across the paper. I didn't know that he was born and raised in suburban luxury, just outside Rye, and lived his whole life either at his parents' house (which he hated) or in the town itself (which he didn't like either).
I did happen to know that he was a friend of Paul Nash and studied at the RCA during the 'outbreak of talent' that included Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Rex Whistler (Fine Art) and Ravilious and Bawden (Design). Burra appears in 'Paul Nash in Pictures: Landscape and Dream', accompanying the Nashes and their friend Ruth Clark on a disastrous 1930 trip to the Cote D'Azur...
|Edward Burra, Valley and River, Northumberland, 1972|
A new monograph is being launched at the show, but I would also recommend Jane Stevenson's book and Burra's letters - his writing is as peculiar as his painting. You can also see the artist's work in 'The Strawberry Thief', Jeremy Deller's show at the Fine Art Society - which also features Deller's model of a Ravilious plant house.
For a slightly different take on the subject, look here.