The joys and tragedies of childhood are captured on canvas over centuries

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Fleeting moments captured in time make up the opening exhibition of this year at Compton Verney art gallery in south Warwickshire.

Painting Childhood: from Holbein to Freud, and Childhood Now are two linked exhibitions, featuring what curator Dr Amy Orrock believes is the first exhibition on the subject to cover 500 years of works.

The starting point for the exhibition was three paintings in Compton Verney’s own collection, but these have been augmented with many loans, including 22 from the Royal Collection, the first time they have been shown in an exhibition about childhood. They do of course show higher-class children, and they remain the focus for most of the exhibition – not surprisingly ‘real’ poor children seem to rarely have been painted.

The exhibition starts with images from the time of the renaissance, when intimate sketches of babies and infants were generally made to help in the creation of religious paintings, their faces becoming that of Jesus or the infant St John the Baptist. There is a drawing by Francesco Salviati, Study of a Child, dating back to around 1500.

The next section on Royal Portraits looks at how status can be conveyed through the body of a child, and shows how iconography was often used. The children are also of course usually dressed in the richest type of clothes.

One of Compton Verney’s own paintings, Edward VI by Guillim Scrots, from 1550 (top), shows the young king holding a flower, while other flowers turn away from the sun and towards him instead, showing his importance.

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The five eldest children of Charles I, by Anthony Van Dyck, from 1637 (above), shows the eldest boy with his hand draped casually on the head of a big dog, showing his future status and power to subdue all he wants.

There is a separate practice image of two girls from the right of this portrait, but tragically, as in quite a few of the paintings of children at this time, they weren’t to have long lives so are captured here at their best. Princess Elizabeth lived to be 15, and Princess Anne just three.

Dr Orrock said that paintings of children became more sentimental as time went on, as the painting Victoria, Princess Royal, with Eos, by Edwin Landseer shows. The baby is pictured with the loyal dog draped across her cot, and watched over by a dove. Queen Victoria and Albert made many delightful casual drawings of their own children, and a number are on show here, depicting a baby crawling after a ball, being bottle fed and other normal activities.

The exhibition continues into a section on Playing and Growing, showing children with toys or pets. Not all are joyful though, in an era with high mortality rates for children.

The Graham Children by Hogarth shows the lovely family, with a musical box, and a cat eyeing the bird. By the time it was finished in 1742 the youngest child had died. It is significant that the child is in a wheeled chair, on the way to the afterlife, and a cupid with a scythe is placed on a clock.

Jan Steen’s A School for Boys and Girls, 1670, is a rare image here showing a lower class of child, as two teachers supervise a class of unruly youngsters.

The themed section on Fantasy and Reality shows children being used as models for paintings. There is Gainsborough’s A Peasant Girl Gathering Faggots in a Wood from 1782, featuring a child acting out the poor scene, and little Penelope Boothby in Reynolds’s oil of 1788 showing the girl in a cute costume which went on to become a fancy dress outfit for decades. Perhaps the most famous of this section was John Everett Millais’s Bubbles from 1886, showing the child looking wistfully up at bubbles floating above his head; it was later used in a Pears Soap Advert.

The gallery on Family Life brings the works in to the twentieth century, showing artists’ children as their own models. Bonnard’s The Evening Meal of 1903 shows the family sitting down to their food, painted as though from another room glimpsing in to the peaceful scene. Camille Pissarro’s Jeanne Holding a Fan of 1863 is sadder, the girl slumped forward, not looking well, and she later died. Louise Borgeois’s etching shows the woman looking pained as she gives birth to her equally-sized child, as the artist tried to show the struggles of being a mother and an artist.

Lucian Freud’s Annabel from 1967 captures the girl reaching teenage years, looking pensive in a chair.

To complete the focus on childhood, there’s a further exhibition of works by three contemporary artists, Childhood Now. Matthew Krishanu spent a significant part of his childhood in Bangladesh and India and paints images of what he calls the two boys, him and his brother, from photos of that time. In Limbs they are up a tree, their legs mirroring its branches, and in other works they swim and climb on rocks.

