Reviews

Enjoy the legacy of ‘benevolent despot’ of Leamington art collection

John Terrick Williams

John Terrick Williams, Boats in Harbour, Mevagissey, oil on canvas, 1935-1936

The artistic legacy of a man who left his mark on Leamington Spa is explored at the town’s art gallery.

The Benevolent Despot – Alderman Alfred Holt (1858 – 1943) and the foundation of Leamington Art Gallery tells the story of the long-standing councillor and his contribution to the town he came to call home, and his huge input into the town’s art collection.

The independently-wealthy Holt was from London, but visited Leamington in 1893 and fell for its charms, settling in Oakwoods (a house which is no longer there) in Kenilworth Road with his wife Florence for the rest of his life. He half funded the bandstand and the fountains in Jephson Gardens, helped found the Leamington Cricket Club, and less attractively rode with the local hunt. He was elected to the council in 1906, and became engrossed by local leadership, being mayor seven times.

Holt also part funded the art gallery extension to the library in Avenue Road, and from 1928 until its temporary closure during the Second World War he was its biggest donor, giving 12 of the first 13 paintings to the collection, and 109 in total.

Many are on show in this fascinating exhibition. There are portraits, landscapes and social scenes. Holt was interested in travel and went abroad a lot, and some seem to reflect that interest too, including Francisco Hohenleiter’s Corral en Triana, an oil painting of people gathered around a well in a pretty, sun-lit courtyard.

Another strong work is Sarkis Katchadourian’s The Three Generations, showing three Muslim women in a market scene, two in white and one in a long black gown.

There is John Terrick Williams’s attractive Boats in Harbour, Mevagissey, from the 1930s, and two paintings of St Ives, Bernard Ninnes’s  Boat Builders Shop, St Ives, a large work with the harbour recognisable through the window,  and R Borlase Smart’s The Pilot’s Boat House, St Ives, a crowded scene showing a familiar building before the arrival of too much tourism. Old Oak, Stoneleigh Road by Thomas Baker shows a sturdy old tree nearer to home.

David Alison
David Alison (1882-1955), Portrait of Alderman Alfred Holt, 1930, oil on canvas

Alderman Holt, as Project Curator Jeff Watkins notes, donated works by some of the most celebrated artists of the era, including Christopher Nevinson, Dorothea Sharp and Stanley and Gilbert Spencer.

The exhibition includes The Chicken Boy by Gilbert Spencer, an oil on board showing a lot of chickens following the dull-looking boy – which features in a book of “1,000 paintings to see before you die”.  There is also Cookham Rise by Stanley Spencer, a view of some simple homes and newly-laid out gardens in a peaceful setting in his characteristic style.

Other portraits include Poverty by William Lee-Hanley, featuring an unhappy woman with two children, and Alan Hayward’s The Onion Man, showing a jaunty figure with a string of onion and a seaside scene in the background. Celia Frances Bedford’s Lady with Powder Puff shows a woman in a social setting looking at herself in a mirror, while a man looks at her.

Holt’s love of travel is shown in the donation of three large Maori shawls which he is believed to have brought back from a trip.

Holt’s name lives on in Holt Estate in Lillington, and in the gifting of a pendant for the Mayoress to wear but through the donation of 109 paintings and other works of art the ‘benevolent despot’ has left a gift of beauty for generations to enjoy.

*The exhibition at Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Museum continues until January 7.

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Andrew Logan’s exhibition brings glitz to peaceful Abbey setting

Sometimes you just want something glittery and shiny to brighten up your life, and thank goodness for Andrew Logan for providing that.

Andrew Logan’s Goldfield

Logan is famous as the founder of the Alternative Miss World in 1972 and as a sculptor, jewellery maker and artist. I was also lucky enough to see him escorting Zandra Rhodes to the press day of the Chelsea Flower Show a few years ago, and the pair were so colourfully dressed they were competing with the floral displays for attention; fitting for an artist whose Wikipedia entry also includes the description “self promoter”.

