EXHIBITIONS: 3 MORE….
EXHIBITION: David Tress Messum’s Gallery, Cork Street, London
I discovered the work of David Tress during the Mixed Media Course and have been a keen follower ever since. So it was exciting to find that Messum’s was mounting an exhibition of his latest work this month.
The exhibition certainly did not disappoint. The whole gallery was given over to his work and it was pure joy to see so many. I’d previously watched a film of Tress working outside in response to his environment and the energy and total involvement of his approach were evident in the paintings. The images were filled with texture, colour , powerful mark making. Many were almost ‘relief sculpture’ as layer upon layer of papers were applied and then cut back or gauged out as Tress ‘s actions reflected his emotional responses to the environment. I was particularly interested in the images which bordered on abstraction. This was an exhibition of ‘expressive power’.
EXHIBITION: ‘Australia’s Impressionists’ National Gallery, London
This exhibition concentrated on four Australian artists: Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, Charles Conder and John Russell. The first three were members of the Heidelberg School, named after a suburb of Melbourne where the three painted en plein air. Tom Roberts was the leader of the group and has been dubbed ‘the father of Australian Landscape painting’. He was born in England in Dorset in 1856 and at the age of 13 emigrated with his family to Australia. He returned to Britain to study at the Royal Academy from 1881 to 1884. It is likely during this time that he saw the work of Monet and his fellow Impressionists. Australian painting of this period was of picturesque landscapes from colonial painters and Robert’s work after his time in Britain changed radically. Although influenced by the work of the impressionists, his palette is typically Australian using dry, desert colours, stone, biscuit, terra cotta, for dusty streets and buildings and there is always the sense of the battle between man and his environment.
The same tension can be seen in the work of Arthur Streeton. His work has an element of ‘reporting’ as he seeks out this rough, gritty element of Australian life. The paintings create the blinding heat of the Australian landscape, everything bleached, bare and hard. These and the work of Charles Conder were all essentially Australian landscape paintings as they responded to the Impressionist movement ideal of ‘a way of seeing’.
As an Australian, I found the exhibition produced an unexpected effect. I enjoyed attending the hour’s lecture before seeing the paintings. I am familiar with many of the paintings and have always loved the work of Tom Roberts. But I found that the paintings took me back to a sense of place which I have been away from for many years. ‘Place’ has been very much in my mind over recent weeks perhaps because I’ve been reading about it and I’ve tried to analyse where my true sense of place is. This tied in also with seeing the David Tress exhibition. Thinking about the two exhibitions, I found that the elements of Tress’s work which resonate with me are actually the same elements which are fundamental in the Australian landscape. The colours are different of course but the rough, textural earthiness in the work find a response. So for me, ‘place’ has become ‘memory’ – on page 18 of ‘Place’ by Tacita Dean, she uses the words ‘vistas of memory, contemplation and understanding’ – these are the vistas where I find my strongest sense of place. I probably haven’t been able to describe this very well as it is a developing concept for me but one which, seeing these two exhibitions side by side, is very strong in my thought.
EXHIBITIONS: James Ensor Royal Academy December 2016
This was one of those exhibitions which I went to because it was there but had little interest in.
James Ensor (1860-1949) was born in Ostend and at the time when he was growing up, major changes were happening in the city. His mother and aunt ran a curio shop selling souvenirs and carnival objects such as shells, chinoiseries and masks from around the world. He attended art college from the age of 16 but became disillusioned by the traditional teaching and restrictions. Ensor co-founded a group called Les Vingt in 1883 comprising 20 emerging Belgian artists. His relationship with the group was fraught with disagreements even though he continued to exhibit with them until the group dissolved in 1893. He lived the rest of his life in Ostend, travelling only occasionally.
Ensor was a solitary painter, working through long, silent days above the family’s carnival shop. He is often referred to as ‘the painter of masks’, as this motif appeared frequently in his work. Dreams and the Unconscious – the idea that we are most fully ourselves in the dream state – was part of the Modernist movement and Ensor’s imagery reflected this. His paintings and etchings of the 1880s became widely known in the 20th century, influencing the work of Paul Klee and Emile Nolde. Yet he always remained outside any movement.
I enjoyed the work in the first room of the exhibition. These were his earliest work, showing his skill as a young artist. The following parts of the exhibition I felt lacked the power and intensity of the early works and seemed to be focused on an interior world of imagination and dreams.