Friday, 24 January 2014

John Craxton RA: A World of Private Mystery

I had been eager to see this exhibition, as the last time there had been a major survey of Craxton's work was in 1967 at the Whitechapel Gallery. I had seen two of his paintings at Tate Britain fairly recently and was curious to see more.

Craxton was born into a musical family and was mostly self-taught as an artist. Formative influences on his art were the work of Picasso, (he encountered Guernica, which was to remain a profound influence on his style of painting throughout his career), Fernand Leger, Miro and Cubism. He became friends with Graham Sutherland and Lucian Freud and lived with the latter for a period. It was though, a visit to Poros in 1946 and the quality of light, and life of the fishermen, goatherds and sailors there, that became the main focus and subject matter of his painting.

His early work was influenced by that of the Surrealists, William Blake and Samuel Palmer, and consists of solitary youths in pastoral settings such as Shepherd and Rocks, (1943) above, which has a mystical quality about it, and reminds me of the spirit of the work of Cecil Collins. Most people will probably be familiar with Craxton's work through the series of book jacket designs that he illustrated for the author Patrick Leigh Fermor.

Craxton's particular style of painting lends itself well to illustration, and also textile design, as is seen in the piece below which was a tapestry commissioned by Edinburgh University. It is a really good example of Craxton's love of colour and mark-making and was influenced by Byzantine mosaics he'd encountered on the Greek islands.

The two favourite pieces of mine from the exhibition however were:-

This piece 4 Figures in a Landscape (1950-1) above, which shows his a mastery of composition, line and tone. And Reclining Figure with Asphodels, (1983-4), below, where Craxton again returns to the theme of a solitary figure in the landscape, but where Craxton's mature style is less reliant on the influences of Picasso and Cubism, and again displays his love of colour and nature.

There are also a variety of drawings and personal photographs on display in the exhibition. I enjoyed this show as it was a bright blast of Mediterranean sunshine on a wintry Cambridge morning. The walls of the exhibition space reflect this as they are painted a nice sunshine yellow and complement the vivid colours of the Med reflected in Craxton's paintings. Well worth a visit.

A World of Private Mystery: John Craxton RA (1922 - 2009), continues at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Trumpington Street, Cambridge, until 21st April.

Friday, 17 January 2014

London Art Fair 2014

Made the now annual pilgrimage up to Islington to see what the galleries in this fair had on offer to kick-start the art year with. Wasn't madly impressed with much of the imagery this year, the sculpture was the thing for me. The artists and work that did stand out for me however were:-

This Susie MacMurray piece. I am currently obsessed with feathers and engaged in creating some new feathered works albeit of the paper variety, so it was good to see this sculpture for further inspiration. 

I discovered these larger than life "Matchstick Men" sculptures by Wolfgang Stiller last year, and think they are beautiful pieces of surreal genius. It was fantastic to see the actual objects in the flesh as it were.

As far as painting is concerned I think the work of Emma Bennett above is great. They are basically a modern interpretation of Dutch still life vanitas paintings of the 16th and 17th centuries, and just as skilfully and delicately rendered.

The London Art Fair continues until Sunday 19th January 2014 at the Business Design Centre, Islington.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Stanley Spencer: Heaven In A Hell Of War

Portrait of Spencer by Henry Lamb
I thought I'd get away with seeing this exhibition alone whilst everybody was out of London for the Christmas break, but it was still hopelessly crowded. Apparently it is only the second time that these murals have ever been shown in London, (the last time was 33 years ago), so it's no wonder the exhibition was so well attended. I shall have to try to sneak back now everybody has returned to work for a better, unobstructed view.

These mural paintings by Stanley Spencer are taken from the Sandham Memorial Chapel in Burghclere, Hampshire, and are Spencer's depiction of his wartime experiences. They were commissioned by John Louis and Mary Behrend to honour the forgotten dead of the First World War. The murals have been lent out for exhibition whilst the chapel at Sandham is undergoing renovation work.  

There are 17 mural paintings on show at Somerset House and a projection of the altar piece which cannot travel because it is permanently attached to the chapel wall at Sandham. This series of paintings took six years to complete and were finished in 1932. There are also some interesting paintings by Spencer's friend and fellow artist Henry Lamb such as the portrait of Spencer (top).

I like that in a similar vision to Eric Ravilious, Spencer chooses not to depict the horrors of combat, and instead focuses on the domestic and small incidences of life during wartime when he was both a hospital orderly here at Beaufort Military Hospital, Bristol, and also a soldier abroad on the front at Salonika. I really like Spencer's painting technique, and the unusual viewpoints adopted in the murals, as well as the way he contorts the figures to fit into the picture planes.

Stanley Spencer: Heaven In A Hell Of War continues until the 26th January 2014
Terrace Rooms, South Wing, Somerset House, London