Logan has an exhibition of his work at Buckland Abbey in Devon on show until the end of October, and on a grey day my heart was lifted by a visit.
Buckland Abbey was built in 1278, one of the last of the Cistercian monasteries to be build in England and Wales, and after the dissolution was sold on to Sir Francis Drake.

The Abbey’s impressive Great Barn (fittingly named) is filled with Goldfield, an old work on show for the first time in 41 years featuring huge golden sheaves, given lots of space amongst piles of straw in the ancient building.
Nearby, Excalibur features the sculpted hand and sword rising from the lake.
In the Abbey house itself, there are works large and small to delight. Three shiny, mirror-clad, horse sculptures, Pegasus – Birth, Life and Death start the journey on the ground floor, along with a self portrait of Logan made mainly from glass too.

Pegasus by Andrew Logan

On the first floor, amongst the house’s Sir Francis Drake collection of exhibits there are pieces of Logan’s shiny jewellery, and Dinner with Andrew and Friends features a Rhodes-designed tablecloth, plus other paintings and sculptural works by mostly unnamed friends.

The Zen Garden is a representation on a table top of the Kyoto garden, and is designed to be restful and visitors are encouraged to sit and contemplate; sadly the noise of Abbey volunteers and staff in their room next door made that a bit difficult!

Down in the kitchen, Humpty Dumpty, a shiny little creation, sat in the oven waiting to be discovered. In the Great Hall, thrones used in Alternative Miss World were glamorous and enticing, and Altar Cross was on show appropriately in the chapel, and didn’t look out of place.

Andrew Logan’s exhibition is called The Art of Reflection, and he wrote that he hoped it would enthral and surprise visitors. It certainly made me smile, and added an extra fun element to a beautiful destination.

Excalbur by Andrew Logan

Artist and writer go back to nature to explore children’s Lost Words

Dandelion -R Jackie Morris r

Dandelion by Jackie Morris

It’s a sobering fact, quoted in the introduction to a new exhibition at Compton Verney Art Gallery & Park, that three quarters of British schoolchildren spend less time outdoors than prisoners.

 

And that a survey found that eight – 11 year olds were better able to identify types of Pokemon characters than types of UK wildlife. It’s impossible too not to think of recent news reports about the rise in childhood obesity rates and see how these things like together.

The exhibition The Lost Words is inspired by these findings, and is a collaboration between writer Robert Macfarlane and illustrator Jackie Morris.

And at least you have to get some exercise walking through the beautiful Capability Brown-designed parkland at Compton Verney to see the show.

Macfarlane has written a series of poems each named after a bird, animal or plant and Morris has painted two or three watercolours to go with each. The poems are acrostic – the first letter of each sentence spells out the name of the subject of the poem.

Subjects include bramble, wren, willow, magpie, starling, raven and adder. In most cases there is a beautiful illustration on goldleaf of the creature, then another watercolour of it in motion; there are small birds amongst foliage, two otters circling each other in a pool, a family of kingfishers waiting to be brought food, and a heron in flight, amongst the 50 works. There are also some others, showing the path of the creature for example. In some, there’s a magical, mystical nightime scene.

Morris seems to excel specially at birds, and it’s an attractive, entrancing exhibition, which should send you back into the park to see what you can spot down on the water in particular.

The Wild Washerwomen, Quentin Blake

Also at Compton Verney until December 17 is Quentin Blake – Inside Stories, in which the illustrator explains how he works, and the stories behind some of his best-loved creations. The exhibition includes his own explanations of how he has put together the pictures for stories by writers as varied as Roald Dahl, Michael Rosen and the eighteenth century’s Voltaire (he produced an illustrated version of Candide).

There are initial drawings, and then the fully-completed illustrations on show.

There are more than 140 works on show, including the drawings used in books such as Dahl’s The Twits and BFG, and David Walliams’s The Boy in the Dress. Others, such as The Wild Washerwomen, are less familiar, to me anyway.
The exhibition is sure to delight the many fans of Quentin Blake’s work.

