Artists

Queen Victoria, Paris and Picasso are unlikely mix of stars for Compton Verney autumn exhibition

 

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Max Berthelin, Royal Visit to Napoleon III, The Grande Galerie des Fetes at the Hotel de Ville, Paris, 23 August 1855, Royal Collection Trust 2016

Two contrasting exhibitions end the year on a high for Compton Verney art gallery in south Warwickshire.

Queen Victoria in Paris features watercolours from the Royal Collection, and Picasso on Paper: Prints from the collection of the Museum Kunstpalast, Dusseldorf, is self explanatory.

The Victoria exhibition is an unexpected joy. It features 44 watercolours which are from three different sources. In 1855 Napoleon III sent Victoria 10 watercolours depicting her visit to Paris from 18-27 August that year, she then commissioned 15 more and the final ones were sent by Baron Haussman. They are seen together in this touring exhibition for the first time – and some have never been seen before in public. The occasion marked the first time Britain and France were fighting on the same side, in the Crimean War, and only 40 years after the Battle of Waterloo.

Compton Verney has done what it does well with this exhibition, presenting them in rooms painted a gorgeous deep blue, and with the low lighting required to protect them.

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Charles Auguste Questel, Royal Visit to-Napoleon II, The Illuminations in the gardens of-Versailles, 25-August 1855, Royal Collection Trust, 2016

This is a collection where the names of the artists are less important than what is shown or represented. Indeed in some of them, the architecture of the buildings, inside and out, is what is particularly impressive – and apparently that was entrusted to architecture students to draw. There are scenes inside from various parties, including at the Hôtel de Ville, where there were 7,000 guests, and the high ceilings and decoration inside is impressively shown; regular artists painted in the people in the bottom part of the frame.

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William Wyld, Chateau de Saint Cloud, Royal Collection Trust, 2016

Victoria’s visit is depicted from her arrival in the Royal Yacht at Boulogne, through to a huge welcome in Paris, through a fake ceremonial arch built temporarily for the occasion. There are landscapes of Saint-Cloud, where she stayed, and which was razed to the ground when Napoleon III fell in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, and some gorgeous interiors of the rooms, with Victoria and Albert shown reading in one. The detail of the rooms and of clothes and hairstyles will delight those interested in the era.

There’s a fantastic nightime painting of Versailles, a packed visit to the opera, and an exaggerated image of Victoria inspecting troops on a massive parade ground. The third room is dedicated to 19 scenes from the Hôtel de Ville ball. It’s an exhibition which is a delight in many different ways.

The Picasso exhibition features 70 works from the Dusseldorf collection, created over a period of 40 years from the 1920s-60s. The exhibition seems to work in phases, marked by Picasso’s changing women, and professional collaborators.

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Pablo Picasso, Head of the Faun, Colour Linocut, Edition 19/50, Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2016. Photo: Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf, Horst Kolberg, ARTOTHEK and

Pablo Picasso, Françoise, 14.06.1946, Lithography, Edition 4/50, Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2016. Photo: Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf, Horst Kolberg, ARTOTHEK

There is a portrait of Jacqueline Roque, who featured in more than 400 of his works, and also marked the start of his collaboration with Hidalgo Annéra.

There are some cute images of his young children, Paloma and Claude, the outlines of one created with his fingertips as he didn’t have tools to hand. Motherhood is an etching, with a few simple lines creating perfectly the woman and the young boy she is feeding. The Painter on the Beach from February 3, 1955 is a humorous work of several odd characters posing.

La Tauromaquia is a seires of 16 aquatint and sugar lift works showing simple scenes of bullfighting, and there is another series, Poèmes and Lithographs, featuring portraits and stream-of-consciousness text.

A move from Paris to the south of France resulted in a new collaboration with a potter there, and there are some works loaned from Leicester Arts and Museums Service, including the lovely Yellow Face of 1947, with the sweet face drawn with his fingers again.

So clearly a pair of exhibitions with no connection, but both interesting in their own right – and on until December 11.

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Standard ideas of homes and bodies are turned inside out in interesting exhibition

Outside / Inside / Out is the title of a new exhibition by two Coventry-based artists showing their work in Warwickshire.

The works, on show at the Lewis Gallery at Rugby School, only until October 13, are by Mandy Havers, a Senior lecturer in Fine Art at Coventry University, and Andrea Hannon, who completed her PhD at the University in 2014, and was also one of the artists highlighted in New Art West Midlands that year.