Mark Fairnington paints his own twin sons as they grow up, their skin spookily white and their red hair a startling contrast. In many they look very similar but there’s always a difference, whether in hair style, or bruises on their legs.

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Chantal Joffe has painted her daughter Esme since her birth, and they are often shown together too, as in Self portrait combing Esme’s hair. The girl is also seen playing with friends, and growing into the lanky girl now watching TV with her mum.

It’s a large and varied exhibition, with lots to see and read, which brings together interesting works in a good thematic way, and introduces three current artists whose work is also exciting to explore.

The exhibitions are on until June 16.

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Green Dwelling aims to conjure up images of medieval residents

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Geese admire part of the new installation in Old Town Meadow

There’s a new development attracting attention on the hill at Compton Verney Art Gallery & Park this year.

Dutch artist Krijn de Koning was commissioned to create the installation which is the latest outdoor work at the venue near Wellesbourne, Warwickshire, encouraging people to engage with the 1779 landscape designed by Capability Brown.

Green Dwelling is made up of 24 blocks of various sizes and shades of green in Old Town Meadow. Apparently the artist was inspired by the meadow’s history. It was once the site of a medieval village, Compton Murdak, and was later planted with elm trees which were lost to Dutch Elm Disease in the 1970s.

The blocks apparently represent ancient megaliths and the designs of Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus, and are arranged with mown paths to recreate the ancient village and also create new framed vistas which Capability Brown was known for.

My attempt to get close to Green Dwelling and look at Compton Verney from it was defeated by the squelchy mud after a few days of rain; hopefully I’ll get a second chance to visit.

Below, an artist’s impression of the installation before it was built

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All human life is pictured in glorious monochrome

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There are two must-see photographic exhibitions on in London now – unconnected apart from their use of black and white.

The Don McCullin retrospective at Tate Britain is on until May 6. It starts with his early works in London, including the fantastic The Guv’nors, an image of local sharp-dressed lads posing in the framework of a building. It was that photo which got him seen by the Observer and he has been in demand since.

The exhibition guide features a timeline of world events and conflicts which had an impact on McCullin’s life and career. He apparently is haunted by the fact he is known as a war photographer, but there are many images of conflict and suffering here. Each section on a new conflict he has photographed has a useful introduction explaining it and putting it in context.

There are many shocking images of injury and death, and captions explaining what McCullin was doing at the time of some of the photos, including a photo of a man who was injured in an explosion which he was also struck by, but the man later died. There are haunting close up faces of shock and fear around the world from Biafra, Cyprus, Congo, Ethiopia, Cambodia, Beirut, Iraq and more. Quotes from McCullin reveal how hard he found it to be a witness to their horrors, but saw his role to capture and record it.

McCullin also happened to be in Berlin when the wall was going up, and photographs its building, and civilians and soldiers on both sides. People wave across to family and friends they will be separated from for decades.

On visits home, McCullin captured Bradford and the North as the section is called. There are images of people living in poverty, and also homeless people in the East End of London, showing suffering isn’t always a long way from home.

The exhibition ends with landscapes, still in black and white, but bringing peace to the photographer and hopefully the visitor.

At the Hayward Gallery and also on until May 6, is an exhibition of photos by Diane Arbus, taken in New York City where she was born in 1923, and killed herself in 1971.

These photographs are smaller and the gallery emphasises there is no set route around the exhibition, or chronology to it. The images are displayed on pillars that visitors drift around and have to get close to, and there are photo titles but no more information. Arbus was clearly attracted as a subject to many of those on the fringes of normal society, as well as the woman wrapped up in a fur coat on the bus.

The people photographed are all in New York, or Coney Island, where the idea of a fun resort is tested to the limit. There are many photos of female impersonators before or after their shows. There is a little boy with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, and spooky looking identical twins. Eddie Camel, Jewish Giant, taken at Home with his Parents in the Bronx in 1970, stoops to fit in the room with his normal-sized mum and dad. Another man is covered with tattoos, and a dwarf woman cleans her house.