Kaleidoscope of colour or limited palette – exhibitions explore both

Two current Midlands exhibitions couldn’t be further apart in their titles. At the Mead Gallery at Warwick Arts Centre there is Kaleidoscope, Colour and Sequence in 1960s British Art, and at The White Room Gallery in Leamington is Black and White.

The Mead’s exhibition is a touring exhibition from the Arts Council Collection, and exhibition info says it “brings into focus the relationship between colour and form, rationality and irrationality, order and waywardness in art of the 1960s.”

The point is also made that the featured artworks include bold, artificial colour, and capricious shapes, but also a lot of order, sequence and symmetry.

Walking into the exhibition and looking across at the works in one sweeping gaze, the colours and varied shapes leap out, and the first impression is of some sensory room aimed at stimulating the senses, or even a large play area for children.

Richard Smith’s Trio from 1963 is an orange, yellow, blue and white oil painting showing his influence by American abstract impressionism. There’s also an inevitable op-art black and white work, Movement in Squares, by Bridget Riley from 1961.

A small painted steel sculpture is Anthony Caro’s contribution, and Thebes is the work on show by William Tucker, consisting of three triangular shapes in red, yellow and blue reflecting his work in the 60s on repeated units which must all sit on the ground.

Robin Denny’s Over Reach is a canvas with large straight areas of colour, and John Hoyland’s 15.5.64, named for a date, features bright colours combined.

Tim Scott’s Quinquereme is a mix of geometrically-shaped pieces of acrylic, and Philip King’s Point X is a large structure using squares, circles and triangles to create a symmetrical but also oddly shaped design.

All together there are works by more than 20 artists in this exhibition, spanning, as the publicity says, Op Art, Pop, Constructivism and New Generation sculptures. It’s interesting to read in the excellent exhibition guide what they were exploring and trying to achieve and ponder 50 years on if they achieved it. The exhibition runs until December 9.

Meanwhile in Leamington Spa, the White Room Gallery is staging Black and White, an exhibition bringing together monochrome works by a range of artists from the local to internationally famous. The items featured cover a range of media including etchings, photographs, silk screens, oils and lithographs.

It features amongst others a diamond dust limited edition print of Damien Hirst’s For the Love of God, a large diamond-studded skull.

There’s also a print of Lamp and Lung Ch’uan Ware by Patrick Caulfield, an artist I always associate with bright colours and it’s hard to see this work of a lamp and vase in shades of white and grey.

Antoni Tàpies’s L’apocalisse del opera is a strange abstract in black and white, and there is a Picasso print of Henry VIII After Holbein, a startled looking image which is an unusual one to be associated with Picasso.

There’s a Rachel Whiteread work, Ringmarks, showing wine glass-type marks on laser-cut plywood.

Locally-based artists who feature include Horace Panter, with one of his Robot series in monochrome, and photographer Ray Spence’s Reflection of a woman reflected in glass. Tim Southall who has exhibited at the White Room before is showing a Venice sea and landscape with lots of detail.

It’s a show of some interesting works, though linked only by their use of black and white, and does rather leave the visitor crying out for more colour in the world outside.

Idea of rural idyll is thoroughly explored in excellent Compton Verney show

A Farmer and his Prize Heifer, artist unknown, c.1844 -® Compton Verney, photo by Jamie Woodley

A Farmer and His Prize Heifer (unknown artist), c.1844, Compton Verney, photo Jamie Woodley

Lying as it does in its own “rural idyll”, it is fitting that Compton Verney art gallery has opened its year with an exhibition examining the truths and myths behind those words.

Entitled Creating the Countryside: Thomas Gainsborough to Today it looks at how artists have depicted the country over the space of four centuries. Often throughout the exhibition older and newer works are placed together to throw in elements of realism to an attractive glossing over of the truth.

