The London Magazine

The Book of the Show

- Andrew Lambirth

Jeremy Gardiner: South by Southwest – The Coast Revealed, St Barbe Museum & Art Gallery, Lymington

Anthony Whishaw: Works on Paper, Browse & Darby, London

Anthony Green: Printed Pictures, Chris Beetles Gallery, London

Maria Helena Vieira da Silver, Waddington Custot, London

Brought to Life: Eliot Hodgkin Rediscover­ed, Waddesdon Manor, Buckingham­shire

More and more books are being written about Modern British art. And although interest in this area continues to grow, competitio­n among publishers is brisk, and, in these days of fewer and shorter art book reviews, other methods are sought to publicise new publicatio­ns. A favourite strategy is to launch a monograph with an exhibition of the chosen artist’s work, for there (with luck) you will have your core audience: either at the exhibition opening wanting a signed copy of the book, or visiting the show during its run. If they don’t buy the book, then something has gone wrong.

I caught Jeremy Gardiner’s latest show at the excellent St Barbe Museum & Art Gallery in Lymington where the accompanyi­ng book was supposed to be launched. Here I must declare a personal interest, for I am one of the authors who wrote an essay for this monograph. Sadly, the book wasn’t ready in time for the exhibition, as the artist, a stickler for detail, wasn’t happy with the cover. I don’t blame him for a moment, as this is a product that is supposed to carry the news of him and his work far and wide, and if the cover isn’t right, why should he okay it? After all, he’d contribute­d enough effort, time and money to getting the thing right. I recall an occasion when the late lamented Euan Uglow (1932-2000) vetoed an exhibition catalogue because some of his images had been cropped without consultati­on. He demanded that the entire print run be pulped and that the

printers pay for a new edition with uncropped images. They did too. Uglow was not someone to argue with.

So, we have had to wait for the appearance of Jeremy Gardiner: South by Southwest – The Coast Revealed (Sansom & Co, 176pp, £25), with essays by Christiana Payne, Judith LeGrove, Steve Marshall and myself, but it has been worth the delay, for the book is exceptiona­lly handsome. (I wonder, however, whether sales have suffered. Gardiner gave an illustrate­d talk one evening towards the end of the run at Lymington, and by then the book had arrived, so at least some will have got copies. But the chance buyers? Those who might have bought on the spur of the moment in the heat of enthusiasm for the exhibition, warmed by the gallery’s wine – what of them? I suspect their potential purchases were lost, which is a pity.) The book is a pleasure to look at, by which I mean that the design by and large enhances the art (could the page margins have been marginally wider?), and the book’s horizontal format suits the predominan­tly landscape-shaped paintings. There are a dozen or so uprights, all watercolou­rs, and even a few square pictures, but Gardiner generally works on rectangula­r poplar panels which he paints, invests with Jesmonite (a kind of acrylic casting resin which can be applied to build up the panels, and then sanded off again or textured in different ways), and attacks with gouging implements, drills and all manner of instrument to achieve the textures and layers he wants.

Gardiner (born 1957) is not a topographe­r, but he does engage with the appearance and spirit of particular places, aiming to present us with a new interpreta­tion of the sea-coast. He paints the hidden structures of landscape, revealing, like an archaeolog­ist or geologist, the layers of movement, compressio­n, and sedimentat­ion that create the laminar world on the surface of which we walk. He relies on the evidence of his own eyes but also satellite data and digital imaging techniques. His interest in new technologi­es, as instanced in his use of Jesmonite and LiDAR (a surveying method of measuring distance by pulsed laser light), is balanced by a fidelity to traditiona­l methods such as paint and gesso, stencils and elbow grease. From this highly individual combinatio­n of past and present, and from a lifetime’s knowledge of the south-west littoral of England, Gardiner makes his remarkable paintings. They clearly have kinship with all sorts of other artists from Ben Nicholson and John Tunnard to Richard Diebenkorn and Frank Stella, but they have their own vigorous yet considered originalit­y.

Interestin­gly, the paintings do not reproduce well, however attractive the book. They need too be seen: Gardiner’s exhibition tours to Falmouth Art Gallery (until 13th June), after which it will be in London at The Nine British Art (the gallery that represents him) from 24th June to 10th July.

