Britain’s Coast Celebrated in Art

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (1912-2004), View of St Ives, c.1940, oil on canvas © The Barns-Graham Charitable Trust
Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (1912-2004), View of St Ives, c.1940, oil on canvas © The Barns-Graham Charitable Trust

Chichester University’s summer exhibition, Coastal Connections, offers an exciting view of printmakers’ and painters’ interaction with the British coast. There is a particular emphasis on work from the artists’ colony of St Ives, Cornwall.

The show has once again been curated by Professor Gill Clarke. Art from the University’s Bishop Otter Collection is complimented by works loaned from private collections, the Barns-Graham Charitable Trust and the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery.

The exhibition is imaginatively hung so that the relationships between these artists and their works can be discovered by the viewer. The juxtaposition of representational and abstract images allows a glimpse of the breadth of art which would have been found in St Ives just before and after the Second World War.

Alfred Wallis, Fishing Boat, c.1930, oil © The Artist’s Estate, Courtesy Bishop Otter Trust, University of Chichester
Alfred Wallis, Fishing Boat, c.1930, oil © The Artist’s Estate, Courtesy Bishop Otter Trust, University of Chichester

The first picture to catch my eye is View of St Ives by the Scottish artist Wilhelmina Barns-Graham. She moved to St Ives in 1940. Her early St Ives landscapes are painted in soft colours reminiscent of the self-taught painter and former fisherman, Alfred Wallis’ palette. There is a freedom in the way that the cottages, church, boats and quay interact with the shimmering sea and Cornish light. Barns-Graham also worked in the abstract and was introduced to the circle of modern artists, which included Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and Naum Gabo, by her friend and fellow artist, Margaret Mellis.

Visiting Professor and Guest Curator Gill Clarke in the Otter Gallery with Christopher Wood’s oil on panel, Still Life with Boats, c.1930
Visiting Professor and Guest Curator Gill Clarke in the Otter Gallery with Christopher Wood’s oil on panel, Still Life with Boats, c.1930

Christopher Wood has been described as a sophisticated primitive. In the summer of 1928 he returned to St Ives with the artist Ben Nicholson. He too discovered the work of Alfred Wallis. Wood took on Wallis’ iconography depicting the Atlantic fishing industry and coast. Wood’s brushwork appears intuitive and spontaneous. Wallis’ influence is particularly apparent in ‘Still Life with Boats’. Painted in 1930, the sea is depicted as swirling bands of light greys and charcoals with boats in the distance which contrast with the intensity of colour in the pear, jug, flower and pipe. The painting brings together the naïve style which Wood had developed in Paris and a playful lyricism which imparts his sense of new-found freedom at that time.

Amongst the highlights of the exhibition are a number of significant works including a view of a Cornish harbour by William Scott painted in 1930.

Paul Feiler (1918-2013), Boats and Sea, c.1952-3, oil on canvas © The Artist’s Estate, Courtesy Bishop Otter Trust, University of Chichester
Paul Feiler (1918-2013), Boats and Sea, c.1952-3, oil on canvas © The Artist’s Estate, Courtesy Bishop Otter Trust, University of Chichester

Paul Feiler’s 1950s jewel-like abstract titled ‘Boats and Sea’ excites our senses. The light glistens in this landscape as Feiler is compelled to articulate afresh the Atlantic coast which inspired him and reflect on his place in the natural world. Its heavy blocks of colours is characteristic of his work in the 1950s.

It is exciting to see Chichester University engaging with its wonderful Bishop Otter Collection of art in an increasingly assured way reflecting this academic institution’s growing reputation and confidence. Gill Clarke is once again deserving of our thanks for this joyful and evocative exhibition. Coastal Connections runs at Chichester University until 8th October 2017 and entry is free – a summer holiday must see!

