Each Month From my Window: February

Most of the time when I look out of the window everything seems as it did in January: rain-battered, wind-swept and hunkered down. But there are little changes; the blue and gold irises (Iris reticulata ‘Fabiola’) have flowered, providing tiny pinpoints of colour in the front garden, the little Tete a tete daffs are in full bloom and the larger Trumpet daffs are starting to open. Kerria has taken over from winter jasmine as the yellow against my walls and the witch hazel (‘Rubin’) is now ablaze with flowers. It isn’t particularly scented but that doesn’t matter; it’s role in life is to brighten the view from my kitchen window, which it does to perfection, every spring and autumn. Photographs, at least mine, cannot do the witch hazel justice. I see it every morning from my kitchen and, even on the dullest winter day its deep red flowers shine against the dark green ivy. Photos show the slightly grubby white brick wall below and the houses beyond the back wall but my mind can block these out; all I see is a flame of brilliant colour against mysterious and magical rich green holly leaves. It is a good way to start each day.

Many years ago (well, sixteen) I read this article which argued, very convincingly as far as I was concerned, that 29th February should be regarded as an ‘extra’ day; one on which we could do whatever we liked. I have no idea who wrote it but whoever it was suggested one should ‘cut a caper, paint picture, stare into the distance or sing sea-shanties.’ They even suggested that ‘Politicians could tell the truth; journalists could choose to look on the bright side’. This 29th fell on a Saturday so I spent it working at Hatchards Bookshop; even so, it felt like a slightly special day. In London it started wet and miserable but by the end of the day the sky was clear and blue. It was as if the year knew it should shift towards spring.

Finally, an extract from a poem called Winter’s Turning by Amy Lowell:

Let us throw up our hats,
For we are past the age of balls
And have none handy.
Let us take hold of hands,
And race along the sidewalks,
And dodge the traffic in crowded streets.
Let us whir with the golden spoke-wheels
Of the sun.
For to-morrow Winter drops into the waste-basket,
And the calendar calls it March.


Tullio Crali at the Estorick

I wrote about the Estorick Collection at the tail end of last year and had firmly intended to attend the opening party for the Tullio Crali show “A Futurist Life” in mid-January. Storm Duncan, however, thwarted this, doing in the trains from our part of the country that evening, but I got there a few days later.  Well worth it and see https://www.estorickcollection.com/exhibitions 

Crali was born in 1910 and died in 2000, after a long, adventurous, difficult and sometimes controversial life. From the age of fifteen he became a convert to Futurism and by the mid 1930’s he was a major player in the movement and had become increasingly close to its leader, Marinetti. He had taught himself to paint, albeit with initially disastrous results; the home mixed oils just slid off the surfaces to which he tried to apply them. Things got better quickly and his output in the fields of fashion, theatre, architecture and graphic design was impressive. However, had he not taken to aeropainting, he would be little more than an interesting footnote in the history of twentieth century art.

Futurism as a movement was obsessed with speed, change and the means (both technological and political) by which this could be felt and experienced.  As early as 1909 Marinetti had written  We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes… is more beautiful that the Victory of Samothrace. In 1930 Crali, who had been experimenting with images of flight for a few years, produced a semi abstract oil painting entitled Le forze della curvaThe Forces of the Bend.  Its subject is a racing car taking a corner on a banked track. Its limited palette, wilful distortions of perspective and the use of striking circular and elliptical forms in its composition all combine to give a huge sense of energy and of change thrusting forwards into the future, albeit against the resistance of the curve. Not only does it admirably convey sensation but also references time, mass and by implication the political manifesto of the Futurists.

The same year came another oil painting, Tramonte di luci a Ostia : Lights of Sunset at Ostia,  a highly personal interpretation  characterised by overlapping arcs of light and shadow produced by the setting sun and a strong sense of a sky that goes on and on almost forever. He has by now gained a masterly control of colour, tone and composition and this is one of the paintings I would really like to take home. No such possibility, since they have all been kindly lent from a private collection.