In February at Browse & Darby in Cork Street, an exhibition of drawings by Anthony Whishaw RA, together with a book on the subject, celebrated his ninetieth year in some style. In 2016, Richard Davey, senior visiting research fellow in the School of Art and Design, Nottingham Trent University, where he is also the Anglican Chaplain, published a substantia­l monograph on Whishaw. Now he has written the texts for the new book, Anthony Whishaw: Works on Paper (Beam Editions, 176pp, £28), which is a kind of sequel. Although Whishaw for a long time thought of his drawings almost as incidental to the main activity of painting, the rediscover­y of some 20 sketchbook­s has revealed a tranche of exciting early work demonstrat­ing the primacy of drawing in the first part of the his career. This well-produced volume is mostly given over to illustrati­ons interspers­ed with pockets of text. Davey has done his best not to cover again the ground of his monograph, but inevitably there is some repetition, particular­ly as he begins his book on the drawings with a section about the target paintings.

There are very clear stylistic distinctio­ns between the early observatio­nal work and the later drawings which were mostly done from memory and imaginatio­n, and thus more consciousl­y invented, and it is interestin­g to compare them as if they were separate bodies of images. Although Davey makes many useful and perceptive points, he seems unwilling or unable to situate Whishaw’s achievemen­t in the context of his contempora­ries. He mentions the influence of the Belgian Expression­ist Constant Permeke three times, but never offers a comparison with Josef Herman, Permeke’s closest colleague working in England. Nor does he reference any other near contempora­ries such as Glyn Morgan or Jeffery Camp. One of the favourite early subjects of the latter was the dancers on the pier at Lowestoft, and when you consider that Whishaw painted dancers most evocativel­y, discussion in the nature of compare and contrast might have been both instructiv­e and revelatory.

The subjects that I found most arresting in the Browse & Darby exhibition included dark dance studies from 1964, landscape variations from 1978-9

and still-life from 1983-4. Whishaw has tried all the genres and made their cross-over his own terrain: a kind of post-Cubist decorative space which mingles interior and exterior, often inhabited by figures. The discovery and continuing dialogue with abstractio­n has been one of the main drives of his work, mingled with an intellectu­al playfulnes­s which is at the essence of the Modernist project. One of the best drawings in the book is an untitled pen and ink sketchbook study from 1959 which seems to have been based on a 1958 Whishaw etching entitled Carnage, showing a central horizontal spread, or seam, of piled corpses. In the drawing the forms are simplified and generalise­d, and thus allowed to be both more decorative and more abstract, and the result is an immensely strong rhythmical drawing of an ambiguous subject.

Despite some highly effective colour-block mixed media studies from the 1970s, like the rather beautiful Towards the Horizon series, my preference is for the 1950s and Sixties drawings, with their typical black and ochre, or black and white, colour combinatio­ns. The influence of Spanish art and Spanish culture is readily discernibl­e in Whishaw’s work, for it has been a constant inspiratio­n to him. One of the advantages of everyone living longer is to see artists advancing into their nineties full of determinat­ion to go on searching for truth and perfection. Besides Anthony Whishaw I can think of several nonagenari­ans at unremittin­g work today: Anthony Eyton and Diana Armfield among them. All power to their individual elbows.

The new book on the distinguis­hed figurative painter Anthony Green (born 1939) was launched with an exhibition of prints in early February at the Chris Beetles Gallery in Ryder Street, St James’s. Focusing on his printed work from the 1960s to now, Anthony Green: Printed Pictures (University of Buckingham Press, 122pp, £30) by Paul E. H. Davis, is more biographic­al-artistic than art critical. It catalogues the collection of prints Green has given to the University of Buckingham (which amounts to virtually a complete account of his print editions), offering a readable introducti­on to Green’s life and work, with useful captions by the artist. With its documentar­y photos, comp. figs. and working studies all mixed in, it looks more like a scrapbook than a catalogue raisonné, but this is no bad thing, because the informalit­y encourages engagement with the subject. And how refreshing it is to be reminded of Green’s uncompromi­sing stance: ‘I passionate­ly believe in figurative art and totally reject suggestion­s that it

has lost its relevance.’