For more information go to www.chi.ac.uk/about-us/otter-gallery/current-exhibitions.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Leading Women Artists Celebrated at Chichester University

Curator, Dr Gill Clarke, admires Florestan by Gillian Ayres (b.1930)
Curator, Dr Gill Clarke, admires Florestan by Gillian Ayres (b.1930)

The latest University of Chichester Bishop Otter Collection exhibition ‘Women Artists: Power and Presence’ has been attracting much critical acclaim. The show has been curated by visiting Professor, Dr Gill Clarke. Its provocative title seeks to highlight the revolution and empowerment of women artists in the 20th century and includes work by many of the leading female artists of the period.

Dr Clarke says “Many of the artists represented in this exhibition fought to be recognised because of their work rather than their gender.”

This visually diverse and exciting exhibition brings together some forty works from the last one hundred years. As you enter the gallery your eye is met by a series of intimate studies of women from the early 20th century in watercolour, pencil, oil and print which include works by Gwen John, Vanessa Bell, Sylvia Gosse and others.

Martina Thomas (1924-95), Self-portrait, oil, c.1948, © the artist’s family
Martina Thomas (1924-95), Self-portrait, oil, c.1948, © the artist’s family

Amongst these is a revealing self-portrait dating from 1948 by Martina Thomas. Its inclusion provides a fitting opportunity to reassess this Sussex artist’s work. The portrait shows the influence of the Post-Impressionists in its brush work and execution. She studied at St Martin’s School of Art in London and exhibited at the Royal Academy during the 1950s. However, like Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, her representational style fell from favour as Modern British Art increasingly moved towards abstraction.

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (1912-2004), Jupiter’s Dream, oil, c.1998, © The Barns-Graham Charitable Trust
Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (1912-2004), Jupiter’s Dream, oil, c.1998, © The Barns-Graham Charitable Trust

This movement towards abstraction is reflected in two large scale works filled with vitality, colour and life by Wilhelmina Barns-Graham and Gillian Ayres. They have been generously loaned by The Barns-Graham Charitable Trust and The Swindon Museum and Art Gallery marking the beginning of an exciting relationship between these collections and the Bishop Otter Collection.

I must confess that I find Wilhelmina Barns-Graham’s ‘Jupiter’s Dream’ captivating. It is a painting filled with light and energy as the artist brings together a lifetime of experience. She arrived in St Ives in 1940 and painted there and at Balmungo, near St Andrews, throughout her life. Barns-Graham was one of only a few women artists painting in an exploratory manner in the 1940s and she moved steadily towards abstraction. This late work is extraordinary in its use of composition, colour and mass to create movement and drama. The three dramatic bands and geometric forms draw the viewer into its celestial drama and heighten our senses.

I express my delight in Gillian Ayres’ painting Florestan. Gill Clarke responds “Gillian Ayres wanted her paintings to be alive and give delight. The thick texture of the paint with its bright colours make this a joyful and expressive picture.” I comment on the paintings musical quality and sense of rhythm and Dr Clarke explains that its title might relate to Gillian Ayres’ love of Beethoven and his opera Fidelio.

There are many other paintings to delight you by leading artists from the 20th century and all of them by women. The continuing prominence of women in art is celebrated by a number of contemporary works.

Dr Gill Clarke’s continuing work at the Bishop Otter Collection is bringing new life to this important collection in the context of the life and campus of the University of Chichester. She is deserving of our thanks.

If you have yet to see this beautiful and thought provoking exhibition you still have time. It runs until the 9th April 2017 and entry is free. For more information and opening times go to www.chi.ac.uk/about-us/otter-gallery.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

 

The Art of the Studio Potter

Four graduated jugs by Alison Britton
Four graduated jugs by Alison Britton

This week I am returning to ‘The Bishop Otter Art Collection: A Celebration’ exhibition at Chichester University to rediscover their remarkable British Studio Pottery.