Only two years later in 1932,  came Ali tricolori – Tricolour Wings, another oil showing an aeroplane of the Italian national aerobatic team, the Frecce Tricolori, the then equivalent of our Red Arrows, performing a stunt so that successive painted superimpositions of the plane suggest its spiralling motion, against an almost lyrical, but greatly simplified background of land and sky. Crali loved to fly and had close links to the pilots of the Italian Air Force, feeling and expressing great affinity and admiration for them.

He also seems, although apolitical and cynical about politics in person, to have been curiously naive in his support for Futurism, whose political components and some of whose membership, came dangerously close to Fascism and all its consequences before and during the Second World War. This got him into big trouble. He was locked up by the Nazis for promoting avant-garde events in Gorizia, nearly deported to Germany to a fate best imagined and then again imprisoned by Tito’s partisans, before the Americans liberated him.

After the war ended he became disillusioned with his fellow Futurists, although he preserved total loyalty to the movement to which he was designated heir by Marinetti. He took teaching jobs in art schools in Paris and in Cairo and continued to paint and to be fascinated by technology. His experimentations are interesting, depicting subjects ranging from the port structures of Nantes, to cosmic images with a strong metaphysical content and creating Sassisenti, assembled collections of stones and marine fragments found on the Brittany coastline. He also continued to fly and work with Italian Air Force pilots and produced a number of very satisfying post war aeropaintings.

While this later output adds to the exhibition, it lacks the intimate engagement with the Zeitgeist of inter-war Italy and the emergence of radical technologies that made his work so special. Like de Chirico, he peaked relatively early and while remaining totally competent and a very good painter, never again quite produced stuff to match that remarkable ascent.

The exhibition continues until 11th April. See it if you can.



Worth the Detour : Two Exhibitions At The Estorick Collection

Yesterday I had a really pleasant surprise. Taking the Victoria Line to Highbury and Islington and walking for a few minutes to Canonbury Square, brought me to the Estorick Collection (https://www.estorickcollection.com) which occupies a fine Georgian house at number 39a. This is one of those galleries everyone has heard of and no-one visits, which is a shame and a mistake. It’s definitely worth the detour. If you are interested in the Italian Futurists, or more generally 20th Century Italian art, then you really ought, indeed probably need, to go.

The key plus points are the excellent permanent collection and thoroughly good and unusual exhibitions. The incidental plus points include a lovely setting, a warm welcome and the probably unfortunate fact it’s very quiet and there is nobody breathing over your shoulder or getting between you and the art.  There is also a very good and reasonably priced cafe serving Italian food that transcends the normal expectations of gallery catering. I ate home-made penne con tonno and drank a good glass of Chianti  for a little over £12.

The foundation was set up by the late Eric Estorick, who possessed a remarkable eye and assembled the permanent collection while making a profitable success of his lifelong devotion to the art of this period at the Grosvenor Gallery. There are works by virtually every significant Italian  artist from the 1890s to the 1950s. Lottery funding played a significant role in the renovation of the building.

Of the two exhibitions currently running, the first, Lithographs from Leningrad, is a remarkable selection of high quality images, many printed in colours and just not what one would have expected from a supposedly tightly controlled Soviet art establishment! However, the other, and probably more important, is Umberto Boccioni: Recreating the Lost Sculptures.

The gallery website states of the lithographs: During the early 1960s, when Eric Estorick (1913-1993) was running London’s Grosvenor Gallery, he developed a strong interest in Soviet art alongside his passion for modern Italian painting. In 1961 he mounted a landmark exhibition of Soviet prints – the inspiration for this special display – which features graphic works by 15 of the artists from the original show: Brodsky, Ermolaev, Izrailevich, Kaplan, Kuks, Lanin, Latash, Maslennikova, Matyukh, Nemenova, Skulyari, Steinberg, Vasnetsov, Vedernikov and Yakobson. This is the first time since 1961 that these artists have been exhibited together in the United Kingdom. Estorick had visited Leningrad’s Experimental Graphics Laboratory in 1960, and was so impressed that he bought several hundred works on the spot. For a number of years his gallery hosted a stream of exhibitions featuring work by artists from the Soviet Union and, for the first time since the Russian Revolution, Westerners were able to see and acquire contemporary art from the USSR.

