I had intended to do a small piece about Stephen Gilbert but I have put that on hold to share my enthusiasm and admiration for his wife, Jocelyn Chewett. Born in Canada but moved to England in 1913, she entered the Slade in 1924 where she studied sculpture. To Paris in 1931 where she worked for two years in Zadkine's atelier. With Zadkine she developed her carving skills, 'taille directe', the chisels she bought with Zadkine she used all her life. In 1933 she married Stephen Gilbert, a painter she had met at the Slade. To Ireland during the war where they were associated with The White Stag Group and returning to Paris in 1946 where they established and shared studios in Montparnasse. remaining for the rest of their lives.
Jocelyn had walked away from the opportunity to work in Brancusi's atelier in preference for Zadkine's but her work was always infused with Brancusi's sculptural propositions. Her contemplative work deals with the subtle displacement of form and volume often combined with a clever juxtaposition of materials. It is an unfortunate fact that many talented female artists in creative partnerships become adjuncts to their partners, their talents shaded, to an extent this happened to Jocelyn but she continued with her lifelong practice and exhibited her work, building a modest reputation amongst the cognoscenti, the Sainsbury Centre have an impressive collection of her work.
This is shout out for an old friend Lachlan Goudie. A much admired painter and broadcaster Lachlan's book on Scottish Art is to be published this month, great reviews from Simon Scharma, Andrew Marr and Bendor Grosvenor thinks it will become the definitive guide to Scottish art. There is an on line interview with Kirsty Walk to kickstart the launch, catch it if you can, Wednesday 9th September at 6.30. No end to this man's talent.
This brilliant piece of painting is by a long time friend, Paul Hempton, 'Across a Ravine' was painted in the early 80's and resides in the Wolverhampton Art Gallery.
I have known Paul for fifty years, since his Royal College days. Distant memory of him disappearing through London traffic with his guitar on the way to a band practice. Then a good night in a Yates Wine Lodge in Nottingham, where he had a Fellowship, a string quartet playing on the mezzanine. Later it was the Cotswolds, they had moved to Minchinhampton, I was still working for Ralph Brown and living in Hoskin's studio in Siddington. Then Porlock, Paul had bought a camper van to enable painting expeditions, children had arrived for both of us and life moved on. Paul took a lecturing post in Painting at Wolverhampton Art College.
Paul's painting attracted attention, works travelling to shows at home and abroad, and his prints received acclaim, the British Council acquired works, the Victoria and Albert assisted museums with purchases, a trajectory was developing . I have a great watercolour from a show in Nottingham and a later, larger etching, 'Stone, Staff and Ellipse' from 1986. These works give great pleasure but I also have a great collection of Paul's woodcuts, every year for as long as I can remember we have received as a Christmas greeting a fine small woodcut, whose arrival is always much anticipated and appreciated. I have lost sight of Paul's painting and I have a suspicion he has laid down his brushes.
We had a pre covid catch up day in Gloucestershire last summer and I entirely lacked the bottle to inquire about the painting, however we had a conversation that perhaps cast, with hindsight, a little insight. Paul has enjoyed, enjoys, fiddling with and fixing their motor vehicles. I failed to comprehend the pleasure that was derived and Paul explained that with mechanical problems there was usually a right way to proceed, a logical solution to be found and an odds on successful outcome, with painting there was always compromise and rarely an absolute, he could be right but I never perceived his work to be unresolved, I felt he always hit the mark, producing some remarkable work.
This is a postscript to the above piece, for I have posed the question and my assumptions were entirely wrong, the paint brushes have not been laid down, life continues thank goodness. I would love to publish Paul's response but it would be a be a step too far, however I am truly happy to say that the acerbic wit and withering observations unleashed are an absolute joy.
As an indulged only child my great joy in my early teenage years was a subscription to Studio International. It's monthly arrival was much anticipated, the glossy world of contempory art slapped through the letterbox of my parent's suburban semi and my small world exploded with sophisticated imagery, criticism I struggled to decipher, reviews of London shows and New York exhibitions, interviews with artists hereto unheard of. It triggered in me a striving, a struggle that has persisted unresolved to this day. Many of it's pages are as fresh to me now as they were when first seen on my formica topped kitchen table, and the work of many artists which puzzled and perplexed my too receptive mind, linger on even now.
Many of these artists first glimpsed in the Studio grew in stature and have remained a constant touchstone, Ivor Abrahams's Red Ridind Hood was a revelation, and his work still informs me, Brett Whiteley's painting at that time intrigued but his flame didn't sustain, way lost I fear. The Studio brought me to Hubert Dalwood, he did not become a lifelong companion but his 1962 sculpture " O.A.S. Assassins" was to me, as a flailing young art student, inspirational. The O.A.S. was a French paramilitary organisation dedicated to maintaining French colonial rule in Algeria. During the 1950's and early 60's they carried out bombings and assassinations in Algeria and mainland France, their exploits brought France close to the brink of political chaos. Their regime of terror was closely followed by the right wing British press, my father's newspaper occupied a place on the breakfast table so I was only too aware of the terror stalking France. The Dalwood sculpture was a very traditionally crafted 'lump', cast in aluminium , painted and pierced with a ribbon, but with it's sliced drum form, inscription and medal it seemed to resonate with the problems modern France was suffering with the end of Empire and white supremacy. A tombstone for the times, I felt it quite compelling and with it's overt political message, albeit veiled in the whimsy that haunted much of Dalwood's work, it struck as something quite new and refreshing.