They explain the title of the exhibition as “the notion of external and internal space as it is found, negotiated and experienced both physically and psychologically is an interest both artists share”. However their works are very different.

Mandy’s works largely concentrate on the human body, often in its most physical form, but with what should be inside and unseen very much on show. Some of the works appear beautiful but in a gory way; Bloodpool features a doll-like figure sitting on a red shiny ball, but then you realise its guts are spilling out of its middle and making the pretty lines down the ball.

Gold Head is a tightly stuffed leather gold head. Last Supper is a large leather and mixed media work, with a Jesus face looking out, some shiny bling, and then you realise the central body is a large loaf of crusty bread.

Dreamer is a work seeming to feature a foetus attached to a head, and other works show detailed drawings of cut-away people, their internal organs and veins visible. There are also a number of tables showing collected objects, Dreamworld from this year, features odd collections; dolls with outsized gloves suck on their hands, eyeballs, and other items relating to the body. The whole body of work is accomplished, attractive and also disturbing in parts.

Andrea Hannon’s works also vary between some on the wall and others free-standing. Her works concentrate more on the idea of physical spaces and the idea of home.

Postern is two landscape paintings, with her own collaged intervention of what looks like windows and walls.

Cluster I is a set of three 3D collages in Perspex and wood, so you can see inside to tiny figures cut from old books, wearing masks here, and with a city skyline too. In Cluster II people gather around a desk. Shoot features four images of what look like a woman in an attractive dress, but with swirls of pattern around her, distracting from the figure.

In-her is a roughly-made dolls house inhabited by cut-out figures, including one that looks like a woman doing the ironing, and in one part of the house the floor has come up in strips, and the front is completely detached, suggestion traumas and frustrations of home. Two other works feature homely items such as lampshades and wallpaper in unusual settings on the floor.

The very different works seem to complement each other, creating an interesting and thought-provoking exhibition.

*The Lewis Gallery opens weekdays 2-5pm, and the exhibition closes on Thursday, October 13.

Movement is the theme of paintings in latest Deasil exhibition

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If you didn’t get enough of the Olympics …. There’s a chance to see it from a different angle in a new art exhibition.

Deasil gallery in Oxford Street, Leamington, is showing Motion and Emotion, an exhibition of Andy Farr’s paintings, until September 8. Andy is keen on capturing movement on canvas, and the show includes a number of works inspired by the recent Rio Olympics, as well as other works.

Andy said he works partly from photographs, but largely from film, watching and re-watching sportspeople in action to come up with his paintings. Many feature expressions of movement, such as Andy Murray’s swinging arm in a tennis shot, or a cyclist whizzing through the frame. Others are like a video that has been moved on frame by frame, showing a sequence of slow motion movements.

Race through Warwick

Pursuit has a single cyclist against a colourful background so you can concentrate on the movement, and Pedal Power has a cyclist in slow motion. Some sailing paintings are slightly different, with a concentration on the different blues and aquamarine colours of the water. Carnival is a painting Andy was unsure about – a celebration of the bright colours of dancing girls in a Rio carnival, a riot of colour as well as movement.

There is also a detailed paintings of a women’s cycle race which came through Warwick earlier this year – for that Andy was there on the street with his camera to capture the riders coming through, and also the spectators lined up opposite with their cameras.

He has previously done a series of works related to dance, saying he wanted to “get a sense of the dance in the painting”. Paso Doble from that series is in this show, a lovely swirl of red dress, embrace and movement.

Andy lives in Leamington, and turned from a career in brand building and marketing to painting a few years ago, and is now studying for an MA at Coventry University’s School of Art and Design, with his degree show coming up shortly. He said some of the sporting works in this exhibition came as light relief compared to paintings of a World War I theme he has done for his MA.

It’s an interesting exhibition and study of sporting superstars showing off their talent.

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Designer Sheila’s work finally given spotlight it deserves in exhibition

Immagine Da BTREE (RT)

Wally Dogs

The dedicated life of a designer who forged a long and successful career away from the spotlight is being celebrated – and her wonderful designs receiving a new audience –  nine years after her death.

Rugby Art Gallery & Museum is showing an exhibition dedicated to the life and work of Sheila Bownas, a fascinating textile designer, whose works show the different trends of several decades, and also the struggle to succeed as a woman in design.