The exhibition begins by looking at the idea of the countryside as a place of escape, an idea that has obviously been around for a long time as seen in Claude Lorrain’s image of Youth Playing a Pipe in a Pastoral Landscape from 1645, showing the boy as peaceful animals graze and the scene looks lovely.

Nearby, there’s a Henshall and Company of Longport platter showing Compton Verney, a vision of an idealised landscape created by Capability Brown, showing two men in the foreground with their hunting dogs and pheasants, and the artificially-made lake.

John Constable’s Willy Lott’s House, 1816, shows a simple but attractive house next to water, with a comment that it transformed landscape painting. Next to it is a Paul Reas photo of Constable Country – people being moved into position to view the scene of one of his famous paintings, turning the rural idyll into a tourist business.

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Helen Allingham, A Surrey Cottage, 1880, watercolour Couresy of Burgh House and Hampstead Museum

 

The next room features other country images not quite as they seem; Helen Allingham’s A Surrey Cottage 1880 is a watercolour of a delightful scene, but the cottage in question was under threat of destruction from the coming of the railways.

Grayson Perry’s 2006 ceramic Fantasy Village also looks at the reality behind the image – a village where single mothers were cast out, and where now there are ugly convenience shops and litter.

A room entitled Working the Land, focuses on other issues and there’s a big altar-like display of corn dollies made by Raymond Bush for harvest festival; the delicate and attractive work contrasts with the photograph by Andy Sewell from 2014 showing plastic carrier bags of food as a church centrepiece.

There are works by a number of artists including John Nash, George Stubbs, Harry Becker and Constable showing countryfolk at their honest toil, and then another photo by Paul Reas entitled Harvest of a Bygone Age, Home Farm Museum, Hampshire, showing people from 1993 watching a host of others in period costume gathering in hay; the performers have mostly paused to look at their audience, creating a strange multi-focused scene but again with the past and the countryside as tourism.

Sigrid Holmwood’s Museum Girl with Doll, painted with mushroom and other natural plant pigments, also shows a scene of acting from a country museum.

A section entitled The Dark Pastoral examines mysticism, turmoil and death. Hilary Jacks’s Turqoise Bag looms over it, a tree with a plastic bag caught in its branches, symbolising the impact on the environment of modern living. John Piper’s Derelict Cottage shows a former home, now lost, and covered in scribbled marks. Graham Sutherland’s Number Forty Nine, from 1924, also creates beauty in a detailed drawing of a thatched cottage which has lost most of its roof.

Anna Fox and Alison Goldfrapp in an untitled work create a sinister tone with a photograph of a woman’s legs laying on bluebells, red shoes on, raising ideas of a violent act having taken place.

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Anna Fox and Alison Goldfrapp, Untitled, from Country Girls, 1996, C-Type colour print
© The Artists, courtesy of the Hyman Collection, London

Evelyn Mary Dunbar’s A 1944 Pastoral: Land Girls Pruning at East Malling is an oil painting of women at work in a bleak wood, reflecting the time, surrounded by images of cutting, with a saw, pliers and secateurs.

The Great Escape section looks at holidays, including Paul Hill’s photo Legs Over High Tor, Matlock, a girl’s legs hanging off the natural feature as cars go by on the road below, and a colourful Shell poster of Faringdon Folly, 1936,considered a worthy destination.

The village is looked at too, with a long work by Sir Stanley Spencer designed to hang in Cookham.

A 1971 photo by Homer Sykes of the Burry Man, a depiction of a strange village tradition, plus the Allendale folk walking with burning barrels on their heads shows the stranger side of village life.

It’s a well put together exhibition, not being fooled by the chocolate box image of the countryside and showing that mythologizing and sentimentalising it is not just a recent thing.

BURRYMAN  SCOTLAND SOUTH QUEENSFERRYThe Burry Man by Homer Sykes, 1971, courtesy of the Hyman Collection

Prize-winning artist’s realist paintings veer towards the ‘downright disconcerting’

Tear

It was a first for the Deasil Gallery when a celebrity collector officially opened an exhibition of works by the artist he admires.

