Norman Ackroyd’s Wild Islands at Pallant House

Norman Ackroyd, The Rumbling Muckle Flugga, Shetland, 2013 © The Artist

The celebrated Royal Academy print maker and watercolourist, Norman Ackroyd, is the subject of a retrospective exhibition titled Wild Isles at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester. The show coincides with the RA250 celebrations.

Norman Ackroyd., CBE, RA, immerses himself in the wilderness of the landscape to paint and etch, creating intensely atmospheric work in the romantic tradition.

Norman Ackroyd has been attracting much attention in this his eightieth year. Speaking with the writer Robert Macfarlane on BBC Radio 4’s outstanding Only Artists series Ackroyd describes how he has focused on the landscape and especially the West Coast of Britain. His prints are representational. Using his visual and aural memory together with sketches made en plein air Ackroyd says “…I just get the atmosphere and feeling of how I felt then…that’s the image, and it’s an image which can’t be described…it’s like trying to catch a butterfly and it comes from memory…What I hope for most when I’m painting is for all my rational thoughts to disappear: my eye, heart and hand become connected, and then I can distil the real essence of the landscape.’

Norman Ackroyd works in aquatint. It was John Piper’s book Brighton Aquatints which was credited with the revival of this print technique in the 20th century.

The process of creating an aquatint involves exposing a plate, usually of copper or zinc, to acid through an applied layer of granulated, melted resin. The acid incises the plate between the granules creating areas of evenly pitted surface. This can be varied by applying additional resin, scraping and burnishing. Different strengths of acids are also employed. When the grains are removed and the plate is printed it results in variations of tone. The effect often resembles watercolours and wash drawings, hence the name Aquatint.

His study of the British Isles’ most northernmost point, Muckle Flugga, Shetland, is an image of a fixed place and point in time. The cliff has a real sense of mass. In contrast the birds, sea and sky are alive expressing movement. Ackroyd has said “…an etching is not the black ink, it’s the white paper you leave – it’s the reverse.”

Norman Ackroyd, On Twyford Down, Deacon Hill, 1993, etching on paper © The Artist

In contrast On Twyford Down, Deacon Hill captures the softer southern hills outside Winchester, though still with a sense of drama.

Rooted in the English tradition Norman Ackroyd’s work often relates to a place – a landscape. He brings a particular quality of engagement to his subjects, capturing the poetic, his emotional response and thoughts, as well as the essence of the physical reality.

‘Wild Isles’ runs until the 24th February 2019 and thanks to the generosity of sponsors, DeLonghi, admission to the exhibition is free. The exhibition can be seen at Pallant House Gallery, 9 North Pallant, Chichester, PO19 1TJ. For more information go to www.pallant.org.uk.

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.

Virginia Woolf’s writings are an inspiration

Dame Laura Knight, The Dark Pool (1908–1918), Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle © Reproduced with permission of The Estate of Dame Laura Knight DBE, RA, 2018. All Rights Reserved

This summer’s must see exhibition in Sussex has just opened at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester. It is titled ‘Virginia Woolf: an exhibition inspired by her writings’.

Inspired by the writing of Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), it explores women’s suffrage and the metaphors of landscape, the room and still lives; bringing together more than eighty works by leading Modern British and Contemporary women artists. The exhibition is born out of a partnership between Tate St Ives, Pallant House Gallery and The Fitzwilliam.

This visually stunning, light-filled show is beautifully curated and hung. The domestic scale of many of the paintings and objects are brought to life at Pallant House as the narrative of the exhibition cleverly unfolds in a series of rooms.
Although this is not a biographical exhibition it illustrates how Virginia Woolf constantly drew on her relationships and experiences in her writing to articulate a sense of self and place.