Sheila moved from her home in Yorkshire to study at the Slade in London in 1946, then after returning home to teach she continued to do freelance designs for organisations including Liberty and Marks and Spencer. She returned to the capital towards the end of the 1950s, and produced work for the Natural History Museum and Botanical Society of the British Isles amongst others, but then she went back to her home village of Linton where she continued to work as a freelance artist.

She did not however give up hope of getting a job in a studio, as a 1959 letter in the exhibition tellingly quotes: “With reference to your desire to obtain a position in our studio, the director feels that should an appointment be made at all, a male designer would be preferable.

Bownas (below) was ‘discovered’ by Rugby-based Chelsea Cefai who bought an archive of 210 textile design prints from an auction while looking for items to decorate her home, and then set off on a quest to find out more about Bownas. Her research has discovered lots of letters and pictures, loaned from the artist’s cousins and god-daughter, as well as more of her work.

sheila bownas

Some early design works show her Linton, its buildings depicted without perspective. There are portraits, carried out to make money during the Slade years, still lifes which she excelled in, and one painting of her mother and cousin which made it into the Royal Academy’s summer exhibition.

Early textile designs used plant and fern motifs, and there are some beautiful detailed flower paintings. Some items are also borrowed from the Natural History Museum, where Bownas was commissioned in 1962 to make a series of micro-studies to go with a particular exhibition, and these detailed and delicate works show her skill.

Bownas’s sketch book shows the development of her work which often began as a doodle then got advanced into a sketch on baking parchment paper, then a painting.

There are three large walls of the exhibition showing her works from different decades; the 1950-59 section includes patterns, and lots of floral motifs, plus ‘wally dogs’ designed to show the popular mantelpiece ornaments of the time, with increasing use of abstracts and a bus scene, probably inspired by trips to the capital. The 1960s works include very bright colours, and still floral, with the 1970s introducing more geometric patterns and bold colours, and then a set that were just black and white gouache.

It’s a fascinating and well researched exhibition showing the creativity and talent behind a life full of making items that were seen in public, but with the designer staying in the shadows.

*On until September 3, 2016.

Sculpture in city church is a poignant return for Coventry artist George Wagstaffe

A Coventry artist has returned to a church where two pieces of his work already stand, to create a new sculpture which was blessed today.

George Wagstaffe has made a new water stoup for St Mary Magdalen Church in Chapelfields in Coventry, the ‘church with the blue roof’ on the corner of St Thomas Whites and Hearsall Lane.

An exhibition of his recent work including preliminary drawings for the design of the stoup, plus some older pieces, were put on show at a cheese and wine evening in the church’s Magdalen Centre, where George was also present to talk to parishioners about his work.

His works already in the church are a tall stand for the Paschal Candle, and a Mary Magdalen sculpture, which was dedicated on September 28 2003. George was working on this when the Twin Towers were attacked in New York on September 11 2001, and this influenced his work, with the bronze cast to reflect the light to appear as if she is weeping. A personal tragedy influenced his planning for the stoup, as during the 18 months he was working on it he was caring for his ill wife, and then mourning her loss.

Some of his paintings from this time reflect this, with previous motifs of a woman and horse returning, but now with the waters of separation flowing between them, and a trinity of trees on the hill, in one piece called Atonement.

George said the eventual design for the stoup, which is cast in bronze, represents the wood of the Cross, the sun and the moon which are a constant, and when worshippers dip their fingers in they are touching the thorns of the crown of thorns from the crucifixion. The design includes the constant flow of water, and laurel leaves.

The design is detailed and meaningful, and comes from deep personal feelings and a lifetime of work in Coventry, and fits in well with George’s two other sculptures in the church. It was blessed in a service at 10am today.

Strong Rooms are a powerful experience of history in the making

Strong Rooms have come to make their mark in Coventry this week, and call in for an illuminating experience

And enjoy them from what you find out, rather than focusing on the slightly confusing story of what’s behind them.

After a week in Rugby, two shipping containers are in University Square, opposite the cathedral steps, until Monday, July 18, for a project called Strong Arms. They seem to be part of a number of different things though  – a leaflet describes Strong Arms as a new project by artist Mohammed Ali and Soul City Arts, developed by Archives West Midlands and Arts Connect, the Bridge organisation for the West Midlands and Arts Council England Lottery Funding.

It’s also described in a press release from Crisis Skylight Coventry and Warwickshire as a project delivered with The Herbert Museum and Art Gallery as part of Art in Crisis 2016, with work by Coventry-based artists who have experienced homelessness.

