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
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