Of the many ground-breaking sculptures the Futurist artist Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916) created between c.1913 and 1915, only a handful remain in existence today. A number of his most important plaster and mixed-media sculptures were destroyed in 1927 and this constituted a very significant loss for avant-garde art. Using a combination of vintage photographic material and 3D printing techniques, the digital artists Matt Smith and Anders Rådén have recreated four of Boccioni’s destroyed works: a volumetric study of a human face titled Empty and Full Abstracts of a Head, and three of the artist’s iconic striding figures. As the gallery states This ground-breaking display enables modern audiences to ‘see’ these lost masterpieces for the very first time. The exhibition contains a detailed technical exposition of the methodology involved and you can see the 3D printer in action, which is both fascinating and fun.

Both exhibitions close on 22nd December so not much time remains. Next year there will be four new exhibitions, of which the first is Tullio Crali: A Futurist Life, running from 15 January – 11 April 2020.




Ivon Hitchens: Space Through Colour at Pallant House

The most comprehensive and critically important show of Ivon Hitchen’s work for some thirty years runs until 13th October at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester. He was painting from the time of the First World War until close to his death in 1979 and over seventy works covering the whole of his career are shown on a chronological basis, supported by an extensive analytical and critical approach to a very well loved artist so often seen primarily as a “semi-abstract”nature or flower painter. Although not actually untrue this view considerably diminishes Hitchens, an outstanding artist  who continued to develop and innovate throughout his long life.

The son of a painter and trained at the Royal Academy Schools after his education at Bedales, Hitchens was very much part of the London art scene in the twenties and thirties, being for example a member of the Seven and Five Group along with Hepworth, Moore and Nicholson. During this formative inter-war period he was exposed to, and gradually assimilated, influences from the major artists of his time. His retreat to the Sussex countryside only took place after his house was destroyed by bombing at the start of the Second World War.

Cezanne and Braque played a vital part in his development of form while his use of pigment was hugely influenced by Matisse, who once stated “with colour one obtains an energy that seems to stem from witchcraft”. Hitchens used abbreviated fields of colour in place of of precise images, often accompanied by the use of a panoramic depictions, often adopting a wide horizontal format from the later 1930s onward.

The exhibition focuses on his use of colour to create space and depth. Of course anyone who has ever been told to paint a landscape knows how distant hills are both bluer and paler than nearby details, and how reds tend to jump out at you from the canvas; but this is something way beyond such elementary concepts. Hitchens’ colour suggests space and articulates his painting within the imagined volumes of the picture plane. The relationships between different areas, shapes and intensities of colour suggest musical or harmonic relationships between the different pigments. Thus, and by the composition of his images, he transcends realism. Nonetheless he almost always began with a particular location, whether clearly recognisable or simply alluded to in the final work.

The show can be bench-marked around three paintings: the “Curved Barn” of 1922, the long horizontal format “Winter Stage” of 1936 and, as an example of his late style, his “Sussex Canal” of 1972.

The “Curved Barn”, above, shows the literary influence of Roger Fry and Clive Bell and the then new concept of “significant form”. Barn, tree and landscape alike are carved into a series of undulating and twisting form while the colours used support these distortions of form and help create an almost theatrical sense of movement. The planes of the painting appear to sometimes fight and sometimes agree with each other, even giving the impression that the obviously static barn would like to spring into action and start moving through its woodland setting.