However it is defined it’s an interesting dip into history and art in one go, with research carried out at West Midlands archives.

On the outside of one container, Ali has painted, in his graffiti, street art style, Dorothie Feilding, who was born at Newnham Paddox near Rugby, a child of the Earl of Denbigh, but who went on to drive ambulances in the First World War.

Inside one of the containers, he has painted six portraits of people from the West Midlands, some well known and others not. They include Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, the composer who had an African father, and Coventry-born Colonel Wyley who is well known for leaving the Charterhouse to the city, but I didn’t know he was the founder of the Coventry and Warwickshire Society of Artists in 1912. There’s also Emma Sproson, born in West Bromwich, who became a suffragette, and Scottish-born Mary Macarthur who led women chainmakers in Cradley Heath in a fight for a fair wage in 1910.

The floors and walls are covered with old, detailed maps of parts of the Midlands, and there’s also atmospheric sound effects, and a film of a poem being read in a field.

The other container shows works by Midlands artists who have experienced homelessness. There’s some ‘Lost’ posters, featuring various places on earth, including the Temple of the Sun, Baalbek, Syria, marked as “Destroyed”, and the Sphinx of Giza.

A desk has been beautifully customised with cut outs of tiny feet, flowers, with letters sticking out of the drawers and what look like fezs hanging from the ceiling. A huge collage of people and artefacts also brightens one wall.

There is a work, The Book of Known Thieves, 1895-1910, inspired by an archival document which contained information on 1,400 people from Aston in Birmingham who came before the courts in Warwickshire, and were recorded in it.

As a project to promote use of the archives it make a good point of what of interest can be found there; it’s a shame that (in Coventry at least) the opening hours and days of archives are being continually cut back to make it harder to visit and explore.

The Art in Crisis Coventry project continues with an exhibition at the Glass Box in the city centre from July 18-28, by Crisis clients who have worked with photographer Jamie Gray to explore the city, and Pride & Perusal at The Urban Coffee Company at Fargo from July 18-29, a mixed media exhibition celebrating the work of Crisis clients in Coventry in 2015-16.

Á lui le pompon!

Paysage- G-rard Mermoz

“My first painting in 30 years!” says Gérard Mermoz, with an enigmatic smile, referring to Paysage, which has won the Coventry Open 2016, now on exhibition at the Herbert Art Gallery.

In fact, Mermoz – artist, curator and provocateur – has subjected the notion of painting and the aura of the individual work of art to multiple levels of deconstruction, with the crucial involvement of the exhibition’s organisers at Culture Coventry.

The work is an appropriation – a ‘found’ painting complete with indecipherable signature, subjected to some interventions by Mermoz, chiefly with a sharp implement. For the exhibition poster, and the brochure, the gallery has severely cropped this rather small painting, converting it from landscape to portrait format.

Then, in his speech at the opening Chris Kirby, director of exhibitions at Culture Coventry, called the work ‘Passage’ – a term freighted with significance. This is not so much a work in the Coventry Open, as a work involving the Coventry Open.

The neo-conceptual project, with its subversion of the art object, is widely regarded as having long ago run it course. This splendid collaboration suggests that there may still be just a flicker of life in the genre.

(This was an intervention in the landscape of this blog.)

Fun is sadly over but flamenco exhibition is still on show

I was going to suggest a visit to two small exhibitions, but after a wander past today I see one had closed two days earlier than expected.

Mask, in the Glass Box opposite Drapers, had been due to stay up until Monday, with works on show by a number of artists, and was meant to be a reference to masks used in ritual ceremonies, combining art with fun. It was curated by Matthew Macaulay and Gwennan Thomas and when I looked in today there were still leaflets there but no art – hopefully it wasn’t the worry of an EDL march passing close by that led to the early closure.

The other exhibition was opened on Wednesday, as part of the Flamenko Coventry 2016 festival (sic) at Coventry University, also not without problems, and is entitled the Iconography of Flamenco, Small Moons With Attitude, and was curated by artist Frieda Van de Poll. The works will be on show in the Alan Berry Atrium Gallery at Coventry University (opposite the Cathedral) for a couple of months.

Flamenco furniture

The interior of peña flamenca in Montellano, a village in the province of Seville, that features on one of the posters

The exhibition uses as its source the collection of Marcos, a flamenco artist and senior lecturer at Coventry University. Marcos has been collecting instruments, recordings, posters and other objects on a flamenco theme since the 1960s, and they are photographed and shown in themed posters here.