It’s a completely different exhibition to the McCullin one, but one which also shows us a lot about the variations of humanity.

Biff and the dummies dominate third Yeadon retrospective exhibition

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What Are You Looking At?

The third in a series of exhibitions to celebrate artist John Yeadon reaching 70 features paintings of a manically grinning ventriloquist’s dummy and drawings of a strange creature called Biff.
These weird and wonderful creatures inhabit our world but through them we see it in a different and slightly unnerved way, one which is entrancing and repelling at the same time.
Over the years John has created different bodies of work in varying mediums. An exhibition in the former Coventry Telegraph building last year featured mostly large paintings from the 1980s, some of which had led to a scandalised and homophobic editorial in the paper at the time. There is also a decade of digital work which has not been featured in these exhibitions.
This show, at the Lanchester Research Gallery at Coventry University until February 22, is called Fearful Symmetry. It includes a large number of etchings and drawings of Blind Bifford Jelly, a grotesque character which is an amalgam of body parts; usually lacking one arm, and with his head in place of his torso.
Blind Biff Fucks a Pig
Blind Biff Fucks a Pig

The scene is set for the irreverence with which Biff sees the world in How Blind Biff Greets his Audience, showing our hero with his pants down, bottom and balls thrust towards us. In others he explains to animals “How the Big Ones Eat the Little Ones”. He breaks his journey to masturbate by the pathway, watched by a dog, and in the Houses of Parliament peopled by ape-like creatures he swings the mace.
In one of the drawings he visits Blackpool and gets his toe bitten by a crab, sees the Lady Godiva statue in Coventry, and Blind Biff Searches for God – with a torch, on the carpet.

How BB Jely Swung the Mace in Parliament
How BB Jelly Swung the Mace in Parliament

Biff also features in coloured works with a collage of images in each picture, including Biff exploring sneezing and enjoying a Christmas of drink and food.
In his introduction in the exhibition’s catalogue John said the character of Biff had been influenced by his mother’s ventriloquist dummy Tommy.

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He’s Back

The fascinating family history of performing with ventriloquist dummies features in the next part of the exhibition, including family photos and memorabilia, and the Tommy and Annie dummies themselves. There are unnerving portraits of the pair in Tommy (the Suit Case Act) and Annie (Ghost of my Grandmother), specially the latter looking like a stocky and slightly menacing little girl.
Other portraits of them and other dummies show them in different poses and taking on characters and thoughts, raising the question of who is manipulating who, and really speaking out.
In an excellent essay in the catalogue, George Shaw recounts how he first met John Yeadon in the 1980s after discovering an exhibition of his work at the Herbert Art Gallery in Coventry, and he discusses the significance of the Biff and ventriloquist dummy works. Don’t miss it, and as Yeadon now turns 71, make sure you also don’t miss this excellent addition to the retrospective year.

Small artworks give a close-up view of Whistler’s talent for observation

TheMusicRoom,1859,JAMWhistler©TheHunterian,UniversityofGlasgow,2018

The Music Room, 1859, JAM Whistler @ The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

Art where the greatness is in the detail is the focus of the new exhibition at Compton Verney Art Gallery in Warwickshire.

Entitled Whistler and Nature it looks closely at the work of James McNeill Whistler, the American-born but generally European-based artist who was active in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

However after looking round a lot of the exhibition it does raise the question of how closely the title relates to what is on show. In the catalogue introduction Compton Verney Chief Executive Steven Parissien says that Whistler’s “close observation of nature and its moods underpinned his powerful and haunting visions of nineteenth century life”. And there are many seaside scenes, but also the Thames River in built-up London, indoor paintings and parts that focus on people and nudes in particular, and it’s hard to relate the title that well back to the exhibition.