Winter Stage 1936 Ivon Hitchens 1893-1979 Tate

By 1936 Hitchens had not only absorbed the influence of Braque, Picasso and Matisse but also begun to develop a style and a format that helped him to express a sense of place and develop the “musical” inter-relationships within his painting. “Winter Stage”, painted that year when he was staying at the home of his patrons Mr and Mrs Cecil Harris, represents a view of the grounds from the loggia of their house. Hitchens uses an extended landscape format to connect five different but linked scenes. The painting is best read from left to right. In his Notes on Painting of 1940 Hitchens explained his methods “Using as instruments in one’s orchestra, each to be heard separately yet all in unity, line, form, plane, shape, tone, notan [a Japanese principle of laying light against dark], colour; warm, cool, recession, progression, softness, sharpness, crowdedness, emptiness, up and down, side to side, curves and straights, and any other pairs of opposites, ordering these in transition, opposition, repetition, symmetry and balance’  The painting was recognised as highly significant at the time and purchased by the Contemporary Art Society who presented it to the Tate.

By the 1970’s Hitchens’ work was more abstract, although still grounded in the natural world and continuing  his characteristic long format. In his “Sussex Canal” of 1972, above, his colours are brighter and more primary. Connected planes of colour suggest recession and movement within the natural world despite increasing abstraction.  

This show is an overdue and an excellent exploration of Hitchens’ life and work. It’s well worth spending a couple of hours there if you are within driving distance of Chichester. (https://pallant.org.uk › whats-on › ivon-hitchens-space-through-colour).






Age is Just a Number, at Zuleika Gallery

The current summer exhibition at Zuleika Gallery in Masons Yard (info@zuleikagallery.com) features the work of four (co-incidentally all female) artists, of whom the oldest (Katherine Hyndman) is 91 and the youngest (Alyssa Dabbs) is 21.  Three out of four of the artists were present at the opening party when I took the opportunity to talk to them. Their work is very different in style but is of uniformly high quality: red dots began to appear as the evening went on.

Frances Aviva Blane produces work (top image) in the abstract expressionist tradition and its subjects tend to be based on the disintegration of paint and personality, causing one to question exactly what the marks may mean or more pertinently cause one to feel. She’s in distinguished mid career, won the Jerwood Prize for Drawing in 1999 and been widely exhibited in several countries including Germany and Belgium. In 2014 her work was shown alongside alongside exhibitions of Francis Bacon and Louise Bourgeois, at Deconstruct in Belgium.

Katherine Hyndman (central image) produces largely geometric work based on arithmetical proportions and sequences, distributing motifs, shapes and colours in harmonious arrays. She has exhibited widely and internationally. Although there is some superficial resemblance to the work of Bridget Riley I suspect her work is more concerned with achieving harmony and less with challenging the viewers’ perceptions.

Alysssa Dabbs, still in college but well advanced in her craft, produces abstract work on a large scale,with an impressive use of colour and mark making, the latter often achieved by unconventional methods such as working with her own brushes, blindfolded, and with her non dominant hand. Interestingly she quotes Adolph Gottleib as stating, in 1947 that ‘so-called abstraction is not abstraction at all. On the contrary, it is the realism of our time’. She continues “My paintings are a reflection on now, documenting the unconscious, capturing emotions and feelings through choice of colour and expressive mark making. I am continually inspired by the scale of other artists work such as Julie Mehretu and Cy Twombly.” All that said, I was impressed by the use of colour to not only evoke memory and sensation but also, no doubt unconsciously, to create space within the picture plane. For some reason it put me in mind of Ivon Hitchins now showing at Pallant House in Chichester.

The bottom image shows the ceramicist Nadine Bell standing in front of Alyssa’s “Goldfish Bowl” with one of her beautifully formed porcelain vessels. Incredibly light and tactile, their second firing after the biscuit stage often involves the addition of various organic materials and even copper wire to the kiln to produce effects that may best be described as “neither accidental nor controlled”. They are very keenly priced in the mid hundreds of pounds and just about within the indulgent present price bracket.

The exhibition runs until 9th August and is well worth a visit.





Masterpiece 2019.

Masterpiece, which closed yesterday, is probably one of the great shopping fairs in the UK. Over 150 exhibitors, from all sorts of disciplines and covering any period from prehistory to the current era, are gathered together in a huge and very upmarket tent in the grounds of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea. There are two ways of looking at it.

