King’s Lynn... or Paris?

Ed­uardo de Ben­ito, founder mem­ber of Spain’s lead­ing art mag­a­zine LAPIZ, talks about the art of John Mid­g­ley, on show this month in a new ex­hi­bi­tion

EDP Norfolk - - Art - John Mid­g­ley’s work will be on dis­play at the An­teros Arts Foun­da­tion, a char­ity for ed­u­ca­tion and the pro­mo­tion of the arts in Nor­folk, at its gallery in Fye Bridge Street, Nor­wich, from Septem­ber 18 to 30. www.an­teros­foun­da­tion.com

IT’S AL­WAYS dif­fi­cult to write about the work of an artist when that artist hap­pens to be a friend and even more so if he is a close friend.

When I popped into John Mid­g­ley’s stu­dio to take a few notes about the pic­tures cho­sen for ex­hi­bi­tion at the An­teros Arts Foun­da­tion in Nor­wich, John said, aware that our friend­ship might get in the way of my crit­i­cal eye: “Don’t hes­i­tate to crit­i­cise any­thing you don’t agree with.” I’m bear­ing that in mind as I write this brief com­ment on what I was shown.

I knew most of the pic­tures, and not sur­pris­ingly, my so-called ‘crit­i­cal eye’ en­joyed some more than others.

The se­ries of what at one time I de­scribed as ‘cere­bral land­scapes’ of the Glaven Val­ley be­tween Cley and Wive­ton re­flects an im­por­tant tran­si­tional pe­riod in John’s art, though some of its com­po­nents don’t al­ways achieve what they were sup­posed to be aim­ing at. This is ob­vi­ously a mat­ter of opin­ion and re­minds me of some­thing Willem de Koon­ing, a pi­o­neer of ab­stract ex­pres­sion­ism, once told a critic: “The draw­ing of a face,” he said, “is not a face. It’s the draw­ing of a face.”

John, in­deed, could use de Koon­ing’s apho­rism and tell me that a paint­ing of a land­scape is not a land­scape; that it’s the paint­ing of a land­scape, with the em­pha­sis on the word ‘paint­ing’.

One could keep on quot­ing many well­known artists to com­ment on John Mid­g­ley’s work; not be­cause he might have tried to im­i­tate cer­tain styles or schools, which he hasn’t, with the ex­cep­tion of the heads he started pro­duc­ing af­ter vis­it­ing the su­perb Auer­bach ex­hi­bi­tion at the Royal Academy in 2001, but more likely be­cause over the years he has re­acted in an in­con­tro­vert­ibly vis­ual way to the sub­jects he has cho­sen to de­pict and in­ter­pret, in­stead of of­fer­ing, as many other artists have done in re­cent decades, a text with con­vo­luted, in­ter­pre­ta­tive con­cepts to sug­gest the con­clu­sions one ought to draw when look­ing at their work.

How much bet­ter to con­cen­trate on John’s lat­est town­scapes: the two ver­sions, for in­stance, of the van in Cromer, one in greys and whites; the other in darker reds and sepias. Both sug­gest – openly, not con­cep­tu­ally – a rainy, a wa­tery ur­ban scene.

Or why not the car­ni­val in King’s Lynn, with a pal­ette of browns and blues?

In it, a group of peo­ple, painted with the same colours used for the build­ings around them, has gath­ered in a nar­row street un­der a blue ban­ner stretched be­tween the top floors of two houses on op­po­site sides of the road. And, yes it is King’s Lynn, but it could eas­ily have been Mont­martre, an area of Paris Utrillo painted over and over again.

What strikes you as you stand in front of this pic­ture is the at­mos­phere. I spent all my teens and early 20s in Paris. Had I been told that what I was look­ing at was a group of rev­ellers near the Place du Tertre in the heart of Mont­martre, I would have be­lieved it.

And last, but by no means least, the ab­stract, or­ganic – call it what you like – mixed me­dia pic­tures, full of colour, full of brightly painted bits of wood and other ma­te­ri­als that seem to wink at you ask­ing; ‘guess what I mean?’

But don’t worry. If you don’t know, it doesn’t mat­ter. I don’t know ei­ther, but they are prob­a­bly the most en­joy­able sec­tion of an al­to­gether very en­joy­able show.

Top: Car­ni­val in King’s Lynn

Above: Van in Cromer

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