Sus­sex Modernism: Re­treat and Re­bel­lion

Country Life Every Week - - Exhibition -

BELL is among artists in­cluded in this at­trac­tive, smaller ex­hi­bi­tion at 2, Tem­ple Place, Lon­don WC2, un­til April 23 (www.twotem­ple­place.org). Her well-known, but oddly stiff, late self-por­trait from the col­lec­tion at Charleston, painted when she was 79, hangs be­tween two mag­nif­i­cent paint­ings by Grant, the Seu­rat-in­flu­enced Bathers by the Pond and the Tate’s gor­geous Venus and Ado­nis (right, 1919). In this in­stance, Bell does not ben­e­fit from the com­par­i­son. A pair of the artist’s re­li­gious sketches hangs else­where in the show.

De­spite its title, the ex­hi­bi­tion does not sug­gest that the artists on dis­play—in­clud­ing John Piper, Ed­ward Wadsworth, Eric Gill, Ed­ward Burra, Sal­vador Dalí, Peggy Angus and Hans Feibusch—dis­cov­ered a shared cat­a­lyst for cre­ativ­ity in the county (or in­deed coun­try) of Sus­sex. Since time im­memo­rial, artists have re­treated from the or­di­nary hurly­burly of life, par­tic­u­larly as lived in busy ur­ban cen­tres, in or­der to pri­ori­tise cre­ative en­deav­our, some­times in en­claves of the like-minded, in other in­stances choos­ing iso­la­tion.

The land­scape paint­ings on show here re­veal di­verse re­sponses to Sus­sex, from the hilly back­ground to David Jones’s Madonna and Child in a Land­scape to the brood­ing shad­ows of Burra’s enig­matic The Church­yard, Rye and the sec­ondary role al­lot­ted to the fea­ture­less coast­line in Wadsworth’s dis­arm­ing wartime study Bronze Bal­let.

Al­though the threads that con­nect th­ese works are some­times slen­der, many share thought­pro­vok­ing qual­i­ties. The in­evitabil­ity of war over­shad­ows pieces from the 1920s and 1930s; later images sug­gest a world of un­cer­tain­ties. For visi­tors able to watch it in its en­tirety, Mo­holy­nagy’s 1936 film Lob­sters in­cludes sub­ver­sive twists.

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