The first, which the organisers naturally wish to promote, is that it is “the unmissable art fair at which visitors can view and buy the finest works of art, design, furniture and jewellery – from antiquity to the present day.”

The other is that this is what you get in a world of negative real interest rates, a lack of transparency in ownership and regulation in this asset class, largely unrestricted global capital flows and an excess of disposable capital and income amongst the international very rich. Both views are true.

Certainly the event doesn’t lack bling! There are champagne bars (£19 for a glass of Laurent-Perrier), restaurants, private rooms for select clients and a general focus on display and spending. Even with the sponsorship of the Royal Bank of Canada, it must be very expensive to exhibit. Indeed if you don’t get free tickets from a friendly exhibitor (I was lucky and thank you David Franses: have a look at our LAW post yesterday for a review of their discoveries) it’s £38 a head to get in.

For some of the smaller and newer exhibitors attendance must be quite a gamble and many looked very tired and slightly concerned by Monday. Some certainly did well and the general quality of the exhibits was very high. That said, there was a slightly Gatsbyesque air to the whole thing and it might well not survive a global downturn or anything like a Corbyn government that might not be totally sympathetic to such rather conspicuous displays of luxury.

No-one however could doubt the quality of the best exhibits. I have chosen to illustrate two I particularly liked. The first, with Ronald Phillips, was an early 18th century lacquer bureau bookcase: everything on this firm’s stand is superb and much really aspires to the condition of sculpture. The second, with Stair Sainty, was a little and very covetable oil sketch of a lion with a goat by Delacroix showing a remarkably free handling of paint, a beautiful sense of light and energy, and great control of tone and colour.

There were many, many other things of equal quality. I’m not absolutely sure that I would have called Masterpiece totally enjoyable; and certainly my preference was for London Art Week. It’s very tiring and ever so slightly over the top, but if it didn’t exist you would have to invent it.



London Art Week Summer 2019.

The current London Art Week (LONDONARTWEEK.CO.UK), which takes place on the premises of 48 dealers, auction houses and galleries in St James and the West End and finishes on Friday, was particularly enjoyable. It runs concurrently with Masterpiece, of which more tomorrow, which takes place in an absolutely enormous tent in the grounds of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea. LAW tends to focus more on connoisseurship, talks, special exhibitions and longer term client relationships. Three objects, one talk and one meeting stand out for me, even above the very high general standard, so I have concentrated on these for the rest of this post.

Firstly, S Franses at 80 Jermyn Street are the preeminent textile dealers in London and even very likely in the world. David Franses, who took over the company in 1955, is now ninety three but VERY on the ball, and he was courteous enough to sit and talk to me for well over an hour out of no motives beyond kindness and the wish to share his passion for antique textiles. It was the most fascinating time and I learnt infinitely more than I ever could from books. He was also very funny and told me a wonderful story about the time, egged on by his then small son, he was persuaded to buy a Rolls-Royce. In his pride and joy he set out to visit an established client, the late Sir Simon Sainsbury at Woolbeding House. On arrival Sir Simon noted that he had a new car, saying”Ah yes, I see you’ve got a Rolls-Royce. Quite a lot of people I know have one of those.” But on seeing David was ever so slightly crestfallen by this, immediately remarked “But only you, David, deserve one!”

The firm has extensive conservation workshops and a wonderful archive, containing nearly quarter of a million records, which Tom Campbell headed up for seven years before he joined the Met, where he subsequently did so much to restore and highlight the role of tapestries and textiles as the dominant Renaissance courtly art form.

For London Art Week the firm is showing three seriously important Mortlake tapestries commissioned for the court of Charles 1st. They include a “Vulcan Cast Down” and an “Aeneas Before Dido”. The latter, illustrated below, is based on Book 1 of Virgil’s epic, and was woven during the early 1640s  in coloured wools and silks after designs by Perino del Vaga and Francis Cleyn.  The colours are extraordinarily fresh and the piece, which is newly discovered, is in remarkable condition. A real treat. At Masterpiece the firm are also showing a very fine Axminster carpet, woven by Thomas Whitty, together with related 18th century furniture, both made for the Earls of Shaftsbury at St Giles House at Wimborne.