The show at the gallery in Leamington was the first solo exhibition by Neil Moore since 2008 and his first in the town for 10 years, though he has participated in Warwickshire Open Studios and group shows.

Moore, who was born in 1950 in Leicester, also won the Leamington Open in 2015, and his photo realist oil paintings and charcoal works are instantly recognizable.  The introduction to this exhibition claims he “explores the complex psychology of modern-day society”, and that some people find answers in his work, and others questions.

His celebrity collector, writer of screenplays, TV adaptations and novels Andrew Davies, who lives in Kenilworth, described Moore’s paintings in his opening speech as “tender, ruthless, sometimes downright disconcerting but always beautiful.” He said he owned half a dozen already but felt drawn towards another one in this exhibition – Disorientation, which appeared to show two attractive blonde women about to kiss – or is it one woman with a mirror image?

Baptism of Fire

Neil himself claims to not know where the ideas for his works come from; though a coracle that appears in some of these recent works was a real item made by a friend that he has incorporated into the work. Quite why a slim, attractive, naked woman is carrying it in Underside I don’t know.

In Tenebrae a woman in a white robe sits in the coracle in water, a crown of candles on her head. Does it relate to a real story or myth? Neil is vague on the subject, just saying all his works are about people. In Baptism of Fire the same woman is in the water, her robe falling off and her head lowered, in what looks like some sort of sacrificial scene.

Wasted

In Tear (top) a woman looks out at the viewer as she tears some black material which at the moment is shielding her naked top. In Wasted, a young woman in a boobtube top, her eye make up worryingly blurred and her hair tumbling looks a bit disturbed and it’s one of the “downright disturbing” ones Andrew Davies mentioned.

Underside

Deliverance, in which a topless woman with a wide, hooped petticoat on looks down at a baby girl on the floor below her is equally disturbing. Others such as Air Chrysalis where a woman lays in bed beneath a sheet are less so.

Air Chrysalis

Moore is clearly highly admired and a talented artist. Some of his works though, concentrating as this collection seems to anyway, on slim, attractive women, often partially clothed, and in a couple of cases with babies or dolls, do create anxieties, and raise questions but for me not in a good way.

The exhibition, entitled The Answer?, is on until March 30

 

Environmental theme at gallery in the park for this year’s New Art West Midlands exhibitors

jade-hamilton-future-mess-2016-for-new-art-west-midlands

New Art West Midlands has opened its doors again to shine light on some of the stars of the region’s art colleges – with one of the exhibitions having a particular theme this year.

The exhibition is held across four venues and shows works by artists who have graduated from the region’s six art schools – Coventry University, Birmingham City University, University of Wolverhampton, University of Worcester, Staffordshire University and Hereford College of Arts – in the past four years.

More than 180 people entered and just 31 were chosen to show their work across this year’s galleries: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, mac Birmingham, Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum, and Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

NAWM was launched this year with a private view at mac, and it was soon clear there was a thematic choice to the works. The mac exhibition had been curated by Jessica Litherland who moved there from Rugby Art Gallery and Museum last year. She said she noticed a lot of artists were working with environmental themes, and she thought this would link in with the gallery being in a park, and wanting to get more involved in its setting.

I could only find one Coventry University graduate showing at the mac, and she is Renata Juroszva, whose works explore the “relationship between femininity and domesticity” and are based on her photographs of domestic spaces filled with female models. Domestic Routine is a set of nine monochrome drawings showing women doing small tasks such as taking a bath or going upstairs, creating ideas of privacy and intrusion.

Jade Hamilton (ex University of Wolverhampton) has combined (above) various found objects around the idea of a post-apocalyptic future where humans have used up the earth’s resources to such an extent they have created an environment where it’s virtually impossible to breath normally. Mannequins wear gas masks attached to small ‘microcosm planted biomes’, glass domes full of greenery. They are impressive if sobering.

Some of the other works on show at the mac are not easy to look at.