A Bernard Leach stoneware jug
A Bernard Leach stoneware jug

The collection includes Modern British paintings as well as studio ceramics, sculpture and tapestries. Visiting professor Gill Clark explains the philosophy behind the collection “Sheila McCririck and the Bishop Otter College Principal Betty Murray founded the collection in the years after the Second World War. They both believed in the civilising influence of art and the educative value of its ability to challenge.” With this philosophy behind the collection it is un-surprising that the Bishop Otter teaching college should have also collected the work of artisan, art potters.

Britain led the world in the field of studio ceramics in the 20th century.

The British ceramics tradition is tied up with the vernacular. From medieval times its production has been widespread and diverse.

The artisan artist is at work in studio ceramics. Form, colour and decoration come together creating objects which are not only beautiful but, very often, useful as well. This is very much in the tradition of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement.

A Lucie Rie stoneware bottle
A Lucie Rie stoneware bottle

Bernard Leach (1887-1979) is considered to be the most influential potter of the 20th century. He was born in Hong Kong and lived in Japan and Singapore. The Japanese tradition of artisan artists was fading when Leach decorated his first pot there in 1909. In 1920 he returned to England with the Japanese potter, Shoji Hamamda. Bernard Leach was persuaded to set up his workshop in St Ives. His lectures and writing would have a profound influence on a generation of British potters. Gill Clark points out that Norah Braden was the college’s first specialist pottery tutor and that she had been a pupil of Bernard Leach. His work is represented in the collection by the beautiful stoneware jug seen here.

Bernard Leach was initially critical of the work of Lucie Rie (1902-1995) but they would become great friends. In contrast to the influences of the rustic folk tradition and Chinese Sung apparent in Bernard Leach’s work Rie’s pots have a metropolitan, modernist quality. She enjoyed turning on the potter’s wheel but despite her remarkable control her pots never seem tight or mechanical. The beauty of her vases and their exceptional form cause your heart to quicken. It is readily apparent to the eye why she transformed modern ceramics.

Other studio ceramic gems in the collection and exhibition include the Sussex based ceramicist, Eric Mellon’s (1925-2014) ‘Horse and Rider’ dish. His years of research and experimentation into ash glazes brought him international recognition both as an artist, ceramicist and scientist. For Eric his art was his calling and vocation.

An Eric James Mellon ‘Horse and Rider’ dish
An Eric James Mellon ‘Horse and Rider’ dish

Alison Britton’s (b.1948) sharp-edged clay jugs seem to depict different facets of a landscape which in turn include human figures, trees, fish and insects. Their decoration has an immediacy reflecting Britton’s spontaneous method of drawing in response to the asymmetric planes of the jugs.

‘The Bishop Otter Art Collection: A Celebration’ runs until 9th October 2016 at the University of Chichester Otter Gallery and Pallant House Gallery. Gill Clarke has published an insightful accompanying book about the collection and its formation which is on sale at both venues. For more information and opening times go to www.pallant.org.uk and www.chi.ac.uk/current-exhibitions/bishop-otter-collection-celebration.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Celebrating the Bishop Otter Art Collection

Ivon Hitchens (1893-1979), Autumn Stream, undated, oil on canvas, © Jonathan Clark Fine Art, representatives of the artist’s estate, Courtesy Bishop Otter Trust, University of Chichester
Ivon Hitchens (1893-1979), Autumn Stream, undated, oil on canvas, © Jonathan Clark Fine Art, representatives of the artist’s estate, Courtesy Bishop Otter Trust, University of Chichester

This week I am in the company of Gill Clarke, author, Guest Curator and Visiting Professor at the University of Chichester’s Otter Gallery. The exhibition, ‘The Bishop Otter Art Collection: A Celebration’, is located at both the University of Chichester and at Pallant House Gallery.

It celebrates the vision of Sheila McCririck (1916-2001), whose foresight created a remarkable collection of 20th century British Art. She was supported in this purpose by the Bishop Otter College Principal Betty Murray (1909-1998).