I arrived at 16 Savile Row just as Charles Beddington was beginning a talk on 18th Century Venetian landscape painting. I hadn’t booked – you’re meant to and it was very full – but they kindly let me in. Again this was a complete treat. Charles is probably the world’s leading expert on his subject, a very good talker who wears his learning lightly. By listening to him, you discover things you would otherwise would probably never know. His talk was based around ten very fine Venetian paintings and drawings hanging on the gallery walls, mostly by Canaletto and Bellotto and was followed by a discussion that ranged over subjects such as the artists’ speed of execution, their style and manner of painting and the use of different supports. For example Canaletto’s “Old Somerset House from the River Thames” was painted on a very expensive chamfered mahogany panel, almost certainly procured from the time Canaletto was lodging with the cabinet maker Richard Wiggans in Silver (now Beak) Street. We discussed patronage, and the antics of Canaletto’s agent in Venice, Consul Smith, who appears to have continued to take orders for the artist’s work when he was staying in London and then on at least one occasion found a copyist who could produce them as autograph. We even talked about the general use of optical devices such the camera obscura and camera lucida, which were far more common in the period than is often realised, albeit often cunningly disguised by blending different images and viewpoints thus obtained to disguise their use. My absolute favourite of the ten paintings, the one I covet,  was an early Canaletto from the 1720’s of “The Grand Canal Looking Towards the Salute”, reproduced below. It has an extraordinarily loose handling of paint, best seen in the moody, atmospheric and overcast sky, alongside great precision of detail in some of the figure painting especially the little group on the quay to the right of centre.

Finally, Trinity Fine Art at 15 Old Bond Street, are showing a magnificent small Renaissance casket from Newbattle Abbey, made in 1565 by  the Nuremberg Master of Perspective, featuring complicated marquetry designs of polyhedral solids and engraved plaques; its materials include various woods, engraved bone, mother of pearl, alabaster, etched and fire-gilt iron. Real kunstkammer stuff of the highest order. The casket sits on a stand designed and made for it in the early eighteenth century by the renowned cabinet maker James Moore.  It descends from the Marquesses of Lothian into whose possession it had then come through dynastic connections with the Schomberg family. The picture below gives you some idea of its quality: Trinity’s directors were using all their considerable language skills to point out its merits to a number of very interested European collectors.





More Modernist Than Florist: Ivon Hitchens At The Garden Museum

The Garden Museum (https://gardenmuseum.org.uk) is currently staging a major exhibition devoted to the life and paintings of Ivon Hitchens which runs until 15th July. It must have taken quite a while to put together and considerable powers of persuasion to obtain so many high quality loans.  The show covers the whole of his career but has  a particular emphasis on his output during the period after his London home was bombed in 1940 and his consequent move to some six acres of woodland in West Sussex, where he and his family lived firstly in a caravan and subsequently in a slightly ramshackle and home-built house.

Art exhibitions here seem to fall into two distinct categories. The first is of competent but specialised horticultural artists or illustrators who succeed in showing what is in front of them and these naturally hold most appeal to the Museum’s core membership while giving great pleasure in the process. The second, of which this and a previous show of Cedric Morris’s work are fine examples, is of art which transcends its subject, appeals to a wider audience and may well be the subject of exhibitions in major London galleries: Morris’s work for example was exhibited by Philip Mould at the same time as the Museum’s show.