In her early childhood she spent every summer at Talland House in St Ives. She would recall how formative these early recollections were in A Sketch of the Past: ‘…lying half-asleep, half awake, in bed in the nursery of St Ives…hearing the waves breaking, one, two, one, two, and sending a splash of water over the beach; and then breaking, one, two, one, two, behind a yellow blind.’ Laura Knight’s oil painting, The Dark Pool similarly captures a fascination with the sea as a young woman stands on the rocks beside a shore looking reflectively into the pool’s depths, free in her thoughts. For Woolf the Landscape would often become a metaphor for a new freedom and power for women. In contrast through the metaphor of the room she would express the ambiguity in a place of potential autonomy and liberation which also symbolised societal restraint over women at the time.

Vanessa Bell, View of the Pond at Charleston, East Sussex, c.1919, oil on canvas, Museums Sheffield © Estate of Vanessa Bell / Henrietta Garnett

Vanessa Bell’s outward facing, liberated oil of the Pond at Charleston in Sussex is filled with light, movement and hope. It combines the landscape, room and still life.

Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell were sisters and throughout their lives they inspired and influenced each other’s work. They gathered around them a circle of influential Modern British women artists, many of whom are represented in the show.

Sussex, like Cornwall, played a significant part in Woolf’s life and work. Indeed Vanessa Bell only moved to Charleston in 1916 on her sister’s recommendation. The house would become a meeting place for the Bloomsbury Group.

In 1919 Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard bought Monk’s House in the village of Rodmell in East Sussex where she would live until her suicide in 1941. This 17th century cottage allowed her to write in the tranquillity of the Sussex Downs near to her elder sister Vanessa Bell who was extremely important to Woolf’s sense of her own self and wellbeing. Woolf loved to discuss art with her sister. This desire to learn was both personal and intellectual. It brought her closer to her sister and artistic friends who included Dora Carrington, Duncan Grant, Roger Fry and the author Vita Sackville-West.

I am delighted that Toovey’s, together with De’Longhi and Irwin Mitchell, are amongst the headline sponsors and supporters of this exceptional exhibition. ‘Virginia Woolf: an exhibition inspired by her writings’ runs at the Pallant House Gallery, Chichester throughout the summer until 16th September 2018.

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.

Pop Art Records a Changing Britain

Pop artist Peter Blake and exhibition curators Claudia Milburn and Louis Weller with his iconic ‘The Beatles 1962’and ‘Girls with their Hero’ © Christopher Ison / Pallant House Gallery

Pallant House Gallery’s major spring exhibition ‘POP! Art in a Changing Britain’ celebrates the diversity of art created in the two decades after the Second World War.

This visually arresting exhibition has been put together by the Gallery’s new Senior Curator Claudia Milburn, and Curator Louise Weller.

Claudia Milburn explains “The key themes which emerged in Pop Art included American consumerism, popular culture, advertising, sex, glamour, celebrity, technology, science fiction and politics.” These themes are vividly explored through the works in the show. Many of them were generously gifted through the Art Fund by the architect Professor Sir Colin St John Wilson and his wife and fellow architect M.J. Long to Pallant House in 2006.

Wilson participated in the London Independent Group meetings in the 1950s where a generation of Post-War artists and architects came together. His very personal collection reflects his relationships with these artists. The members’ disparate approaches were united by a shared vision of a new era. Claudia says “Pop came about as a resistance movement, youthful in energy and spirit, breaking through in response to a time when traditional values were being challenged as never before. It was an attempt to redefine the boundaries between popular culture and fine art merging high and low culture.”

After post-war rationing and austerity these dramatic images signalled a new youth culture and unparalleled access to an explosion of images, film and popular music.

The artist Richard Hamilton would remark ‘…somehow it didn’t seem necessary to hold on to that older tradition of direct contact with the world.’

Peter Blake’s work offered a dialogue between new and traditional forms of popular culture. In his painting ‘The Beatles 1962’ (c.1963-68) he reflects on the nature of celebrity. This theme is repeated in the earlier ‘Girls with their Hero’ (c.1959-62) where the Elvis phenomenon is expressed through the imagery of mass-produced pictures in newspapers, photographs and posters.

