The Mystery of Appearance, British Painting 1955-1985

I hadn’t intended to write again so soon but after seeing such an inspiring exhibition yesterday, I just couldn’t help myself. ‘The Mystery of Appearance’ – Conversations Between Ten British Post-War Artists currently showing at the Haunch of Venison, London is an exciting collection of work by painters including Uglow, Freud, Auerbach, Kossoff, Bacon, Andrews, and Hockney. Only a shame that a couple of paintings by Rodrigo Moynihan were not also included.

This exhibition brings together the work of this dynamic generation of British painters made during a thirty year period. What struck me was the range of approaches, contrasting paint application and techniques, from the measured geometry of Coldstream and Uglow to the thick encrusted surfaces of Auerbach and Kossoff, demonstrating the diversity of these artists working alongside each other at what must have been an incredibly inspirational and exciting time to be working in London as a painter.

” To me, the mystery of painting today is how can appearance be made. I know it can be illustrated, I know it can be photographed. But how can this thing be made so that you catch the mystery of appearance within the mystery of the making?… one knows that that by some accidental brushmarks suddenly appearance comes in with a vividness that no accepted way of doing it would have been brought about”. – Francis Bacon

It was wonderful to be able to study the work of three heros of mine – Michael Andrews, William Coldstream and Euan Uglow, with my nose almost touching the canvas being able to examine, and hopefully absorb every brushstroke.

'Seated Girl' 1972-3 Private Collection © Estate of William Coldstream

This William Coldstream painting of a seated nude was my highlight of the exhibition. The painting was unknown to me as it is in a private collection, but it brings together all the elements of painting that excite me and make me want to rush back to the studio to continue. On close inspection, the paint was applied thinly with much energy in the brushstokes and laying down colour. I liked the composition and the cropping just above the ankles, as I feel this draws the viewer into the pictorial space, so that we share the same space as the girl who quietly gazes at us. The amount of drawing using graphite over the surface was surprising, but these marks establishing points and revisions create much tension when seen with similar marks made with paint and brush. A beautiful work.

'Nude, Lady C' 1959-60 Private Collection © Estate of Euan Uglow. Courtesy of Browse & Darby.

This painting of ‘Nude, Lady C’ by Euan Uglow I thought was stunning, so tranquil. Like the Coldstream I was amazed by just how thin the paint was in places, the paint-handling being so loose and fluid, areas being greatly simplified. The planes of colour are placed so freely and the light palette glows. Euan was my tutor, friend and mentor so it is very difficult to write about his work, so I’ll just let you quietly enjoy this painting…

Study of a Head with a Green Turban, 1967 Private collection ©The Estate of Michael Andrews, Courtesy James Hyman Fine Art, London.

There were two small Andrews portraits in the exhibition alongside the large-scale ‘The Thames at Low Tide’, 1994-95 and ‘The Lord Mayor’s Reception in Norwich Castle Keep, On the Eve of the Installation of the First Chancellor of the University of East Anglia’, 1966-69, both impressive pieces in their own right. The two small portraits, the Green Turban above and a sensitive portrait of the Painter and painters friend Craigie Aitchison are exquisite. The study above demonstrates Andrews fluid and gestural paint-handling, some areas thinly painted while others the surface is opaque and buttery. Scratchmarks, using the other end of the brush can be seen where boundaries are suggested or re-drawn.

John St. Clair, 1972 Private collection ©David Hockney

I have always greatly admired David Hockney’s coloured crayon and graphite drawings, particularly his drawing of Gregory Leaning Nude 1975. Only Hockney could pull off such sublime drawings of this exceptional quality using coloured pencils. This was the only drawing of his in the show, but it has made me look forward to the forthcoming Hockney exhibition ‘A Bigger Picture’ at the RA even more.

Mosque at Çiftlik Koyou, 1966 Private Collection © Estate of Euan Uglow, Courtesy of Browse & Darby

This inspirational exhibition is showing until Feb 18th 2012 @ The Haunch of Venison, 103 Bond Street, London (North end, just around the corner from Bond St tube).

Now back to the studio…

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This entry was posted in David Hockney, Euan Uglow, Exhibition, London, Michael Andrews, Nudes, Portraiture, Still life, Uncategorized, William Coldstream and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Mystery of Appearance, British Painting 1955-1985

  1. David Woodall says:

    That’s great Adele it makes me want to go back and have another look.
    There was also a lovely linear drawing by Lucien Freud of Bacon but the Coldstream seated girl was wonderful and I can remember being surprised how thin but effective some of the paint was, and what a surprise the Haunch of Venison is? What a lovely gallery.

    • Thank you Dave, yes it is a beautiful gallery and so nicely presented. I did enjoy the simplicity of the Freud drawing of Bacon, a curious bit of posing going on there… Hope your painting is going well

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