Hitchens certainly took nature and his surroundings as a starting point and often painted flowers, but he was no mere florist or botanical illustrator. His output never entirely lost its representational qualities, but he was undoubtedly a modernist at heart, without ever becoming a totally abstract, as opposed to abstracted, painter. Nonetheless his background and training meant that the formal qualities of his art, and especially the ability to use colour as a way of transcending  the two dimensional limitations of his canvas, often came to outweigh the original subject matter. He had studied at the Royal Academy Schools and then played a major part in London’s artistic community before the Second World War. The Museum points out that he was a key member of the Seven and Five Society, who were famous for holding the first ever all abstract exhibition in Britain. The society also included Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and artist plantsman Cedric Morris.

He tends towards abstraction of form, and certainly doesn’t do hard edges. He implies far more than he paints creating moods and atmospheres ranging from the dreamy to the sinister. His Tangled Pool from 1946, below, is a better demonstration of this point than any verbal analysis. For all the blurring of his subjects on the canvas he is superb at showing the fall of light on surfaces of different shapes and textures and produces a sense of solidity without in any way mimicking what he chose to paint. The detail of a Figure in a Landscape, below,  shows his rendering of an arm in a totally “unrealistic” green paint that still most satisfactorily conveys the sense of muscular tension and the pattern of light as the hand grasps and the arm supports what might be a vase, or perhaps even a paper.

His greatest artistic achievement though, one his many imitators and followers fail to match, is to use colour in a way that is both “musical” (a declared aim of his art) and also creates a strong sense of depth in the picture plane. The relationships between, and the advance and recession of, the colours themselves are the agents of the works’ impact on the senses, perceptions and feelings of his viewers.  His Poppies in a Green Bowl of 1930 have the reds advancing towards you, while the blues recede into an undefined whiteness of light filled space. In a painting of lilies of similar vintage, the orange-red anthers of the flower almost seem to jump out at you and to exist in front of the picture plane. Of course good artist have always understood this but this work was made twenty years before the first of Josef Albers’ Homage to the Square series and there is certainly nothing simplistic or naive about these paintings.

If you’re a member of the Garden Museum, or a fan of Hitchens’ work, or just in the area, then this is an exhibition very well worth seeing. Although its facilities are greatly improved, the Museum has admittedly lost some of its previous and almost rustic charm after its recent makeover.  However it is very well worth supporting. Even if the restaurant has positioned itself in a price range that makes lunch a much more costly treat, you can still enjoy reasonably priced coffee and cakes while sitting comfortably and looking through into the fascinating surrounding spaces.


Tangled Pool, 1946

Poppies in a Green Bowl c 1930

Detail of figure in a garden



Andy Barker at Zuleika Gallery

Lizzie Collins of Zuleika Gallery (https://zuleikagallery.com/), located at 6 Mason’s Yard, specialises in good emerging and contemporary art and is a discovery. Occupying one room at the top of quite a few flights of stairs, it’s well worth the climb. The name incidentally comes from Max Beerbohm’s Zuleika Dobson: For people who like that kind of thing, that is the kind of thing they like. 

It is currently showing the works of Andy Barker, who for 22 years was Howard Hodgkin’s studio assistant and was there last night for the private view, when we had a quick talk. He is courteous and friendly, slightly reserved but not shy and quite cerebral without being drily academic. He described working for Hodgkin as the best job in the whole world, when I only didn’t come in for perhaps two or three days during the entire period. Clearly possessed of considerable energy and focus, he got up at five o’clock most mornings in order to produce his own work before getting on with the day job. By mutual consent they never discussed each other’s paintings, although Hodgkin was obviously supportive of what he was doing and held it in high regard. 

The paintings are in every sense very “layered” and full of associations and connections as well as containing multiple images and evoking quite a range of sensations. Their titles are frequently of Indian and South American subjects and the opportunity to travel with Hodgkin for several months of the year obviously provided initial subject matter and input for the works. They are largely constructed using oil paint and collage on wood but apart from the superficial similarity of being quite bright, are actually very different from Hodgkin’s work, which despite its apparently abstract appearance was in fact focused on the recall, at an emotional and sensory level, of very specific events in time and place. 