The show starts by telling us about Whistler’s background in a family of soldiers and engineers, and how he went to the military West Point Academy in 1851-54, and learned to draw maps. There are some examples of his topographical works on show.

In 1855 he moved to Europe, and lived in England amongst relatives including a half-sister. There are some charming early etchings from London, including the 1859 The Music Room, showing the family sat around reading or knitting, a collection of lines bringing them to life. A Greenwich Pensioner lounges on the grass in a top hat in another etching, and the grass is patterned in swirls in Greenwich Park from the same year.

A room is dedicated to etchings of the Thames, focusing we’re told on line and topographical accuracy. There are fantastic historically-interesting views of water, warehouses, and boats with tall masts. In Black Lion Wharf workers are rowing boats around, or sitting after some task. We are even shown how this particular image is on view in the background of the famous painting of Whistler’s mother on show at the Musée D’Orsay in Paris.

BlackLionWharf,1859,JAMWhistler©TheHunterian,UniversityofGlasgow,2018

Black Lion Wharf, 1859, JAM Whistler @The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

The influence of Hiroshige is very apparent on Whistler, as on many international artists at the time, and there are a few of the Japanese artist’s works on show to make this clear. There is even a small, beautiful painting by Whistler of women looking over the smog-covered Thames with dresses and parasols which look like those of Japanese women.

In 1879 Whistler fled the fall out of a court case to go to Venice, and one room is dedicated to a small number of these works, and they are again detailed and charming, showing typical scenes but with his own style; one is unusually an upright view of a favourite view, and there is The Traghetto no2, people having a drink with a gondola only just visible in the background. One etching is highly detailed and floral, another is very pared back and powerful.

TheTraghetto,No.2,JAMWhistler©TheHunterian,UniversityofGlasgow,2018

The Traghetto, No2, JAM Whistler @ The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

There are two sections which don’t seem to fit in with the rest of the show. In Whistler in the Studio, we are invited to admire his draped figures, influenced by classical Greek designs and also Japanese art again, rejecting the earlier Courbet-inspired outside paintings and etchings. A later sections returns to draped figures and nudes, where he has obviously decided less is more, and drawn a veil over the details of his female models’ bodies. It is in the former of these sections that the largest painting in the exhibition is on show, a lovely painting of a woman striding along, her scarf billowing, painted in the styles that Whistler was practising, but by his friend Albert Moore. It’s a brave decision to include it as it overshadows some of the works nearby.

Whistler’s Travels takes us away to the 1880s-90s, and trips to France and the English coast, including St Ives, and lots of small watercolours and oils which are very successful. A few areas of colour or a few small lines portray ships, people and the landscape. In Grey and Silver – North Sea ships battle on beneath the grey sky, and the Bathing Posts, Brittany, show the sea where people were beginning to enjoy bathing.

Some lithographs of Paris are excellent, just a few lines bringing to life people in the Luxembourg Gardens, his wife gardening or people visiting.

Whistler returns, as his wife lay dying, to depicting the Thames from the window of their room, showing people going about daily life beside the river, or crossing bridges, as his viewpoint remained little changed.

It’s overall a fascinating exhibition and a glimpse into the skilled smaller works of a painter better known for his larger, impressive paintings.
*The exhibition is on until December 16.

Struggles of the Great Depression are given a new close-up look

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An amazing selection of black and white photographs have a great impact in a Warwickshire gallery, far away from their source.

Introducing America to Americans – The Farm Security Administration Project, 1935-1944 is the title of the exhibition at The White Room Gallery in Leamington Spa.

The photos may appear familiar if you visited The Human Document exhibition at the Mead Gallery at the University of Warwick back in autumn 2016 – they were previously part of that bigger exhibition.

However here in the smaller space it’s easier to focus on the detail.
In 1935, The Farm Security Administration Programme commissioned some photographers to document the plight of rural workers in America to enlighten the public and politicians about the living conditions of the working classes during the Great Depression. They brought an awareness of poverty to a much larger audience.

