Month: May 2018

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.

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Behind the scenes at the museum …. for real

An opportunity to learn about what’s not usually on show, as well as see some things for the first time, is offered by a Warwickshire gallery.

Unlocked! Behind the Scenes at the Art Gallery & Museum is the current exhibition at Leamington Spa’s Art Gallery & Museum.

It is billed as a chance to see items that are rarely displayed, and others that are undergoing conservation work.

It seemed strange then that the first painting you see is The Three Generations by Sarkis Katchadourian, which featured in a recent exhibition of works donated to the gallery by Alderman Holt. It is justified though by its appearance in a book of 1,000 paintings to see “before you die”, and the fact that this means the gallery gets requests to see it. And the painting of three Muslim women in varied looks means it is a highlight of the Leamington collection.

The first item listed in the gallery’s collection was a copy of The Antiquities of Warwickshire by Sir William Dugdale, but the real first item is thought to be a mug commemorating a boxing match in the 1860s, when the collection began. It now amounts to 12,500 items, acquired through a mix of donations and some acquisitions. The most recent acquisition is the stunning Satellite II by Noémie Goudal, a large photographic print combining real and imaginary scenery which is on show in the main gallery.

The exhibition moves on to show ethnographical items from around the world, donated over the years (and no longer accepted as gifts), all rather incongruous and not forming a coherent collection, plus ceramics from different eras and countries.

One fascinating item is a Buddhist text in a long scroll, held together with string and a wooden front to it; but in a mixed eclectic collection like this there’s bound to be something to please all tastes.

The Dancing Bear, a painting by William Lee Hankey (1869-1952), is used as an example of conservation work, with what looks like tissue paper currently stuck to parts of it as an element of the work.

Natural History and Archaeology is seen as an orphaned collection, with no new items being accepted, and featuring both local and national pieces. It includes a lovely book showing a drawing of a Blue Heron and Little Egret.

More up to date there’s a photograph of a work created by former artist-in-residence Gerard Mermoz, taking a damaged old portrait and superimposing a comptometer machine on top of it to create a new work, in his familiar style of bringing two things together to create a third.

One area looks at how things have changed over the years; there’s Simeon Solomon’s 1870 painting of The Sleepers and the One That Watcheth, three people embracing, plus Ralph Nicholas Chubb’s Contemplation, and Reclining Nude, the latter featuring a naked young man painted from behind laying in a field where rabbits gambol, both from the 1920s. They all hint at a love that could not then speak its name.

A well-known image of Leamington graffiti, Avoid Cider, features amongst several photos from a Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane exhibition.

It’s interesting to see what’s in the stores and also slightly disappointing there’s no amazing new surprises – but then if there were it would be a scandal they had been hidden away so long. An enjoyable visit, and interesting to learn more about collecting policy and conservation and storage work.

The exhibition is on until July 15.

Seeing faces behind the art brings new look to annual exhibition

LS Lowry, Head of a Man (copyright The Lowry Collection, Salford)

The Rugby Collection is on show again at the town’s art gallery, curated as every year around a different theme – and this year with some additional loans to add more lustre.

The theme this year is portraiture, and the exhibition is split into three themed areas: A Face Behind the Name, Rugby Art Gallery and Museum Portraits and Inside Stories, featuring figurative works that have a narrative.
The first of these includes loans from the National Portrait Gallery and The Lowry, which are all portraits of artists whose work is included in the Rugby Collection, with the works shown together.

Most striking of these is Head of a Man (With Red Eyes) by LS Lowry from 1938 (top), showing the artist with blood shot eyes, matching red scarf and a troubled forehead. It was completed during a worrying time in his life, when his father had died and he had become responsible for caring for his ailing mother, who was dying after his six years of care, as his career was taking off. He started the self-portrait, and found that an unsettling process too. It is shown alongside the Rugby Collection’s Monday Morning, an oil from 1946, showing a lot of people trudging to work in a factory which is already throwing out smoke from the chimneys.

Also borrowed, is Leon Kossoff’s self portrait from 1981, showing a rather miserable look through the heavy impasto, and also looking very much like the mirror image of Head of Father from 1978, which is on show from the town’s collection.