Dalwood also made a contribution in terms of materials, in the early 60's bronze was still king and lost wax still the preferred casting technique. Dalwood made dirty industrial aluminium respectable and sand casting the way forward. Producing multiple editions in metal became affordable, and the medium, as I was later to find out, was incredibly versatile and would allow a miriad of finishes.
In lockdown, out of lockdown, masks on, masks off, spikes here, spikes there, it's getting really tedious! We had felt reasonably secure in our unfashionable region of rural France and then the Parisiens came to kill off their elderly relatives and claim their covid inheritance. Now the British tourists and second home owners are arriving to spread the pestilence. The locals view them in much the same way they did the German army of occupation, the annual boost to the local economy is unusually far from their thoughts. Unable and unwilling to cross the Channel, I have been compensated with an abundance of photographs and tales of family excursions, extensive coverage of the South West, Somerset, Exmoor, Devon and Dartmoor. Much of this of course is home ground and some of it still sorely missed. During isolation these missives were both a joy and a poignant reminder of happier, less complicated times. With a looming lockdown birthday I thought I would use this moment to garner a little piece of that glorious landscape. I trawled, but could find nothing to fill my eye until Norman Ackroyd hove into view, it wouldn't be Somerset or Devon, I settled for Wiltshire where I lived way back in the seventies.
Norman Ackroyd is a brilliant draughstman and fine watercolourist but above all he is a printmaker par excellence, etchings that take your breath, every image a masterclass.
The art world teams with nuggets, the sculptor Kenneth Armitage worked on a great sculpture stand he dragged from the studio of Jacob Epstein. Norman Ackroyd produces his large etchings on a press built by Hughes and Kimber in London's East End for Frank Brangwyn in 1900, another great master of the copper plate, lineage or what.
So here I sit in the blistering sun waiting for my piece of Wiltshire to arrive, and the pleasure of hanging an Ackroyd. A Houseman moment I think.
Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows
What are those blue
What spires, what farms are
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I
And cannot come again.
The sadness that is stalking the land crashed into my cloistered world this morning when I read that the pestilence had now carried away John Prine. Anger is what I really felt, he had already survived so much, battled through and continued to share with us all his very special brand of humanity. His music is sublime and deceptively simple, pictures endlessly painted and emotions laid bare. Lauded by his peers, Dylan, Cash and Kristofferson heading the list, his five decades of music contributed to changing the nature of American roots music. I feel truly fortunate, for I had an unforgettable concert night in Paris recently, the last concert of Prine's European tour. Today, a great sadness but what a genius legacy to be remembered by.
I drove out this morning, hood down, glorious sun drenched countryside, milkers grazing under pear trees whitening with blossom, a rural idyll but Samuel Palmer it was not. My radio decided it was an appropriate moment to inform me that the French death toll had topped 4500, so more bubonic than buccolic then. Empty roads and an empty village, you could have been motoring into a fine Sickert townscape until the police road block hove into view and then the picturesque is tainted with the pestilence. Window down, I produce my permission to travel to the masked gendarme and get waved on, the baguette is in the bag so to speak. With my toes on the red tape, I stretch for the cluster of pain traditionnel and my charming boulanger gingerly accepts payment in her gloved hand and delicately rinses my change in fluid charged saucer on the counter, what times are these! Driving back, it's hard to relinquish Palmer, uplifting as he may be, but he is being elbowed over by the likes of Kiefer, not at all what is required!
Put it aside and get back to ploughing your own furrow, and then on your return and resumption you realise the virus has been 'plagueing' your doodles for months!
The virus has brought us isolation, for me, living as I do and where I do it's a fairly natural state of being. I do have family in England, France and the Netherlands with young children and all are coping well with being cooped but I am aware for many families four, five weeks of being cooped is hard work. Small spaces and small children is a big ask. One of the painters who summons up the hardship of small spaces and families is Jack Smith. His concerns were wider, and the work reflects a miriad of social issues, but the images seem so apt particularly if the predicted great recession follows on the heels of this pestilence.
Four artists, Smith, Greaves, Bratby and Middleditch made up a group known as the Beaux Arts Quartet and represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1954. They were sourly labelled ' The Kitchen Sink ' painters by David Sylvester but were championed and lauded by the writer and critic John Berger. British social realism passed me by, but given the way the world is turning I think we should get it all out, dust it off and hang it around the walls of Westminster. Smith's painting of the mid sixties however did leave a lasting impression on me, I felt that he was attempting to get a whole new conversation going.
At low moments when inspiration or resolve is called for, we all have people or places we go to for a boost to our flagging spirits. I have several sources to which I connect my jump leads, one of them is the glorious 'Centaure Mourant', the Dying Centaur, Bourdelle's great masterpiece. Bourdelle's work is now thoroughly unfashionable, but beyond fashion he holds an important position in the great story. Bourdelle held the most difficult and precarious position for an artist, he was an artist of transition, formed in the old school but driven to create a new discipline, not by noisy declamation but but by a subtle, intellectual slight of hand. Centaurs get a very mixed press but in Greek mythology they lived wild, unpredictable and unruly lives and Bourdelle has taken the Greek path. In this hugely spiritual work he conjures the end of a Centaur, the end of brutality in the face of civilisation, the triumph of reason over bestiality. This work of optimism was created one hundred years ago and here we are betrayed once more in a world that seems to have the Centaurs in the ascendancy, This picture was taken a few years back when I took my grandson to meet the Centaur, I saw wonderment and innocence but more, I trust I saw hope.
AGED AND AWKWARD