There’s flamenco furniture, such as the straight-backed, usually rush covered chair the musicians prefer. There’s Marcos’s big collection of capos, or cejillas, photographed.There are photographs of alcohol, and information about the flamenco musicans’ love of a drink, and the information that “flamenco people don’t eat, they only drink”.

There are seven inch single designs for iconic singers such as Paco de Lucia and Camarón, and an entertaining section about The Looks of a flamenco singer, and the importance of the way he enters a bar, checking to see if there are any rivals there.

Unfortunately the exhibition opening was not without hitches, as three posters had been disappeared during the day, apparently by workman carrying out jobs in the building; hopefully they will return before this small but fascinating and educational exhibition is over.

Look closely to find religion and sex in the suburbs in new George Shaw National Gallery show

The School of Love

The School of Love, 2015-2016, Enamel on canvas, © Courtesy : The Artist and Wilkinson Gallery, London

Allusions to paintings by great masters, and to seedy going on in the woods, combine for a fascinating new exhibition by George Shaw.

There’s also a set of fairly surprising new works that hit you when you walk in to My Back to Nature in the Sunley Room at the National Gallery.

Fourteen charcoal drawings entitled The Sadness of the Middle-Aged Life Model bring us a naked George in all his glory posing in the position of the stations of the cross, which he would have seen in the Catholic church of his upbringing. All the religious paintings in the National Gallery, where he has been Rootstein Hopkins Associate Artist for the past two and a half years, have clearly made quite an impression, though I remember a number of (less revealing) self portraits from his youth in his exhibition at The Herbert.

They create a good, surprising, introduction to the exhibition.

The Sadness of the Middle-Aged Life Model

The Sadness of the Middle-Aged Life Model (10), 2015, Charcoal on paper, © Courtesy : The Artist and Wilkinson Gallery, London

George said he found the National Gallery rooms nearly all contained scenes from woodland, women parading around and many had Jesus. So with the self-portraits, all three elements of that can be seen in this exhibition.

The paintings are a mixture of sizes, all in the usual Humbrol paint but with a move on to canvas rather than board. Thee Afternoons (Study for Drunken Silliness), The Tossed and The Lost are small works focusing on finds in the woods – abandoned colour pornographic photos, empty bottles, leaves concealing things.

A Revel Before Half-Term features a large canvas with the trees standing darkly round, cans scattered about. The Heart of the Wood shows a small circle of bricks as well as the signs of recent partying; is it the base of a fire, or some more sinister black magic practices? The trees aren’t talking.

Studies for Hanging Around are three single trees, a reference to the crosses of the Crucifixion, and another clear influence from the residency, where he said he had become obsessed with the wood on the cross. The Foot of the Tree is a wooden stump left behind and Verso and Recto are reminiscent of some of his earlier works, with muddy paths leading away. The Uncovered Cover shows a blue cloth partly covered with leaves and concealing – anything or nothing?

The Old Master

The Old Master, 2015-2016, Enamel on canvas, © Courtesy : The Artist and Wilkinson Gallery, London

Another section of the gallery, George said at the press preview, he saw as the Adam and Eve corner.

The Old Master and The Old Country represent the male and female – or as George put it “someone’s gone into the woods and painted a cock on a tree – then there’s a very suggestive tree”. Ok ….

The graffiti is crudely and unnecessarily-added amongst the wooded scene, a reminder that it’s not in the depths of the woods but just yards from a Coventry housing estate. The tree has a deep, gaping crevice painted with care and attention.

The School of Love is a painting of an abandoned mattress, dumped and unloved now, deep in the greenery.

Another work is an unusual self-portrait – George seen from behind up close to a tree: “I’m looking at the Observer Book of Moss,” he joked. “It’s called Call of Nature – what else?”

You’ve Changed is a set of nine small paintings of trees, all different, all with holes in their trunks somewhere, or cracked open; George referred to Youtube references to men who liked sexual liaisons with trees, finding the sexual in the suburbs.

George’s three paintings in the style of Titians Diana and Actaeon works command one wall.

A tarpaulin he found in the wood, hanging like a soft, sensuous material over one tree, represents the pulled-aside curtain, and the work is called The Rude Screen, a play on the rood screen which pre-reformation separated the church congregation from the priest.