Amongst the photographers featured is Dorothea Lange, and her photograph of the 32-year-old ‘migrant mother’ of seven children, Florence Thompson,(above) with a baby and two young children in a pea picking camp, became a famous image, her tough life leaving her looking much older than her age.

Lange’s other photographs here include many people with the pain of poverty on their faces; a sharecropping family on the move, mum in a bonnet clutching her baby, a sad little boy and anguished father. There are black cotton pickers, who worked from 6am-7pm for $1.

Other photographers involved include Arthur Rothstein, whose works include School at Alako, where youngsters sit around a heater while a woman writes on the blackboard; learning still trying to take place amongst the struggle to survive. Russell Lee also photographed a mother teaching her children numbers to help them back to a better life. Lee’s photograph of a former slave woman pictured in 1941 is also shocking, a reminder that slavery was not so far into the past.

John Vachon’s pictures show the sad furniture of evicted share croppers sitting by the roadside.

Families have a whole street of furniture lined up one side of a roadside stream they cross with planks, a tragic place to have come to a stop. Amongst it all, children create their own playground from an old wagon wheel placed on something to become a merry go round.

There is just one of every image on sale at this moving and fascinating exhibition of silver gelatin prints, which is on until November 17.

Family life across globe features in Rugby Gallery’s exhibitions

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A view of Hong Kong from an exhibition at Rugby Art Gallery

A trio of exhibitions at Rugby Art Gallery & Museum is an odd but entertaining grouping.

The Eadons of Hillmorton Road is a collection of photographs from an Edwardian family showing their life from before the First World War. The photos on show come from 300 glass plate negatives taken between 1910-18, and passed on by Chris Eadon to his son David, and donated for this show.

There are scenes of relatives and friends posing for photos in the house and garden, and on holiday in a recognisable Llandudno with the beach, pier and Great Orme visible, along with minstrels from the town’s show on the promenade.

The show is also divided into sections, showing amazing fashion changes through this period, from young women in fashionable hobble skirts, to older people in what look like Victorian leftovers, with floor-length skirts and astonishing fox fur stoles.

There’s a day out at an airshow watching monoplanes watching aviation pioneer Bentfield C Hucks, taken at Lilbourne Camp near Rugby in 1913 and Eastlands show 1912.

A family member is seen on a Triumph motorcycle, which started to be made in Coventry from 1902. The war then intervenes and there are photographs of men, earlier carefree, on horseback and in uniform, and unknown women dressed as nurses.

It’s an interesting insight into a Rugby family’s lives.

Secondly, there is a small selection of work from the Rugby Collection, focusing on people and place. As ever there are good works on show; there is a yellow-themed Graham Sutherland landscape from 1940, and two contrasting but both attractive images of Paris by Sine McKinnon and Martin Norman Bell. Valerie Thornton’s The White Church shows a haunting white building through trees.

Two new acquisitions are photographs by Andrew Jackson. Amy At The Window #1, Dudley, England shows his mother looking through the pane deep in thought, or as the accompanying information tells us she has dementia, maybe lost without thoughts.

The other image is The Sea #1, Montego Bay, Jamaica, showing just a huge area of sea, near the homeland the photographer’s mother has always missed and pined for.

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The third exhibition is The Queen, The Chairman and I, created by Kurt Tong, and featuring photographs he has taken, and old pictures from his family’s past. Tong was born in Hong Kong before the Chinese had it back, but has grown up in England and the exhibition (and its extensive written guide) explores the influence of Queen Victoria and Chairman Mao on his family.

His own photographs tell the story of this, and also show images of Hong Kong and their historical importance, and some quite astonishing tales come out of suffering and loss. Two family albums belonging to Tong’s maternal grandfather Chung Zak are also shown in full, to demonstrate as Tong said the change in the man’s life that was beyond his control; failed businesses, fleeing China, family life falling apart.

It’s a moving and revealing exhibition.

All three are on until October 27.