Megan Evans (ex BCU), is showing Natural Collection, a selection of works made from pastel, and cosmetics, looking at people’s ideas of self presentation through deciding to change their appearance. There are some slightly gruesome images of faces cut open for facelifts, dental work and other facial surgery. They make their point about the ugliness and unpleasantness gone through in the search for beauty.

Halina Dominska’s work is quite fun. It looked at first like a big pink canopy, with flesh picky bits hanging from it; it relates to the skin, to senses and reactions. Called Bound to, it is made of soft silicone, fishing wire and pressure sensors, with bits that start pulsing in a triffid-like manor if you stand close to them.

Sarah Zacharek (ex University of Wolverhampton), is interested in travel, and also inspired by the work of Hamish Fulton. In Re:Discovery she traced a route determined by photographic negatives of her late father’s journey to Torun, his home town in Poland, although she had no first-hand memories of him and no connection to his heritage. She has combined his photographs with ones taken where he had stood, also photographing the street she stood on, together with sounds from the journeys.

Hair stitched on hand.

Natalie Ramus (ex Hereford College of Arts) has produced large photographs of hands that at a distance look as though they are painted with henna; but no, it’s a hand stitched lightly with human hairs. Hand Stitched is apparently about using shock to prompt the spectator to reconnect with their body. It’s certainly quick shocking.

 

Jenna Naylor (ex Staffordshire University), has created some charcoal and marker pen drawings, one bravely on tracing paper reaching across the room and others on the wall, called Botanical Hybrids, which show her interest in classificatory systems and taxonomy, and “use the space between fact and fiction”. They look like a mix of under sea life and plants.

All four exhibitions of NAWM are on until May 14. Looking at the exhibition catalogue other works I’d like to track down (both by Coventry University graduates) are some colourful mixed-media anti-capitalist, anti-austerity landscapes created by Coventry University graduate Daniel Smart, and Natalie Seymour’s digital photo collages of an empty college building in Smethwick which fuse images of the interior and exterior to create monumental images.

 

 

 

Come face to face with images from Coventry and the country’s past

by Unknown artist, oil on panel, 1590-1610

by Unknown artist, oil on panel, 1590-1610

A new exhibition at The Herbert in Coventry brings together some paintings from the gallery’s collection that are not regularly seen, and some loaned from major collections in London.

In Face-to-Face – Portraits Through Time it’s fascinating to see paintings in particular of figures from the city’s historical past. The exhibition is organised into groups under headings, though many works could really fit in several sections.

In status there is a portrait of Simon Norton, dyer and former mayor of Coventry was dated 1641, the year he died and left money to Bond’s Hospital in the city, as the caption explains, and also I’ve read elsewhere to pay for a C of E minister at St John’s Church if it ever became a parish church; at the time it had been handed over to the council to administer. Amazing to see him in his rich red robes.

There is also John Rotherham of the watch making family, painted with a horse and dog in 1832 by locally-based painter David Gee, really in the pose of a country gent, showing the class his family’s work and wealth meant he now aspired to.

The Waters family of Coventry, behind the well-known wine business, are also depicted.

Alfred Herbert, industrialist and head of the Coventry business, was painted by Leonard Boden at the age of about 90, showing confidence and self assuredness and also nonchalantly smoking a cigarette. By contrast, also from the Herbert’s own collection is Peter Howson’s Man With Cigarette, a non-realistic depiction of a hard-done-by looking man with downtrodden eyes, dragging on the cigarette, with most of the colours different shades of red.
Another Arthur Gee painting shows the children of Arthur Gregory of Styvechale Hall in Coventry playing with their old dog Nelson from 1838, an idealised image of well-off people at leisure.

In contrast, a Christine Vogle photograph from 1975 shows a family group in a women’s hostel, their bags still packed in a cramped room.

Masterji, Coventry’s recently much-celebrated portrait photographer has a work included, Mr and Mrs Khan, a couple posing smartly before the camera.