The Rude Screen

The Rude Screen, 2015-2016, Enamel on canvas, © Courtesy : The Artist and Wilkinson Gallery, London

A hollybush stuffed full of pornographic pictures that he saw as a child – “I have no idea who put it there, it was almost like a branch of John Menzies” – was the inspiration for the painting representing the bathing beauties and is called Möcht’ ich zurücke wieder wanken . Hints of naked flesh and raised clothes can be seen on the images.

The third painting, representing the killing, is entitled Every Brush Stroke is Torn Out of My Body, and shows red paint randomly daubed on a tree, with another tree displaying a target. Again, it’s the imposition of the urban, peopled world into what is supposedly natural.

There is also a film of George at work at the gallery, talking about his influences, and visiting a wood (though unfortunately not the Tile Hill one), which is definitely worth seeing.

It’s a long time since we’ve seen a new body of work from Shaw but it’s been well worth the wait, and also made me eager to go back to some of his inspirations in the rest of the Gallery.

 

 

Great Masters and naughty goings on in the woods combine to great effect in George Shaw exhibition

The Foot of a Tree

The Foot of a Tree, 2015-2016, Enamel on canvas, © Courtesy : The Artist and Wilkinson Gallery, London

Two and a half years spent amidst some of the best art works in the country has resulted in a stunning new exhibition for Coventry-born artist George Shaw.

George has been the National Gallery’s Rootstein Hopkins Associate Artist – and the exhibition he has produced as a result shows the influence of time spent among the Old Masters, but also growing up in Coventry.

George’s paintings, which saw him nominated for the Turner Prize in 2011, focused on the urban landscapes of Tile Hill in Coventry, where he grew up, plus some of its back paths, semi-derelict garages and surrounding woods. Further works showed the remains of buildings such as pubs which have now been lost.

Here, there’s not a building in sight, but still plenty of evidence of human intervention in nature. The exhibition is called My Back to Nature, which can be read several ways, and is certainly a title George has thought about and played around with.

George

George Shaw in his studio, Photo © The National Gallery, London

At the press preview, the typically plain-speaking George talked about his first feelings at being asked to take on the residency. He said: “The initial reaction was complete mystification – how did I make the list. The second drove me to the toilet and I don’t think I have been off the toilet since.

“I spent about six months wishing I had never been asked. But I could hear a 14-year-old boy [himself] saying do it, that’s why you have been doing this for more than 30 years, or it’s been a waste. And I could hear my dad whirring round wherever he may be saying do it.

“It’s a very humbling experience, it’s like having your trousers pulled down in the shop window and you have to stay there. The bullshit of contemporary art slips away but you can’t hide behind vague theory, you have to be in the firing line.”

He shook his head, slightly in amazement still: “Setting up this exhibition, I had Velasquez staring at me – while I was pinning my drawing on the wall Velasquez was on the other side of the gallery.”

George had been a regular National Gallery visitor since he was a child. He said: “My first visit would have been when I was eight or nine years old and came down with mum and dad on the coach, walking through St James Park from Victoria, and my first stop was the National Gallery.

“My parents met in London and knew London quite well and they were aware that if you wanted to see art the National Gallery would be the place to come. We would have come here first then we would go to the newly-opened London Dungeon. I saw no distinction between the two.”

In one cabinet in the exhibition there is a drawing after a work by Piero Della Francesca, from 1984 – and when you remember George was born in 1966, then there’s the proof he’s been a long-time visitor.

He added that, like the 1970s cartoon character Mr Benn who always returned from a journey with a souvenir in his pocket, whenever he ventured away on an adventure to an art gallery, he would come home with a reminder in the shape of a drawing of a painting: “It was more I made a record of my time spent in front of the pictures. I am very aware of the anxiety of time passing, and I am aware my paintings and drawings are very about the sadness of time passing and sadness has a strong relationship with beauty. That’s where art lies, in the gap between sadness and beauty.”

In the Heart of the Wood

The Heart of the Wood, 2015-2016, Enamel on canvas, © Courtesy : The Artist and Wilkinson Gallery, London

George says in a film showing with the exhibition that he came into work every day like the other Gallery staff, but in his case to a studio to paint. Colin Wiggins, Special Projects Curator at the National Gallery, said in the film: “He’s got this pose that he’s just a working man, doing a working man’s job.”