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Exhibition remembers Leamington’s contribution to First World War effort

Sergeant Geoffrey Gibbs driving a Warwickshire Yeomanry ambulance during the First World War

One of the many events on to mark the century since the end of the First World War is an exhibition at Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum, entitled Are You In This?

Ending significantly on November 11, the day hostilities ceased in 1918, the exhibition aims to tell the story of Leamington Spa and its people during the war.

Not only did 2,500 local men serve in the war, 500 of them were killed, and the town had troops billeted in the area. Injured soldiers were treated in local hospitals, and women temporarily stepped into what had traditionally been made jobs sich as train drivers, postal workers and firemen. Local firms, such as stove maker Flavel, turned over instead to making shells.

The exhibition includes this sort of information, including some local photographs, such as troops parading and injured patients.

There are medals which were awarded to local people for their bravery or service during the war, and cartoons by Captain Bruce Bairnsfather, who served in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment from 1914-15 before he was hospitalised with shellshock and hearing damage from the Second Battle of Ypres. He went on to create cartoons based on life in the trenches.

The exhibition also includes a number of First World War posters from the gallery’s own collection, though they are not generally specific to Leamington.

There are some interesting items and bits of information, but overall the exhibition feels a bit thin, and like there should be more stories to tell here.

Smallest and largest exhibits impress the most in summer automata show

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An exhibition which focuses on automata is intriguing adults and children alike in Warwickshire this summer.

Marvellous Mechanical Museum at Compton Verney near Wellesbourne goes back in time to look at the automata exhibitions of the eighteenth century, from various countries, through to more modern inventions. The exhibition publicity talks about how through history automata have “allowed us to view ourselves and raise questions about our existence”, as well as entertaining and amazing people with simulations of life. All together there are 57 works dating from 1625 until now.

There’s certainly a lot of variety in the exhibition. The smallest exhibit, a four centimetre Silver Elephant Automata complete with rider (top)caught my immediate attention; the Fabergé item dates from 1900 and has been lent by the Queen.

Other early pieces are spectacular clocks operated via clockwork, where characters perform to tell the time.

There are a lot of references to Cox’s Museum, opened in London in 1772 which showed the new automata of the time. We’re also told about John Joseph Merlin who liked to dress as a waitress and race around on roller skates to promote his automata.

Later there is the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre, developed in 1982 by Sue Jackson and now run by her daughter Sarah Alexander, which many of the contemporary artists exhibiting here are associated with. There is a display of their works in one section of the gallery. One tells the story of the Zennor mermaid, and in another a bather dives from a changing hut into the sea.

A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley

The most spectacular exhibit by far is also the biggest, the 15 metre A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley, created in 1988-9 by Rowland Emmett, which is set to operate at periodic intervals and definitely worth seeing. Emmet was responsible for the creations in the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang film, and it shows here. There’s almost too much to take in in one go; a set of train carriages go along the tracks driven by a charming driver, as a woman leans out of the window with a bird or butterfly net, and a friend has tea while a man in a separate carriage plays his gramophone records. Lovely trees and nature is shown all around the carriage. It’s stunning and magical.

Crimson Prince

Of the really recent works, Tim Lewis’s Crimson Prince is a pointy red velvet-clad arm, which seems to be telling us off as we watch it but is one of the modern additions to the show. As is Les Demoiselles, a 2017 work by Paul Spooner. Insert a coin and it goes into action. The five naked women, representing Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon painting, lounge there in wood, while characters fly through the sky above them, watched over by a nun. Other female characters hold tiny dancing figures below. It’s artistic and fun at the same time.

Les Demoiselles

Although this exhibition has had some other glowing reviews I didn’t personally find it making me ask questions about our existence. Those who are more intrigued by mechanics and how things work are likely to find more enjoyment in it, and for young people there’s the possibility of fiddling with lots of items to get them moving, which is also appealing.
*The exhibition is on until September 30.

