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.

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