But this job involved studying masterpieces, and he found unlikely connections with his previous inspirations in Tile Hill. One example he cited is The Triumph of Pan by Nicolas Poussin. As strange creatures and beasts frolic semi-naked, food and drink vessels lay abandoned on the ground; not dissimilar to scenes found on weekend mornings in Tile Hill woods, he thought.

He said: “I realised that there wasn’t a room in the gallery that didn’t have a woodland in it and there wasn’t one without a lady parading round in it, and very few that didn’t have a Jesus in it.

“It seemed to be the opposite of nature, to go into the woods take your clothes off and run around being half man and half animal and have sex with anything that will come along. I thought that quite exciting. I quite enjoyed the chance of that – I missed out on it when I was young because I was painting. I was never invited to that party.

“My return to nature was where I bring everything with me.”

The Tossed

The Tossed, Enamel on canvas, © Courtesy : The Artist and Wilkinson Gallery, London

He felt everything seemed to be happening on the outskirts of towns, in the woods, away from the culture. Along with scepticism about going back to nature to find yourself, he decided he had his back to nature – hence the exhibition’s title.

But how does he fit into the great tradition of British landscape painting, he was asked by National Gallery director Gabriele Finaldi.

“I was told I don’t. I don’t find landscape painting the most exciting part of painting, I find painting Jesus Christ being tortured on the cross, or sexual activity or nudes more exciting. The big question is why don’t I do that – because I can’t.”

He said the teenage boy who didn’t get invited to the exciting parties dreamt instead of being Van Gogh or Rembrandt, and he’s still striving for that, saying about this exhibition: “My reference point was six Rembrandt self-portraits, the way he painted them was the way I wanted to paint a tree.”

The more he looked at the National Gallery works, and the woods around Tile Hill, the more he started to use elements in the landscape figuratively and physically. Three trees together started to be the three crosses at the Crucifixion, at Calvary.

The young George had always loved Titian’s Death of Actaeon at the gallery, and by the time he became Associate Artist the gallery also had Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto.

George said: “Death of Actaeon is one of the greatest paintings in the galleries and it’s one I go back and look at and it’s always impressed me on many different levels.

“I knew I wanted to deal with that subject in a way. I am drawn to the subject of the story.”

In the story, the hunter goes into the woods, finds a curtain which he pulls aside to reveal women bathing. One is Diana who turns him into a stag, and his own hounds devour him – and in the Titian painting she is seen raising a bow and arrow for good measure.

George added: “Maybe coming from Coventry the subject matter attracted me, the tradition of Lady Godiva protesting about taxes in the city and Peeping Tom has his eyes burnt out for being drawn to her.

“I went into the woods as a young man and my dad was pointing out all the finer points of flora and fauna and I was more drawn to the copies of Penthouse magazine blowing around. I thought I would come back later and get it.”

Every Brushstroke is Ripped From My Body

Every Brush Stroke is Torn Out of My Body, Enamel on canvas, © Courtesy : The Artist and Wilkinson Gallery, London

When George ordered three canvases, 178×198 cm, Gabriele said it only meant one thing – they were the same size at the Titian works, and he was going to create his own version. A chance find to take the place of the curtain helped.

“I found a builder’s tarpaulin in the wood. When I saw it I thought are you joking me, I feel I am being set up here.”

George still paints in the Humbrol enamel paints he started using about 20 years ago, and said they become unusable very quickly “It’s very difficult. I enjoy it – I don’t know if that’s really my Catholic upbringing, if you enjoy something it must be bad.”

The paintings are created from photographs, drawings of the same scene and then he varies what is there to suit what he wants, and said by working in the National Gallery he’s been glad to get away from the feeling of his photos bullying him.

He has also tried painting on canvas for the first time. “The gesture and mark making became a little more free form, shaking off my British anal retentiveness.”

In the film also on show at the exhibition he’s seen laughingly fretting about paint running on one of the big works, then he notices more: “It’s like Zulu, they are all coming!”

Most of the painting went on at the National Gallery studio, though there was quite a lot of travel between the “Bermuda Triangle” of London, his home in Devon and Coventry, and some of the smaller paintings travelled with him to be further worked on.

He revealed: “I don’t like my work. I wouldn’t have it because I always see it may be better. When I had about six months remaining here I wanted to be around for another year because I had not made a great painting yet.”

The exhibition is on in the Sunley Room at the National Gallery until October 30 for you to judge for yourself.

The Old Country

The Old Country, 2015-2016, Enamel on canvas, © Courtesy : The Artist and Wilkinson Gallery, London