/ New Perspectives: Approaches to Realist Painting
Saturday 27 October – Sunday 2 December 2018
Messums Wiltshire is delighted to announce our autumnal painting exhibition, New Perspectives, a reappraisal of classical and scholarly painting techniques, how they are interpreted by modern artists, and why such traditions should be preserved and prepared for the test of time.
If one chooses to subscribe to empirical measurements about productivity, then new data about the UK creative industries show they are growing at twice the average of the UK economy. According to gov.uk, the arts bring the UK economy £91.8 billion a year (as of 2016 figures), approximately £10.5 million an hour.
Despite these statistics, recent studies show that 9 in every 10 schools in England have cut back on lesson time, staff or facilities in at least one creative subject.
Perhaps less immediately quantifiable but more visibly striking, is the way in which children are taught art and design increasingly through the use of computers and predetermined outcomes, rather than drawing, painting or sculpting by hand. New Perspectives aims to demonstrate the urgent, and now political, importance of painting and drawing and why it is central to our personal, as well as to the country’s, wellbeing.
Using the work of painters trained in the art of observation, Messums Wiltshire notes the continued importance of hand-eye coordination, not only in the arts, but in education and even science. When King’s College Hospital in London introduced drawing as part of its training for surgeons it reported: ‘Drawing engages students to learn with their hands, and forces students to identify important anatomical features, and appreciate depth and planes, which is essential in surgery’.
The inventor James Dyson, known for his affinity for both engineering and the arts (making him one of the most imaginative inventors of all time) stated that, ‘Drawing is still the best way to communicate ideas quickly – that’s why all the engineers here [at Dyson] carry a sketchbook’.
The grandfather of observational drawing and painting in Britain was William Coldstream, born in 1908, who established a technique of drawing and painting that relied on measuring distance and perspective using his brush and thumb, the marks of which anchored each part of the painting.
Euan Uglow ‘Nude with Arm on Box’
When he became Professor of Fine Art at the Slade School of Art in London this style was adopted by many of his students, in particular Euan Uglow, whose quietly reflective solitary nudes composed of subtly fragmented planes created a new aesthetic of cool restraint that defined British art in the 1960s and 1970s. Using a modified music stand, Uglow registered measurements of the subject to be painted marking the surfaces of his canvases with many small horizontal and vertical markings.
Around the same time, Philip Pearlstein was working in a less measured but equally studied way in America. Born in Pittsburgh, the son of a chicken farmer, Pearlstein was a friend of Andy Warhol’s and carried the same effortless facility with a pencil. Where Warhol was influenced by the big advertising icons and the power of the single line to arrest the viewer, Pearlstein approached the figure more like a landscape in its own right, devoid of the historical traits of interaction between artist and model, and an intensity of focused observation.
Echoing Pearlstein’s level-eyed approach to subject matter Jamie Wyeth, son of the great realist American pastoralist Andrew Wyeth, is equally exacting in his painting Saltwater Ice (YEAR); one of a series of paintings he made of ravens skittering on an ice-floe. Although far from anthropomorphic, Wyeth has a unique ability to bring out the individuality of the animals he paints. In the case of the ravens in this picture, the scruffy hauteur of the bird in the foreground with legs like stalks tell of a vulnerability at odds with its proud beaky profile. ‘I spend as much time with an animal or an object as I do with a person when I’m doing their portrait’, he says.
Qu Lei Lei’s Between Sky and Earth (2018), from his Hand series conspicuously celebrates this human appendage as a tool for communication, humanity and love. This strikingly-large and powerful monochrome image, rendered in ink on rice paper, can be read in line with this exhibition’s message: a visual metaphor for the importance of the hand and what it is capable of producing. Qu, a Chinese artist now based in London, was a founding member of the avant-garde Stars Group in the late 1970s – a collection of artists who formed the first ever contemporary art movement to appear in China. Like many of his peers, he received training in painting and calligraphy at an early age.
Daphne Todd ‘Like Pennies from Heaven’
British artist Daphne Todd – the first female president of the Royal Portrait Society – has long championed the value of drawing as a visual record and is recognised for the unflinching resolve of her observation. She has described art as ‘algebra’ adding: ‘If you decide to make something a certain size, shape and colour, then everything else follows from that’.
‘My entire painting method is based on doubt. Almost no mark will be right because its rightness depends upon its context. As more shapes and colours are added the earlier statements must be modified. It is seeing the need for correction that is difficult’.
Mark-making is a physical act and style is often dictated by the nature of the materials being used. Our exhibition includes two artists working in egg tempera; a painting built up by the repetition of short translucent marks individually lacking in meaning that in latticed combination create a most tender form of realist painting. It is perhaps why it was so popular with Italian Renaissance artists and can be seen here in works by James Lynch (top) and Antony Williams.
Lynch’s work is strongly in the tradition of artists like Stanley Spencer and John Nash; Williams’ portraits are the product of direct and intense observation, aligned to a process seen in Pearlstein and in Lucian Freud. From corner to corner of his canvas, Williams records central or incidental surface details with equal consideration, producing, as a result, a heightened sense of realism.
Portraitist Saied Dai believes that ‘All observation is founded upon what has been absorbed and understood, rather than just what is seen’. Drawing, in his case, is about far more than simple mark-making; instead it is a form of non-verbal communication. When asked, ‘Who is your favourite contemporary artist?’ Dai has, in the past, replied ‘Vermeer’. The paintings in this show however, appear to pay homage instead to neoclassical, Romantic artists like Theodore Chasseriau. The structure of Dai’s picture of two sisters, lost in their secret connection, their consanguinity emphasised by the vermillion shawl that binds them together, recalls the celebrated painting of sisters wearing red dresses by Chasseriau that hangs in the Louvre.
In an article published in the journal for the Association for Psychological Science, an individual’s attitude to making mistakes can predict how likely they are to succeed. ‘For individuals with a growth mind-set, who believe intelligence develops through effort, mistakes are seen as opportunities to learn and improve. For individuals with a fixed mind-set, who believe intelligence is a stable characteristic, mistakes indicate a lack of ability’.
The aim of Messums Wiltshire’s 2018 New Perspectives show is to present the case for honing skill, being patient and valuing expertise, as well as showcasing a magnificent array of contemporary painters working in America, China, Ireland and the UK. Somewhat radically, the show praises the artistic ability to make a mistake, to use failure to its advantage and create great drawings from bad ones.
John Ruskin – draftsman, painter, critic and patron – championed the idea of teaching people to draw, in order to truly see, enabling anyone with access to a pencil to communicate ideas across ages, backgrounds and borders. Messums Wiltshire’s Drawing Festival (16-18 November 2018) will follow Ruskin’s noble ambitions, providing a platform for education, observation and conversation – but, most importantly, will encourage all to put pencil to paper.
Artists in the show:
T. Allen Lawson, Peter Brown, Charles Church, William Coldstream, Tessa Coleman, Saied Dai, Martin Gale, Henry Lamb, James Lynch, Qu Leilei, Daphne Todd, Philip Pearlstein, Charlotte Sorapure, Bernadett Timko, Euan Uglow, Antony Williams & Jamie Wyeth.
Many thanks to:
Betty Cunningham Gallery, Jonathan Cooper Gallery, David Messum, The Estate of Henry Lamb