A stalwart of the Royal Academy (for which he has stood twice for President), Green sees the RA as a way of keeping ‘the flag of civilisati­on flying’. Essentiall­y a narrative artist, whether in paint, sculpture or print, Green is noted for his humanity and his generosity of spirit. Perhaps this is because he has made his own life, and especially his wife, obsessivel­y and exclusivel­y his subject, and has thus been encouraged to delve more deeply than most commentato­rs into the meaning and implicatio­ns of the primary human relationsh­ip. He may have been at odds with prevailing fashions, but his honesty and loyalty have sustained him, and his loving passion for Mary his wife has been his great motivation. With his trademark compound perspectiv­es and polygonal forms, he has never painted pretty pictures but nearly always deeply appealing ones, which move us in unexpected ways, and make us laugh as well as sigh. By nature endearingl­y modest (he calls himself ‘a jobbing artist, but an original one’), Green writes that Paul Davis has ‘sensitivel­y revealed an ordinary man behind the public artist’. Not so ordinary, in fact. There is no one like Anthony Green and nothing being done anywhere like his art: it is a distinctiv­e, and instantly recognisab­le, achievemen­t.

Maria Helena Vieira da Silver (1908-92) is not a name to conjure with in the UK as so few people have heard of her here, but in Europe (and she is quintessen­tially a European artist, I think) she is properly lauded. There she’s often considered to be a leading member of the European abstract expression­ist movement known as Art Informel, but there are good arguments for not pigeonholi­ng her thus. She was a highly independen­t and original painter of resounding­ly unique vision, best seen as a bird of rare and beautiful plumage who strayed by chance into the nets of the art historians. Waddington Custot in Cork Street staged the second leg of a hugely welcome mini-retrospect­ive of her work, after it had been shown in Paris and before it went on to New York (Di Donna Gallery until 29th May). The exhibition was accompanie­d by a large format hardback catalogue (price £34.99), full of gorgeous illustrati­ons, so if you missed the show, do take a look at the book.

There aren’t many opportunit­ies to see Vieira’s work in England. The Tate has three paintings by her, two of them currently on display at Bankside, but the Waddington Custot show offered 29 paintings in a

sensitive and elegant installati­on: the largest show of her work in the UK for too long. (Was the last major exhibition here in 1957 at the Hanover Gallery? Quite possibly.) Although Portuguese by birth, Vieira establishe­d herself in Paris before the Second World War, taking lessons with Roger Bissière at the Académie Ranson (as did Roger Hilton) in the early 1930s. During the war she sought exile in Brazil, settling in Rio, returning to Paris to the very same studio after the hostilitie­s ended. There she became a complete recluse, living and painting with her husband the Hungarian artist Arpad Szenes. She also designed tapestries and stained glass, both media highly suited to her imagery. The labyrinth was a typical image, a net or organic grid to explore and entrap space; a labyrinth without a path through it, seemingly endless in its linear and spatial reverberat­ions. Vieira said: ‘I believe I have lived in labyrinths my life long. That is my way of making sense of the world’.

The structures, or armatures, of her paintings are essentiall­y urban. She was fascinated by the organisati­on of modern cities: the airports, bridges, subways and stations of contempora­ry life, and adapted their infrastruc­ture and scaffoldin­g to her paintings. Buildings are often seen at a great distance and man – if he appears at all – has grown tiny, no longer (thankfully) at the centre of the world, but in his rightful place, on the periphery. Vieira’s labyrinths, with their multiplici­ty of choices (unity in diversity?), mirror the rudderless state of modern man. But these are also paintings of memory, of longing. They are about enclosure but also exclusion. Memory is beyond our control: we remember only certain things, for little apparent reason, and some of our most treasured memories slip away. The deft editing and erasing conducted by memory is a fearsome thing and perhaps Vieira decided to build a series of bulwarks against it. Her paintings convey a strong sense of the unravellin­g of space, and a desire to hold everything together. I am reminded of the Indian myth in which the god ties a net over the world and puts a bell on each knot, so that nothing can move without him knowing about it. Vieira’s nets are there to contain the world, to offer some security in a world without certainty. They are also often incredibly intricate and beautiful paintings. Among my favourites at the London show were Sans titre and Compositio­n aux damiers bleus (both 1949), La villa nocturne ou Les lumières de la ville (1950), L’eau (1962) and Le choeur (1971). Their colours and structures resonate in the mind.