A section on commissions includes Miss Newark, but David Gee again, a young woman painted in 1859 with her hands on a book, showing her studiousness, and a Stanley Spencer portrait showing Priscilla, a young woman from Cookham depicted at home, complete with roadworks visible through the window. It was a commission from her family, painted while the teenager was undergoing cancer treatment, and died soon afterwards.

In the power section there is Bearded Man with a Falcon from 1500, on loan from the Courtauld, and showing the strong-looking central figure painted in rich colours, attributed to Lazzano Bastiani. The National Portrait Gallery has loaned a typically-tough looking Henrvy VIII, and the Herbert’s own more than life sized portrait of Queen Mary II dominates that wall of the gallery, not a very human image but showing the richness of her powerful position.

Bryan Organ’s 1981 painting of Diana, Princess of Wales, painted the year of her marriage to Charles shows her seated, central amongst well-decorated surroundings, and we are reminded it was a very different image at the time as she was seated casually and wearing trousers, representative of what she brought fresh to the royal family.

The “Recognised” section features portraits of people done because the artist wanted to depict them, rather than anyone commissioning the work. It includes Giant Head of Gbenga, painted by Naham Shoa, a huge 2001-2, a large close-up portrait with the light falling on one side of his face. Coventry-based Jason Scott Tilley’s 2012 photograph of a graceful dancer in Jaipur is also included.

Self portraits include Sarah Lucas’s Self Portrait with Mug of Tea from 1993, an image showing her in more traditional male pose, legs apart and dressed in masculine style. Thomas Gainsborough’s 1758-9 self portrait was painted probably while he was looking for work after moving to Bath and wanted to show off his skills at accurate representation. Victoria, a photo by Lisa Gunn, challenges images of disability and sexuality, the artist pictured from behind in her wheelchair, wearing a half-open corset.

The Fame section includes an 1806 mezzotint image of Horatio Nelson on loan from the National Portrait Gallery, a picture showing him looking heroic, and distributed on his death. The Creative area includes a photo of author Jacqueline Wilson by Maud Sulter, her large silver jewellery showing her independence, and a great Germaine Greer painted by Paula Rego from 1995, traditional images of graceful or regal portraiture going out the window, with the academic in a comfortable shapeless dress, her legs splayed as she things of more intellectual things than what she looks like.

The exhibition seeks to explore an apparent age-old obsession with the human image, showing some interesting locally-held paintings which most people are unlikely to have seen before, and asking questions about why people are depicted as they are, why at all and what messages are being conveyed.

The exhibition is on until June 4.

by Bryan Organ, acrylic on canvas, 1981

by Bryan Organ, acrylic on canvas, 1981

Colourful landscapes star in David Howell’s return to exhibiting

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Eyes of Slate, oil on canvas 2015

Coventry-based artist David Howell could not be accused of rushing into having an exhibition, as it’s 23 years since his last one – however it has been worth the wait.

Black Mountain Red River captures David’s interest in investigating ideas of landscape. The large to very large colourful paintings work very well in the open white spaces of the Lewis Gallery at Rugby School.

As he explains in his artist’s statement: “I’m interested in how perceptions of both nature and landscape have been shaped through time, how we experience landscape in its physical sense, how we record it visually through maps, photography and the painted image, and the resulting affect this has on our psyche.”

David’s colour use has changed over the years, with brighter hues now filling the canvas. Mineral Memory from 1996 shows this, a large mainly dark green painting with a lozenge-shaped block in the middle. Other older works are also generally darker in colour.

The painting style involves what looks like a confident application of the paint, generally in thick lines. Falling Water features green, blue, purple and orange paint streaming down the canvas to the bottom. Palimpest features a line across the canvas with brighter colours across the top.

Some of the paintings have the look of lines of different strata in rocks or cliff faces. One work has a grey background with a blue river running through it, and Above the Shivver features yellows towards the base and thickly-applied broad swathes of coloured paint with more greys and purples up top. You can imagine fields, or vistas opening up, with various skies and weather conditions.

