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”

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”

Richter/Pärt at the Whitworth, Manchester: no broken hallelujah

Richter/Pärt at the Whitworth, Manchester: no broken hallelujah

Just as the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass asks, ‘What do you suppose is the use of a child without any meaning?’ so the question might arise, ‘What is the use of art without meaning?’

Richter Pärt
Richter/Pärt at Manchester’s Whitworth Gallery

Should a person enter the room at Manchester’s Whitworth Gallery in which the work of Gerhard Richter is currently on display, and should that person have read no advance publicity about the Richter/Pärt show of which it is a part, they would find themselves confronted by four large abstract paintings in which thick layers of paint have been squeegeed across the surface – scorched black on white, smears of bloody red, and patches of disintegrating green. They might then ask, ‘What does this mean?’ Continue reading “Richter/Pärt at the Whitworth, Manchester: no broken hallelujah”

Bruegel in Vienna, part 3: ‘Peasant’ Bruegel

Bruegel in Vienna, part 3: ‘Peasant’ Bruegel

So far this in this series of posts celebrating the Bruegel room in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, I have looked at Bruegel’s paintings of the seasons and the works which share a preoccupation with religion, politics and war. In this final post I want to explore examples of the kind of work that resulted in the artist coming to be known, misleadingly, as ‘Peasant Bruegel’. Continue reading “Bruegel in Vienna, part 3: ‘Peasant’ Bruegel”

Bruegel in Vienna, part 2: Religion, politics and war

Bruegel in Vienna, part 2: Religion, politics and war

In the first part of this appreciation of the Bruegel room in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, I looked at Bruegel’s paintings of the seasons. This time I want to explore a group of paintings that share a preoccupation with religion, politics and war. Continue reading “Bruegel in Vienna, part 2: Religion, politics and war”

Bruegel in Vienna, part 1: through the seasons

Bruegel in Vienna, part 1: through the seasons

For true believers, the Bruegel room in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum must be the holy grail. Though paintings by the artist occupy two rooms in the Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels, they are interspersed with works by his two sons. But the room in Vienna is a concentrated showcase of the whole spectrum of Bruegel’s work: The Tower of Babel and The Procession to Calvary are major examples of works with a religious theme, while the three pictures from the seasons cycle illustrate Bruegel’s skill as a landscape painter. Then there are the depictions of everyday life portrayed in The Peasant Wedding and The Peasant Dance for which Bruegel is particularly renowned. Without question this was the high point of our pursuit of Bruegel across Europe. Continue reading “Bruegel in Vienna, part 1: through the seasons”

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”

Brief glimpses of art and music in Berlin

Brief glimpses of art and music in Berlin

Guide books aren’t much use in Berlin at the moment if you’re trying to work out where to see what in the city’s main museums and art galleries. Everything is being reorganised: some galleries like the Neue Nationalgalerie – the main gallery for modern art – are closed for refurbishment, while the extensive programme renovation and reorganisation of the five monumental buildings on Museum Island and the massive project to rebuild the Berlin Schloss as the Humboldt Forum  continues.

Only in Berlin for four days, we had to make some hard choices about what to see, a task made more difficult since even the most recently-published guide book couldn’t keep up with developments. We decided to make a quick visit to the Gemäldegalerie (Paintings Gallery) since it’s just a stone’s throw from the Berlin Philharmonie, where we intended to attend oner of the free Tuesday lunchtime concerts of chamber music – and because it houses treasures by favourite artists such as Albrecht Dürer, Vermeer, Holbein and Rembrandt. Continue reading “Brief glimpses of art and music in Berlin”

Fred Wiseman in the National Gallery

Fred Wiseman in the National Gallery

The other day I caught up with Frederick Wiseman’s epic documentary about the National Gallery, shown recently on BBC 4.  In characteristic fly-on-the-wall style, Wiseman spent much of 2012 prowling the corridors, boardrooms and backrooms of the National Gallery, having been given exclusive access to film anything that took his fancy. Continue reading “Fred Wiseman in the National Gallery”

Visions of the Valleys: Kim Howells on art from South Wales

Visions of the Valleys: Kim Howells on art from South Wales

In an excellent film on BBC 4 last night, Visions of the Valleys, Kim Howells looked at how artists have responded to the natural splendour and industrial landscape of the Welsh valleys, and to the lives of those who have lived and worked in their mining communities.

Kim Howells was a familiar figure on the left to those of my generation. Born in Merthyr Tydfil, the son of a Communist mine-worker, at the time of the 1984/5 Miners’ Strike he was a full-time official of the South Wales National Union of Mineworkers, helping to co-ordinate the strike in South Wales. In 1989 he entered the Commons as a Labour MP, later occupying ministerial positions during the Blair-Brown period. Continue reading “Visions of the Valleys: Kim Howells on art from South Wales”

John Knapp-Fisher: poet of Pembrokeshire landscape painting

John Knapp-Fisher: poet of Pembrokeshire landscape painting

I was saddened to read of the death this week of the poet of Pembrokeshire landscape painting, John Knapp-Fisher.  He was one of the few artists I have shaken by the hand, the result of having sought him out at his small roadside studio and gallery at Croesgoch on the road to St David’s in 2011.

Then, he was approaching his 80th birthday, and the reason for our quest was that we had known and admired his work for thirty years, having discovered it while we were on holiday in Pembrokeshire.  Born in London in 1931, he moved to west Wales in the 1960s. It was there that he began to paint his distinctive landscapes, inspired by scenery near his studio in Croesgoch and the harbour at Porthgain. Continue reading “John Knapp-Fisher: poet of Pembrokeshire landscape painting”