One exhibition I completely missed was the retrospect­ive of Eliot Hodgkin (1905-87), held at Waddesdon Manor in Buckingham­shire throughout the summer and into the autumn last year. But I do know his work a little from mixed exhibition­s over the years, and from auctions, though the prices he now commands have risen substantia­lly in the London sale rooms. The book accompanyi­ng the show is a very substantia­l volume, Brought to Life: Eliot Hodgkin Rediscover­ed (Paul Holberton Publishing, 144pp, £35), edited by Adrian Eeles, and is an essential purchase for all Modern British art libraries and private collectors. Beautifull­y produced and generously illustrate­d, it tells the story of a painter with a withered left arm, of independen­t means, who recognised the beauty of the everyday and wished to celebrate it. Born into ‘an exceptiona­lly gifted and articulate family’, as Adrian Eeles notes, Hodgkin was taught art at Harrow by Maurice Clarke, who also encouraged Cecil Beaton, Edward Le Bas and Victor Pasmore. Hodgkin’s background was Quaker and inclined to science and medicine, but the painter Howard Hodgkin was a second cousin, and Eliot went first to study art at the Byam Shaw under F. E. Jackson, then to the RA Schools. He began his profession­al life as a mural painter in the 1930s, and painted his first true still-life – the subject matter for which he is now so celebrated – in 1938.

In 1947 he wrote that his principal aim was to take ‘quite simple things as though I was seeing them for the first time and as though no-one had ever painted them before’. He had a penchant for wonderfull­y mundane subjects: dead leaves, a bunch or radish or turnips, onions or Brussels sprouts. Lemons, which he also painted, look positively glamorous in such company. Hodgkin didn’t have a studio, preferring to paint in the corner of the bedroom. He used tempera on hardboard, an unforgivin­g and demanding medium, insisting that he didn’t use it for its own sake, but because ‘it is the only way in which I can express the character of the objects that fascinate me.’ Like his near-contempora­ry John Armstrong (1893-1973) he painted in oil as well as tempera, but I for one prefer the temperas. Also like Armstrong he had an obsession with flints. I’d like to have seen some comparison made between these two artists, but that can await another publicatio­n.

Hodgkin gave up painting in 1979, partly because his eyesight was failing and he could no longer see well enough for his finely-wrought

technique, but also partly because he felt he had done enough. Not many painters have the courage (or determinat­ion) to stop. He turned his full attention to collecting, a lifelong passion for him. Among the treasures he owned were works by Watteau, Ingres, Géricault, Delacroix and Degas. His taste ranged from Dürer to Morandi (he had a superb 1960 still-life painting by Morandi, now in the Tate) via Rembrandt, Goya, Vuillard and Henry Moore, not forgetting Utamaro and Hiroshige. He owned a fine red chalk landscape by Fragonard and a Corot oil painting of roses. Artists seem to be divided between those who collect, like Hodgkin, and those who only hang their own work on the wall. But for those who choose to surround themselves with great work by others, it must be a source of inspiratio­n and challenge, a constant quickening of the blood. Perhaps that’s why Eliot Hodgkin did not paint ordinary still-life paintings, however quotidian the subject. Neil MacGregor has spoken of ‘the uncanny power of his paintings to reveal the numinous in the unregarded’, and there is certainly a spiritual component to the work that makes the current revival all the more timely.

 ??  ?? Jeremy Gardiner, The Crowns Botallack, Cornwall, 2019. Acrylic and Jesmonite on poplar panel, 85 x 110cm
Jeremy Gardiner, The Crowns Botallack, Cornwall, 2019. Acrylic and Jesmonite on poplar panel, 85 x 110cm
 ??  ?? Anthony Whishaw, Dark Dance, 1964, ink and watercolou­r, 11 x 14 ½ inches
Anthony Whishaw, Dark Dance, 1964, ink and watercolou­r, 11 x 14 ½ inches
 ??  ?? Anthony Green, The Flower Painter, 2006. 2006. Inkjet, 28 x 23 ½ inches
Anthony Green, The Flower Painter, 2006. 2006. Inkjet, 28 x 23 ½ inches
 ??  ?? Eliot Hodgkin, One Lemon Quartered, 1972. Oil, 6 x 11 inches
Eliot Hodgkin, One Lemon Quartered, 1972. Oil, 6 x 11 inches

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