David, who took a Fine Art degree at the then Lanchester Polyechnic in the 1980s and who was a prizewinner in John Moores 18 at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool in 1993, said his influences are broad, “ranging from a fascination with geology and deep time, the scientific understanding of the ongoing processes that have shaped and continue to shape the land around us.” Influences include maps, satellite images, historic paintings and mineral samples.

It feels a lifetime ago since David’s works have been seen in public, and at the busy opening a lot of people were glad they had been brought out of his studio at the Canal Basin in Coventry. Don’t miss the chance to see them at the gallery, which is open Monday to Friday afternoons until March 2 (half term excepted).

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Tidal Pink oil on canvas 2014

Nash and Rauschenberg exhibitions fascinating contrast for day out

A trip to London meant a chance to catch up on two exhibitions which began last year and are worth seeing before they end in the next couple of months. Coincidentally the ones that caught my eye are at both the Tates.

At Tate Britain, there’s a large Paul Nash exhibition. Nash, who lived from 1889-1946, was involved in various artistic groupings in the 1930s and a leading figure in British surrealism, though his war paintings were what I knew him for, and after seeing the exhibition still seem to be his most powerful works.

Early works such as The Pyramid in the Sea and Night Landscape saw him influenced by the symbolists and exploring dream-like, often moonlit landscapes.

His First World War paintings and his own experiences made his works bigger, bolder and more dramatically coloured. We Are Making A New World from 1918 has a brave sun peeking over blood-red mountains, a churned up foreground and trees with only the trunks remaining. Ypres Salient at Night is a geometric painting, with light flooding from a sky alight with explosions. The Menin Road has a landscape of destroyed trees, toxic pools of water, a few struggling figures, smoke and light flooding through the devastated sky in straight lines. Spring in the Trenches, Wood Hill 1917 depicts new growth and sun shining over soldiers stuck in a trench. In these paintings dramatic colours not true to life and angular shapes are stunning and spectacular.

After the war, Nash became obsessed with certain places, such as Dymchurch, where he painted The Shore as long straight concrete lines, huge patches of yellow sand and a floaty sky. Other works included still lifes, such as Dead Spring, a plant’s dying greenery soft and twirling against harsh straight lines in the background.

Later works included compositions of objects such as driftwood and stones, and then landscape paintings including objects such as the Avebury stones, or objects representing them.

The Second World War brought along starkness to his work again, including Totes Meer (Dead Sea), inspired by the piles of metal from crashed planes he saw at the Cowley Dump in Oxford, making it into a new shiny sea full of waves.

His final paintings were a return to landscapes involving the moon or sun, and flowers in the sky as precursors of death. It’s a fascinating exhibition and if like me you knew Nash mainly for his war paintings its eye opening.

At Tate Modern, the Robert Rauschenberg exhibition couldn’t be more of a contrast. The artist lived from 1925-2008, and began his career in the 1950s. He came from Texas and only went to an art gallery for the first time after being drafted into the navy.

His first works included a car tyre coated in paint driven over a long strip of paper. Works developed into paintings incorporating found items, and then larger free-standing collages and some works he created live on stage.

There is also the infamous stuffed goad he acquired, and was initially unsure how to evolve it into an art work; eventually it became wrapped in a tyre and stood over a painting. Another work shows a single bed, sheet pulled enticingly back, but the whole coated in paint.

He also worked across art forms, creating sets for more than a decade for the Merce Cunningham dance group, who performed to compositions by John Cage.

Later works included silkscreens consisting of photos enlarged on to canvas, including the recently assassinated President Kennedy, and images from space, science and sport. Another departure was to create Mud Muse, a large tank of clay and water which pops and bubbles as air is released.

Later works took on a political hue, involving influences from countries with repressive governments, and also sculptures made from discarded scarp metal from his home state of Texas, then suffering after an oil crisis.

It’s a hugely varied exhibition and again a learning experience for someone only familiar with a few aspects of his work.

* Nash at Tate Britain continues until March 5, and Rauschenberg at Tate Modern until April 2.