An in­tel­lec­tual with heart

The first ex­hi­bi­tion for 20 years de­voted to the pain­ter, print­maker and de­signer re­minds Pey­ton Skip­with of the range and rich­ness of his work

Country Life Every Week - - Exhibition -

Ju­lian Trevelyan, like his distin­guished fore­bears, com­bined eru­di­tion with a strongly de­vel­oped so­cial con­science, a mix to which he added a unique artis­tic vi­sion that was first fos­tered at Bedales. He went on to Trin­ity Col­lege, Cam­bridge, to read english Lit­er­a­ture, but aban­doned this for art, mov­ing to Paris in 1931.

at Cam­bridge, Trevelyan had made friends with Kath­leen raine, Humphrey Jen­nings, Mal­colm Lowry and Wil­liam emp­son and, later, through Lowry, he met Tom Har­ri­son, one of the founders of Mass Ob­ser­va­tion, a so­cially con­scious scheme to record the lives of work­ers in se­lected in­dus­trial com­mu­ni­ties.

in Paris, he stud­ied etch­ing with Stan­ley Wil­liam Hayter, who in­cul­cated in him his the­ory that ‘the etch­ing plate was it­self a mode of en­quiry’ and that the tech­niques em­ployed were as im­por­tant as the oucome.

Hayter also in­tro­duced him to Sur­re­al­ism.

Paris in the early 1930s was a heady mix for an in­tel­lec­tu­ally cu­ri­ous and ta­lented young man; he met many of the greats, in­clud­ing Miró, Max ernst, Pi­casso, Kokoschka and, per­haps most im­por­tantly, alexan­der Calder—‘a big lov­able amer­i­can school­boy… who had never quite grown up’. (it was Trevelyan who sug­gested the term ‘mo­biles‘ to de­scribe Calder’s strangely bal­anced hang­ing con­struc­tions.)

With his ea­ger and en­quir­ing mind, he ab­sorbed and used all these in­flu­ences and would con­tinue through­out his life to be some­thing of a sponge.

Walk­ing round this ex­hi­bi­tion is to en­counter echoes, not only of Calder, but also of Klee, Piper, Cha­gall, Derain, Hitchens, Christo­pher Wood, the nichol­sons and oth­ers, in­clud­ing much younger artists, par­tic­u­larly David Hock­ney, whom he taught at the royal Col­lege. How­ever, by some chem­istry of his own, these works emerge not as pas­tiches but uniquely as Trevelyans.

This trans­mo­gri­fi­ca­tion can be ex­plained in part by an in­her­ent play­ful­ness that tempted him to pick up ideas and play with them for the sheer fun of see­ing what they had to of­fer. A gen­tle hu­mour per­vades al­most all his art in what­ever medium—paint, pen and ink, wa­ter­colour, etch­ing, pho­tog­ra­phy or col­lage—but what uni­fies it is the fact that, au fond, he was in­tel­lec­tu­ally a car­tog­ra­pher.

The cu­ra­tors, Ari­ane Bankes and James Scott, have sub­tly em­pha­sised this qual­ity by jux­ta­pos­ing two works at the en­trance to the ex­hi­bi­tion: a large map of an imag­i­nary town, Hurten­ham, drawn at the age of seven, and a 1988 oil of pot­tery kilns at Stoke-on-trent.

Philip Trevelyan re­calls his step­mother, Mary Fed­den, com­ment­ing on his fa­ther’s un­canny knack of cap­tur­ing the ex­act feel of places they vis­ited and writes that he re­gards his fa­ther’s work as an ‘ac­cu­mu­la­tion of ob­ser­va­tions, feel­ings and ques­tions’ and ‘his choice of sub­ject and fo­cus’ as ‘an un­usual and per­sonal way of look­ing at the world’.

A world he loved to ex­plore and chart in much the same spirit with which he had mapped the streets of Hurten­ham.

This idio­syn­cratic qual­ity came strongly to the fore dur­ing the late 1930s, when Trevelyan was work­ing with Har­ri­son and Humphrey Spen­der in Bolton on Mass Ob­ser­va­tion, as well as on vis­its to Stoke-on-trent and Ash­ing­ton Col­liery.

‘Ever since I was a small boy,’ he wrote, ‘I’ve pre­ferred paint­ing fac­tory chim­neys and smoke… the more chim­neys and smoke, in fact, the bet­ter.’

The chim­neys in one of his gritty pho­to­graphs, In­dus­trial

Waste­land, find echoes not only in his stark pen draw­ings and doom-laden oils, but in se­duc­tively beau­ti­ful col­lages such as Bolton 1,000,000 Volts and the dis­turbingly Sur­re­al­ist Rub­bish May Be Shot Here.

His over­flow­ing suit­case of as­sorted ma­te­ri­als for col­lage, which ap­par­ently ac­com­pa­nied him around the streets of Bolton, is in­cluded in the ex­hi­bi­tion, as is his Hughes & Kim­ber print­ing press. The lat­ter be­came his saviour in 1963, the year he be­came Head of Print­ing at the Royal Col­lege of Art, when, due to a brain in­fec­tion, he was, for a pe­riod, un­able to paint.

A stu­dent at the time was the artist/print­maker Nor­man Ack­royd (some of whose own su­perb etch­ings are dis­played else­where at Pal­lant House), who de­scribes his teach­ing as hav­ing been a ‘con­tin­u­ous os­mo­sis of en­cour­age­ment, en­thu­si­asm and joy… To take risks and make mis­takes in front of one’s stu­dents, rather than re­gur­gi­tate the text­book tech­niques, re­quires a self-con­fi­dence and gen­eros­ity of spirit above the call of duty’.

For 55 years, Trevelyan lived at Durham Wharf, Ham­mer­smith, paint­ing this tidal stretch of the Thames again and again in all its chang­ing moods from a flood of jet­sam to ‘a trickle be­tween acres of mud’. Lat­terly, it was also be­neath the Heathrow flight­path, as graph­i­cally ex­pressed in his 1971 etch­ing

Home Wa­ters, one of the many re­cur­ring flu­vial im­ages that punc­tu­ate this fas­ci­nat­ingly di­verse ex­hi­bi­tion.

‘Ju­lian Trevelyan: The Artist and His World’ is at Pal­lant House Gallery, 8–9 North Pal­lant, Chich­ester, West Sus­sex, un­til Fe­bru­ary 10, 2019 (01243 774557; www.pal­lant.org.uk) Next week An­glo-saxon King­doms at the British Li­brary

‘An in­her­ent play­ful­ness tempted him to pick up ideas’

Trevelyan was al­ways at­tracted to fac­tory chim­neys—‘the more chim­neys and smoke, in fact, the bet­ter’—as in The Pot­ter­ies (1938)

Se­duc­tive beauty and so­cial com­men­tary: Trevelyan’s 1937 col­lage Bolton, 1,000,000 Volts

Self-por­trait with Mary (1960) shows Trevelyan with his wife, fel­low artist Mary Fed­den

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