A Lucian Freud self portrait painted in 1963, and on loan from the National Portrait Gallery, is in his recognisable style, whereas The Fig Treet, a chalk drawing from 1943, is less recognisable and dates from a trip to Greece where he drew lot of trees and landscapes.

Edward Bawden’s self-portrait shows him very much as an artist, a board up blocking our full view of him drawing himself in pen and watercolour in 1986, and the gallery’s own Glenties, The Old Graveyard, shows a colourful scene of tombstone and sky from 1962.

Richard Hamilton’s self portrait from 1970 is a screen/collotype, showing the artist unrecognisable through distorting his features. His print from 1993, Just what is it that makes today’s homes, so different? Features disparate images all in one room, including a female bodybuilder with a lollipop sign, and microwave decorating a table.

There are others too, all worth seeing to observe the person behind a work that has probably featured in a Rugby Art Gallery & Museum show before.

Joseph Herman, Head of a Miner (copyright Joseph Herman, Rugby Art Gallery and Museum, Rugby Borough Coun

The section of Rugby Collection’s own portraits not surprisingly features a large variety of works, including Josef Herman’s Head of a Miner (above), painted in oil on a range of brown and ochres, showing the angular figure looking sideways.

Winston Branch, West Indian (copyright Winston Branch, Rugby Art Gallery and Museum, Rugby Borough Council)

By contrast, Winston Branch’s West Indian from 1973, shows the man in a pink spotted hat, surrounded by a huge variety of colour.

Paul Richards, Portrait of Michael Burley, 1988 (copyright Paul Richards, Rugby Art Gallery and Museum, Rug

Paul Richards’s Portrait of Michael Burleigh from 1988 shows the author and historian in a blur of yellows, greens and blacks apparently mixed directly on the canvas, giving the image a vibrant, busy look but recognisably human.
In the Inside Stories section, works are again varied, but including The Bride’s Secret Diary, a wild oil painting by Paula Rego from 1981 featuring hints of skulls and folklore characters, and The Wild Duck, a sinister 1990 etching of a young girl sat on a man’s lap, being watched by characters in the shadows.

Other contrasting works include Two Beach Babies, 1933 oil by Wyndham Lewis, showing two women featuring elements of Cubist and Futurist influence, and Cockerel in a Landscape, a 1948 lithograph by Michael Rothenstein, showing the bird in the foreground apparently fleeing its owner at her cottage.

The exhibition includes lots of excellent lengthy introductions to the different sections, and captions, plus a lovely colour catalogue, and is well worth a visit to see the Rugby Collection’s latest re-invention. The show is on until June 16.

Beach-found items feature in new art show conjuring up sea images

Echoes of the seaside feature in the new exhibition at The White Room Gallery in Leamington.

Entitled Land and Sea, the show in the Regent Street gallery includes a lot of works by Philip Goddard, with some works by other artists too.

Birmingham-born Goddard studied at The Slade School of Fine Art and Chelsea School of Art, and has been a White Room favourite since the gallery opened 15 years ago. In his collection in this exhibition, The Constructed Landscape, he uses found objects from along the Kent coast where he once lived, paint and other materials to conjure up images of a landscape or coastal scene.

There are small bits of wood, and lots of mesh metalwork, sometimes painted over or painted through, with some constructions looking like part of a boat, or a distant boat afloat. There is lots of blue and yellow paint, and constructed landscapes in box frames. There are monoprints again using the mesh pattern, and some with a dark stripe to one side looking like a flag. They are refreshing to look at and definitely bring a feel of the sea to the Midands.

Other artists in the exhibition include Adrian Bradbury, who studied art at Goldsmiths and went on to work for Bauer, DuPont and others, and who is showing a set of prints entitled Coast, which feature layers of colour.

Tim Southall is a regular exhibitor at The White Room Gallery, and is showing some more of his drawings in this show. It also features works by his great uncle, Sir Frank Job Short, who was born in 1857 in Stourbridge and trained as an engineer, but his passion was for art. He became Professor of Engraving at The Royal College of Art in 1913, and this exhibition shows several of his etchings, lovely scenes of long-ago life; seaside folk on a quay, a windmill, a village with churchtower and a man at work.

In the centre is Coming Home, by Tim Southall, showing someone in a lit-up night walking towards a house.

The exhibition is on until May 25, and worth visiting for the variety of works by a number of talented artists.