 

Dramatic exhibition asks how much society has really moved on since the 80s

Before the Rain

Oh the irony. An exhibition of paintings criticised 34 years ago in a newspaper editorial as “smut not art” is now on show in the building where that editorial was written and printed.

What’s The Meaning of This? is the title of the ‘selective retrospective’ by John Yeadon, a show to mark reaching 70 and also look back at what may or may not have changed over the years. Is society more tolerant and open minded, is Coventry more enlightened and less provincial, he asks?

Leader article

The front page story of 1984 in which a Tory councillor raged against an exhibition of Yeadon’s paintings as “overtly pornographic” is put on show on the wall, alongside the editorial. The exhibition was called Dirty Tricks and was on at what Yeadon calls the high point of Aids paranoia and ‘gay blame’; he describes the works as allegorical Grotesque Realist paintings.

John says the exhibition of his works at The Herbert increased attendance 40 per cent afterwards. Some of the paintings from that exhibition are on show here in what was the paper’s last news room on its Corporation Street site, before it moved to smaller premises reflecting the decline of print journalism.

It’s a trip down memory lane for me after nearly 19 years spent working at the Cov Tel, though the newsroom moved within the Corporation Street building during those years so the critical editorial wouldn’t have been written in the same room where the paintings are now displayed.

However the room is perfectly proportioned for them, the largest ones fitting brilliantly almost floor to what was the ceiling; the low, oppressive false ceiling fellow journalists will remember has been removed to show the industrial spaces above and the blinds – always closed to stop glare on the computers – are now open. I’ve seen a lot of John’s works over the past 20 years but this earlier period of his was new to me and the dramatic works are stunning and mesmerising.

The Deluge

The Beach Party (before the rain) and The Deluge (after the rain) from 1981 and 82 (top and above) start the show, the first depicting men on a beach, frolicking and partying but in a strange contorted way, playing on a seesaw and dancing around, lots of them semi-naked. The Deluge is darker, literally and metaphorically, with one man being carried by others, their heads covered in bags; the fun is over.

Another painting from 1981, the year of the Charles and Diana royal wedding, the march for jobs and hunger strikes, is called The British Scene/summer 1981, and ironic British flags pop up all over the strange groups of people.

State Apartments       Boy Venus and Midnight of Freedom

Democratic Circus from 1982 features two panels, State Apartments and Assembly Rooms (above) , the official titles at odds with the depictions of men having sex, maybe showing what’s really going on behind the official scenes.

Suicide Street is another dark work, a man created from black intense swirls to show his outline and torso, with Zombie on Suicide Street written on it.

Boy Venus (Sunday Draws In) of 1987 shows a good looking naked young man starting straight at the artist, as another man enters the room through the curtains. Midnight of Freedom shows a naked black man crouched on a television, looking wary.

There’s also a whole corner of large paintings of naked men in various scenes.

Range of pics

John’s series of paintings of his family and his ventriloquist dummies aren’t included in this selective exhibition, nor his digital pieces concentrating on food and obesity (which also gathered negative press attention), but there are a number from his Englandia series, showing pleasant small paintings; a duck house to again reflect a political scandal of a few years ago, plus pastoral fields of English countryside, and other fields with human invasions of pylons and powerlines, railway tracks and windfarms.

Even more recent paintings – a Control Room at Sellafield, showing one man in charge of a bank of screens and buttons, and It’s Alive!, his 2017 version of a much older paintings of the WITCH computer at Bletchley – also feature.

I wouldn’t even think of trying to answer John’s questions about society and Coventry in particular and how it’s changed over the years. But after what will probably be more than half my working lifetime spent at the Coventry Evening Telegraph building it was interesting to visit for the last time before it’s conversion to a hotel and see in particular some works from an exhibition I wasn’t in Coventry for the first time around, and hope that such an editorial would never be written today.

Fascinating paintings to see too if you’re only familiar with John’s works from the last couple of decades – the show is on until June 14, Mondays to Saturdays 12-4pm.