Andy’s stated interests include the whole treatment of the picture plane and the influence of early Italian art, especially Boticelli, Simone Martini, and Ambrogio and Paolo Loronzetti. We talked about the way in which these artists constructed space and perspective on the picture plane and moving towards articulating it in a way where objects could exist in separate groupings, more linked by rhythm than a single coherent space – think for example of Boticelli’s Primavera. This is not well expressed but the image below gives you some idea of how they are.

Digital images don’t really fully convey what these pictures are like. Much better to go along if you’re in London and make your own mind up. The gallery is friendly and unpressured. You should obviously never buy anything unless you really want it, have a space for it and can afford it. However, these are priced between the mid thousands to lower tens of thousands of pounds,  in a way that reflects the previously very low profile of the artist rather than the inherent quality of the work. While buying for investment is a complete mug’s game I suspect these prices may turn out to seem cheap in a few years’ time. 


In Paraná, It All Happened Too Fast!, 2007, oil and collage on wood


Bowman Sculpture: Yves Dana in Duke Street

Last Wednesday evening I was asked to the private view of an exhibition of works by the Swiss Yves Dana, at Bowman Sculpture in Duke Street. The Gallery is probably best known for works by Rodin and Emily Young but these were a delight.

It was a thoroughly friendly party: anyone interested in looking around or considering buying a piece of sculpture would find the gallery approachable and not at all intimidating. Dana, who was born in Egypt, was there and spoke interestingly about his training, materials, work and influences.  Over the past forty years he has worked in iron, plaster, stone and bronze. While there is no specific iconography or “meaning” associated with these pieces, and Yves is keen to exclude specific interpretations of his work nonetheless the influence of Ancient Egypt and the sense of a journey seem very present. The works are very tactile and combine clear simple forms with a high level of surface detail. Although not cheap all the pieces are well within the reach of a decent city bonus. The only caveat, and one that applies to nearly all sculpture, is that they will show at their best with a carefully chosen plinth placed where the fall of natural and artificial light works to highlight both form and surface..

Since this was my first opportunity to look at these works I think may be helpful to quote from the exhibition catalogue:

Born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1959, after training at the Ecoles des Beaux-Arts, Geneva, Dana set up his first studio in 1979.

Dana’s first exhibition in 1982 featured twenty mechanical and acoustic sculptures made out of iron. He continued with this approach until 1996, when a six-month stay in Egypt, his birthplace, inspired him to create simpler, hieratic shapes cast in bronze. Dana says: ‘The six months I spent in Egypt really did give me a new lease of life and helped me to set both my mind and my hands free… It was then that I abandoned iron in favour of plaster. I worked under an immense sky on the edge of the desert… the frantic, bustling rhythm of the West gave way to a slower Eastern way of life…’

During this time he produced sixteen sculptures that were radically different from his previous work. The inspiration for the series came from ancient forms seen on that trip and thus the Stele series was born. A stele is an upright stone slab or pillar bearing an inscription or design and serving as a monument or marker. Dana says: ‘Standing upright… the idea of territory, traces and imprints… Steles clearly differentiate between the space that is in front of them and the space that is behind them. They look at us from one space to another, from their “beyond”. Their verticality calls for and questions our presence…’

In 1987, at the suggestion of the City of Lausanne, Dana created his studio in the Orangerie of Parc Mon Repos. The sumptuous nineteenth century Orangery was built in 1824 and is a Swiss national heritage building. This huge double-height space allows Dana to create his sculpture on any scale he chooses. Yves Dana imports blocks of basalt from Sweden, limestone from Egypt, France and Turkey, serpentine from Italy and diabase from Germany. Monoliths weighing up to fifteen tonnes are transported to his studio in Switzerland. His bronzes are cast in Tuscany at the Foundry Mariani.

In 2011 The Editions Cercle d’Art Paris made a film about the artist. The documentary shows Yves Dana at work in his studio in Lausanne in December 2010. It explores his methods such as meditating in front of stone blocks, and discusses his approach and his research. The film was premiered at Dana’s studio on the June 25th 2011.  

(https://www.bowmansculpture.com/exhibitions/yves-dana ).