Visiting Professor and Guest Curator Gill Clarke in the Otter Gallery
Visiting Professor and Guest Curator Gill Clarke in the Otter Gallery

Gill Clark explains the philosophy behind the collection “Both women believed in the civilising influence of art and the educative value of its ability to challenge. To achieve this works had to be on open display, in accessible places. They were unconcerned about spiralling values and they were irritated by the constraints of insurance and security.”

The economic austerity of the post Second World War period provided the backdrop to artistic activity and educational thought. The integration of the arts and education became part of the rebuilding of Britain and was central to the purpose of the collection at Bishop Otter.

I have long been a supporter of Chichester University’s Bishop Otter Collection of Modern British Art and remark how I have always been impressed by its coherence, breadth and quality. Gill responds “Sheila McCririck’s choices were not arbitrary. Judgement always had to take precedence over taste – she never lost sight of the fact that she was buying for an institution. Her unerring eye, together with a professional and academic approach, is at the heart of this collection”

There can be no doubt that these women were making bold aesthetic choices which showed remarkable foresight. All the works represented in the exhibition are from the collection. They include artists like Henry Moore, Stanley Spencer, Paul Nash, Walter Sickert and Ivon Hitchens, alongside leading post war abstract painters such as Peter Lanyon, William Scott, Paul Feiler, William Scott, Patrick Heron, William Gear, Terry Frost and Sandra Blow.

The first painting to enter the collection was Ivon Hitchens’ ‘Autumn Stream’. Ivon Hitchens always sought to capture the essence of an object or scene. This landscape has a musical quality in its sense of rhythm, tone and movement. Indeed he famously said ‘My paintings are painted to be listened to.’ Hitchens had moved to West Sussex in 1940 after the bombing of his Hampstead home. Writing to Betty Murray in January 1951 he said ‘if there is any outcry about the picture – then let me have it back. But… I hope it will meet with general approval and be a worthy send off for your scheme.’

Henry Moore (1898-1986), Figure on Square Steps, c.1957, bronze, Courtesy Bishop Otter Trust, University of Chichester
Henry Moore (1898-1986), Figure on Square Steps, c.1957, bronze, Courtesy Bishop Otter Trust, University of Chichester

Henry Moore was also an early supporter of the College Collection and its premise that teachers should be exposed to leading examples of modern art. Initially he lent a bronze, ‘Seated Figure’, which was purchased by the college. When it was stolen Henry Moore generously sold them ‘Figure on Square Steps’, seen here, at a very favourable price.

Paul Feiler (1918-2013), Boats and Sea, c.1952-3, oil on canvas ©The Artist’s Estate, Courtesy Bishop Otter Trust, University of Chichester
Paul Feiler (1918-2013), Boats and Sea, c.1952-3, oil on canvas ©The Artist’s Estate, Courtesy Bishop Otter Trust, University of Chichester

These and other stunning works can be seen at the University’s Otter Gallery.

The display at Pallant House Gallery allows the visitor to see paintings from the collection in the domestic setting of the old house. This gives some sense of how they must have appeared to students back in the 1960s. Amongst these is Paul Feiler’s jewel – like abstract titled ‘Boats and Sea’. Its heavy blocks of colours is characteristic of his work at this date.

‘What treasures we lived with’ and ‘Amazing to have wandered past this art whilst a student’ are just some of the comments from students of the time giving voice to the quality of this collection.

Gill Clarke concludes “It’s a wonderful collection and it has been a great privilege to work with it. What a legacy Sheila McCririck and Betty Murray have left for the University and broader community.’

‘The Bishop Otter Art Collection: A Celebration’ runs until 9th October 2016 at the University of Chichester Otter Gallery and Pallant House Gallery. Gill Clarke has published an insightful accompanying book about the collection and its formation which is on sale at both venues. For more information and opening times go to www.pallant.org.uk and www.chi.ac.uk/current-exhibitions/bishop-otter-collection-celebration.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.