Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Angie Lewin at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Angie Lewin, Persephone Shore, collage on driftwood
Angie Lewin has been busy. Her new exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park features paintings, screen prints, wood engravings and - my favourite - a series of collages on pieces of driftwood.

Angie Lewin, Festival Mug and Honesty, watercolour
Angie's watercolour drawings are wonderfully cool and elegant, and she acknowledges her debt to mid-century art and design with those precisely dated mugs. But I think her work really takes off when she balances the delicate tracery of natural forms with the strong colours and bold gestures she employs in her printmaking.

Angie Lewin, Lakeside Teasels, linocut
Some of the newer prints stay closer to natural forms, and they do have a lovely feeling of lightness and gaiety. As ever, it's great to see her explore the architecture and aesthetic possibilities of ordinary plants.
Angie Lewin, Ramsons and Campions, screenprint
But I keep coming back to the driftwood collages. I like their simplicity and boldness, and the fact that the artist has had to think carefully about how to work with an awkwardly shaped, three-dimensional ground. I think she had fun making them.

Angie Lewin, Windswept Shore
Angie Lewin: A Natural Line is at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park from 16 November to 23 February. I wish it was closer to Bristol!

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Paul & John Nash Reunited in 2014 Exhibition

John Nash, The Cornfield, 1918/19 (Tate/artist's estate)
Exciting things are happening at the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol, where Alison Bevan recently took over as Director. I met her for the first time the other day and she seems exactly the right person to put the RWA on the map.

After the success of its Ravilious show a couple of years ago the venerable institution is pressing ahead with plans for an exhibition of work by Paul Nash and his brother John. Probably titled 'Brothers in Art', it will form part of a wider exhibition exploring the way artists cope with the memory of war. Anyone who is already suffering from 1914 overload will be pleased to know that this is NOT an exhibition of war paintings, but focuses instead on the brothers' landscape paintings, most of them created after the war.

For an art-loving public deprived for too long of John Nash's work - his last significant exhibition was when? - there are well-known treats in store, notably 'The Cornfield'. But curator Gemma Brace has also dug up some rarities by both artists, making this a show no fan of either artist will want to miss.

The show opens on July 19 - info on the RWA website.
And for the back story on the brothers' lives before and during the Great War, have a read of this.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Let's Preserve the Last Ravilious Mural!

A glimpse of the past: Mary Adshead mural at Victoria Pier
Vast numbers of murals were painted by British artists between the wars, but few survive today. Indeed, you get the impression that someone like Rex Whistler was unusual in his predilection for this kind of work, whereas it's really the survival of his murals that is extraordinary. The fate of Eric Ravilious's wall paintings is more typical: one set, his most famous, was destroyed by enemy action during World War II; another fell apart as a badly-prepared wall deteriorated; and another disappeared beneath a layer of plaster.

Rex Whistler: mural at Plas Newydd
Rav's friend Peggy Angus (1904-93) also painted numerous murals in the 1930s, with one surviving at the North London Collegiate School. Post-war she created tile murals based on the repetition, with variations, of tiles designed with elegant simplicity, but even these have succumbed to changing tastes and the clumsiness of demolition crews. I spoke to one artistically-minded college employee who had begged such a crew to save one of Peggy's murals when they knocked down the building it was housed in, but to no avail. 'It's gone,' he said to me sadly, 'Like so much else.'

Peggy Angus tiles at Lansbury Lawrence School
Murals that have survived are a source of tremendous joy and pride, as I found when I visited the Lansbury Lawrence School in Poplar; built for the Festival of Britain in 1951, the school came complete with Peggy Angus tiles, which are as vibrant today as they were then; a framed notice draws parents' and children's attention to 'our special tiles'. A similar pride is shown by children and staff at Greenside Primary School in Hammersmith, where a campaign to restore a Gordon Cullen mural has drawn a range of speakers to the Erno Goldfinger-designed school.

The Greenside Mural, by Gordon Cullen
For years it has been rumoured that the murals painted by Ravilious in the Pavilion of Colwyn Bay's magnificent Victoria Pier might have survived beneath layers of paint and plaster, and recent investigations have shown that this is the case. Ravilious had been commissioned by architect Stanley Adshead, whose 1934 Pavilion replaced an earlier structure that had been destroyed by fire; the architect's artist daughter Mary also painted murals in the Pavilion and told Rav's biographer Helen Binyon:

Not a particularly good photo of Rav's Colwyn Bay murals
Eric painted all around the stage with marine subjects, shells, seaweed, etc. I know that my Father was very pleased with his design, he said that Eric had understood what was wanted and had an architectural sensitivity.

The programme accompanying the opening of the Pavilion announced:

Mr. Eric Ravilious strikes an original note in the decoration of the Tea Room. The theme represents a scene on the bed of the ocean. Pink and green seaweeds float through the ruins of a submerged palace. A bright red anchor suggests a connection with the world above.

To restore this delightful vision would apparently cost £65,000, a lot of money perhaps but an investment that would give the seaside town a unique artistic tourist attraction.

Rav & Tirzah at work in Morecambe.
Another lost Ravilious mural is in the process of being not restored but recreated, or sort-of recreated. In 1933 the artist travelled with his wife (and fellow artist) Tirzah to Morecambe, where they decorated the tea room of the brand new Midland Hotel with bright, breezy wall paintings. These succumbed almost immediately to damp in the walls, but eighty years later artist Jonquil Cook is about to paint what she describes as 'a tribute to' the Ravilious murals; she and assistant Isa Clee-Cadman start work on Monday.

In Colwyn Bay, meanwhile, there is a marvellous opportunity to bring a historic artwork back to life. If anyone out there has a few thousand quid to spare and wants to be persuaded that this is a cause worth contributing to, please get in touch. I'll be happy to convince you.

There's a great article on the 1934 Pavilion and its decoration here. For more information on the campaign to restore Victoria Pier visit the campaign website.