Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Gawain in Cardiff

Clive Hicks-Jenkins, Gawain Arrives at Fair Castle, gouache, 2016 (artist copyright)

The artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins and Dan Bugg of the Penfold Press are delighted to announce an exhibition of screen prints on the theme of Gawain and the Green Knight, together with preparatory drawings and paintings, at The Martin Tinney Gallery, Cardiff.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins is devising a series of 14 limited-edition prints based on the medieval verse drama, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – a classic vividly translated for the 21st century by Simon Armitage. The exhibition will mark the half-way stage in this major project.

Sir Gawain is more human than your average legendary hero. Having taken up the challenge offered at the Camelot Christmas feast by the terrifying Green Knight, he embarks on a quest to find this ogre, only to be tested – and found wanting – in unexpected ways. Sir Gawain is both a glittering knight and a fallible young man, and it is this flawed human character that intrigues Clive. Each print is inspired by the text and rooted stylistically in its world, but beyond that Clive and Dan have allowed their imagination free rein.

Over the past twenty-five years Clive Hicks-Jenkins has achieved renown in his native Wales and beyond as a painter of rare vision. He came to painting by an unusual route, having first enjoyed a successful career as actor, director, choreographer and stage designer. Today his paintings of figures and animals are so striking, at least in part, because of the continual dialogue between design and dance, structure and movement. Clive’s complex creative process enhances this effect, particularly his use of articulated maquettes; these allow him to pose people and animals in ways that enhance negative space and add emotional expression and a sense of suppressed movement. This dynamism suits Clive’s penchant for narrative painting. He takes inspiration from religious stories, Welsh legends, modern dramas and medieval verse.

Dan Bugg studied printmaking at the Royal College of Art. He launched the Penfold Press more than a decade ago as a printmaking studio for fine artists, and he has since worked regularly with Mark Hearld, Emily Sutton and other creative talents to produce beautiful editioned screen prints that are sought-after by collectors and art lovers.

I'm a sort of writer-in-residence on the project, and have provided captions for the exhibition, which will be stunning. Find it at the Martin Tinney Gallery, Cardiff, from 8 Sept until the end of the month.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

'Century' at Jerwood: Walter Sickert

Walter Sickert, Saint Remy, c1910, Jerwood Gallery
In the early 20th century the fastest route from London to Paris was by train and steamer via Newhaven and Dieppe, and the French port became a popular destination among British artists (as it had been for the early Impressionists). After visiting first with his parents in 1879 Sickert returned often to Dieppe, painting numerous portraits, interior scenes and street views like this one. A careful composition contrasts the ancient stone fa├žade of St Remy with a kiosk, festooned in advertisements, that towers over the people standing nearby.

Walter Sickert is one of a hundred modern British artists to be featured in my exhibition 'Century', which opens at the Jerwood Gallery, Hastings, in October.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

'Century' at Jerwood: Eric Ravilious

Eric Ravilious, Rye Harbour, 1938 (Ingram Collection)

Like many other small ports and seaside towns, Rye Harbour enjoyed a boom in popularity among artists in the 1930s. Alongside the widespread interest in landscape painting was a related vogue for nautical style; both phenomena grew out of a renewed fascination for British places and customs, inspired partly by the new hobby of motor-touring. John Piper was both the author of an influential magazine feature on nautical style and an occasional visitor to Rye Harbour, and he probably suggested Ravilious visit the port.

There he met Edward Le Bas, a wealthy artist (who was elected to the RA in 1954) and collector who had a house nearby. Though much younger than them, he had become a great champion of the Camden Town Group, particularly Harold Gilman and Charles Ginner, and also had a formidable collection featuring Edouard Vuillard, whose paintings his own work emulated.

He bought this painting on the spot, drawn perhaps to the wonderful representation of light on water and the sense of distance melting into nothingness.

This is an excerpt from 'Ravilious' (Philip Wilson Publishers, 2015). 'Rye Harbour' will be featured in 'Century', an exhibition of work by 100 modern British artists that I have selected from the Jerwood Collection and Ingram Collection. It opens at Jerwood Gallery, Hastings, in October.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

In Mabeltown

Nicolai Fechin, portrait of Mabel Dodge Luhan, 1927 (Harwood Museum)
Where to start? I've seen so much art in the past three weeks that it would take me a year to write about all of it. But one highlight was a visit to the Harwood Museum in Taos, New Mexico, where the exhibition 'Mabel Dodge Luhan and Company' is currently running.

'Mabel Dodge Luhan & Company', Harwood Museum, gallery view

Subtitled 'American Moderns and the West', the exhibition explores the role of the New York socialite in bringing artists and writers to the isolated New Mexican town of Taos. Lying on the edge of a great plain against a backdrop of mountains, a few miles from the ancient and impressive Taos Pueblo, the town was home to a handful of artists when Mabel Dodge arrived in 1918. Almost immediately she fell in love with Tony Lujan, a Taos Pueblo Indian and sent her latest husband (she had already despatched several) back east, prior to marrying Tony.

C19 painted retablo (Harwood Museum)
She then set about turning Taos into a bona fide art colony, building a vast house (today an inn and conference centre) and inviting every one of the numerous artists and writers she knew to visit. The list is impressive, from Marsden Hartley and Georgia O'Keeffe to DH Lawrence and Willa Cather, who wrote part of 'Death Comes for the Archbishop' at the Luhan house. So successful was the enterprise, in face, that Taos became known as Mabeltown.

Nuestra Senora de la Soledad, C1850 (Harwood Museum)
There are some wonderful pictures in the exhibition, notably works by John Marin, Andrew Dasburg and Emil Bisttram, but what I really enjoyed was the juxtaposition of Pueblo Indian and Spanish-American artworks and artefacts and the paintings inspired by the people and scene of northern New Mexico. A pair of home-made crosses are presented beside an O'Keeffe painting of a cross (at least one other O'Keeffe was requested for the show but was sent to London instead...), and there are works by Pueblo artists as well as paintings of Pueblo people.

Emil Bisttram, Taos Indian Woman Plasterer, c1930s
The exhibition is lively, adventurous and beautifully curated. After roaming the rooms for a while I set off into the intense dry heat of Taos to visit the Mabel Dodge Luhan house, where her convivial spirit still holds court. I wandered in and was immediately invited to have coffee and make myself at home - a welcome in distinct contrast to the one we received at the O'Keeffe house in Abiquiu the day before. We arrived on the off-chance for a quick look at the place to discover that it was closed. The man who gave us this news then refused our request to take a picture of the view from the carpark, positioning himself like a sentry between us and the view lest we try to steal one.

Storage Jar, San Ildefonso Pueblo
So it was Mabel 1: Georgia 0 in terms of welcome. But then Ms Luhan's great skill (aside from her prolific writing) lay in welcoming people to her house, whereas O'Keeffe's lay in being one of the greatest American artists of the 20th century. Of which more in due course...

Dorothy Brett, Turtle Dance, c1940s

John Marin, New Mexico nr Taos, 1929 (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

Laughing Horse magazine, c1920s

Interior, Mabel Luhan House, Taos

Under the portale, Mabel Luhan House, Taos

Exterior, Mabel Luhan House, Taos

Interior, Mabel Luhan House, Taos

'Mabel Dodge Luhan and Company' runs at the Harwood Museum, Taos, until September, then travels to Albuquerque, NM, and Buffalo, NY.

If you're planning a visit to Taos, you might want to stay at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House. I certainly plan to, one day.