David Jones: Vision and Memory at Pallant House

David Jones: Vision and Memory at Pallant House

There’s a self-portrait David Jones painted in 1931 when he was in his mid-thirties. In Human Being he depicts himself almost as a boy, an unworldly youth with a thoughtful, quizzical look in his eyes who radiates a sense of inner strength. His hands are delicate, sensitive, almost feminine.

At Pallant House Gallery in Chichester last week I stared at this memorable image for some time, trying to figure out the man who is the subject of Vision and Memory, a major exhibition of his work showing there until February. There was much about Jones that I found a strange, complex and difficult to understand – whether in terms of the historical, religious and mythological allusions that fill his paintings (and his poems) – or in the sense of knowing the human being behind the work. Continue reading “David Jones: Vision and Memory at Pallant House”

Ai Weiwei at the RA: Everything is art. Everything is politics

Ai Weiwei at the RA: Everything is art. Everything is politics

Ai Weiwei’s work is not unusual in drawing upon the artist’s own life experience for inspiration, but there is none of the solipsism of Tracey Emin’s Bed in his art. Ai Weiwei’s installations, sculptures and videos – which I saw last week in his powerful, moving and deeply serious exhibition currently at the Royal Academy – affirm his  unwavering commitment to human rights and freedom of expression.

Everything is art. Everything is politics.

Continue reading “Ai Weiwei at the RA: Everything is art. Everything is politics”

Celts: Art and Identity

Celts: Art and Identity

The other day I received an email advising me of the line-up for the next Celtic Connections in Glasgow. But who were the Celts – these people who now lend their name to a festival that ‘celebrates Celtic music and its connections to cultures across the globe’?

Hoping for an answer to this question, a few weeks back I watched the BBC 2 series The Celts: Blood, Iron and Sacrifice with Alice Roberts and Neil Oliver. Yes, that was the full title of the series, and, though Roberts and Oliver (as you would expect) presented some serious archaeology, what with all the dramatic reconstructions of blood, iron and sacrifice I was left as confused as I had been at the outset. Were the Celts one people who shared a highly sophisticated culture? Or were they barbarians from the western fringes of Europe as the BBC’s dramatised battle scenes strongly suggested?

Looking for answers to these questions, I visited the British Museum’s current exhibition, Celts: Art and Identity, ‘the first major exhibition to examine the full history of Celtic art and identity’. Not surprisingly this stunning show presented a much clearer account of a story that begins over 2,500 years ago, with the first recorded mention of ‘Celts’.  But, the story the curators give us is one in which Celtic identity has been revived and reinvented over the centuries – across the British Isles, Europe and beyond. The exhibition articulates the currently-accepted view that ‘Celtic’ has had many different meanings over 2000 years, identities that have been reinvented time and again, and are cultural not genetic. Continue reading “Celts: Art and Identity”

Peter Lanyon: Soaring Flight

Peter Lanyon: Soaring Flight

During the 1950s, the small harbour town of St Ives in Cornwall played host to an astonishing group of painters that included some of the leading modern artists of the time. Among them were Alan Davie, Terry Frost, Patrick Heron – and Peter Lanyon. Of them all, only Lanyon was actually Cornish.

He died too young – a fact underlined by Soaring Flight, the superb exhibition currently showing at the Courtauld Gallery which gathers together a considerable number of his paintings inspired by gliding, the pastime which ended up taking his life.

Continue reading “Peter Lanyon: Soaring Flight”

Jackson Pollock at Tate Liverpool: wrestling with a blind spot

Jackson Pollock at Tate Liverpool: wrestling with a blind spot

Well I tried, didn’t I? I have to admit, I’ve always had a blind spot where Jackson Pollock’s concerned. So I was not that keen on seeing Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots at Tate Liverpool. But I was persuaded by my daughter – who was blown away by the Pollocks she saw in MoMA a few years ago – to give it a go. I came away still unconvinced. Continue reading “Jackson Pollock at Tate Liverpool: wrestling with a blind spot”

Ravilious at Dulwich: dot and speck and dash and dab

Ravilious at Dulwich: dot and speck and dash and dab

One morning in 1934, Eric Ravilious set off with a sketch pad from his home in Brick House, Great Bardfield, Essex. He didn’t go far – just around the corner, in fact, to where a repair yard for steam engines was filled with derelict farm machinery and abandoned vehicles of all kinds. In one corner an old Talbot-Daracq motor car stood rusting, its engine and tyres cannibalised and the fine upholstery of the seats in stark contrast to the jumble of metal objects scattered around. Continue reading “Ravilious at Dulwich: dot and speck and dash and dab”

Expressionists in Berlin (Impressionists, too)

Expressionists in Berlin (Impressionists, too)

Impressionism is usually seen as the antithesis of Expressionism, but while we were in Berlin we queued for over an hour to see a stunning exhibition at the the Alte Nationalgalerie, on Museum Island – snappily titled on the banners, ImEx – which brings together a lavish helping of paintings from both movements, presenting them in such a way as to emphasise the similarities as well as the differences between them. Near contemporaries at a time of social upheaval, the exhibition explores common concerns: urban life, cafes, cabaret and dancers, the countryside and nature, and new relationships between the sexes. Continue reading “Expressionists in Berlin (Impressionists, too)”