Richard Hamilton, Swingeing London ’67, 1968, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Wilson Gift through The Art Fund, 2006) © The Estate of the Artist. All rights reserved, DACS 2018

One of my favourite images in the show is Richard Hamilton’s ‘Swingeing London 67’ (c.1968). Louise Weller describes how it actually relates to an incident in Chichester rather than London. The piece was based on a press photograph which ‘shows Mick Jagger and gallery owner Robert Fraser handcuffed together, seen through the window of a police van as they arrive at the court in Chichester to be charged for unlawful possession of drugs.’ Hamilton’s depiction brings into focus the tension between the liberalism of the sixties and societal restraints on personal choice. The image also provides a commentary on our relationship with the motor vehicle whilst the framing gives it a cinematic quality.

These works provide as relevant a commentary on our society today as they did when they were produced some fifty years ago and it is this spring’s must see show in Sussex. ‘POP! Art in a Changing Britain’ runs at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, until 7th May 2018 for more information go to www.pallant.org.uk.

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.

David Bomberg at Pallant House

David Bomberg, Ju - Jitsu, circa 1913, Tate © Tate, London 2017
David Bomberg, Ju – Jitsu, circa 1913, Tate © Tate, London 2017

Pallant House Gallery’s latest exhibition, Introducing Bomberg: A Master of British Art, provides the first large scale reassessment of this neglected British artist’s work in more than a decade. It considers the overarching influence of David Bomberg’s Jewish identity on his painting as he journeyed from radical abstraction to expressive, painterly realism.

The exhibition is the inspiration of Ben Uri Gallery curators, Sarah MacDougall and Rachel Dickson. It brings together work from the collections of Pallant House Gallery, The Ben Uri Gallery, Tate and others.

The show has a strong chronological narrative which places Bomberg’s paintings firmly in the context of his life and the times in which he lived.

David Bomberg was born in Birmingham in 1890. His parents were Polish-Jewish immigrants. He spent his formative years in London’s East End. There he worked alongside his fellow Jewish ‘Whitechapel artists’, Mark Gertler, Jacob Kramer, Clare Winsten and the poet-painter Isaac Rosenberg.

Bomberg studied at evening classes under the Camden Town Group leader, Walter Sickert, before attending the Slade. He was considered an innovative artist.

Bomberg was connected with the European artistic avant-garde. In 1914, together with the sculptor Jacob Epstein, he curated a Jewish section at the Whitechapel Art Gallery’s exhibition ‘Twentieth Century Art: A Review of the Modern Movement’. The abstract, Ju-Jitsu, illustrates the influence of European artists work and brilliantly captures Bomberg’s own fractured experience of life as the son of Polish immigrants.

David Bomberg, Ghetto Theatre, 1920, Ben Uri Collection © Ben Uri Gallery and Museum
David Bomberg, Ghetto Theatre, 1920, Ben Uri Collection © Ben Uri Gallery and Museum

Although Bomberg always distanced himself from them the influence of the English Vorticist movement can be seen in Ghetto Theatre. The vorticist’s cubist fragmentation of reality, with its hard edged imagery derived from the machine and urban environment, is apparent in the lines of seated figures and the austere theatre architecture. The painting also reflects the mood of the artist after his experiences in the trenches of the First World War.

In 1923 Bomberg travelled to Jerusalem where he painted topographically. Working en plein air he painted a series of realist landscapes including Jerusalem city.

David Bomberg, Ronda Bridge, 1935, Pallant House Gallery © The Estate of David Bomberg
David Bomberg, Ronda Bridge, 1935, Pallant House Gallery © The Estate of David Bomberg

In 1929 he visited Spain and would return in 1934/1935. These visits inspired a new vigour in his work. His oil Ronda Bridge depicts the gorge and crossing. It is dramatically portrayed, alive with movement. The heat and light of the scene is conveyed in his bold, expressive brushwork and use of colour. This phase of his work was curtailed by the tragic onset of the Spanish Civil War.

In the 1930s and 1940s Bomberg painted a series of searching self-portraits. These and a number of studies of his friends display an extraordinary intensity. The show concludes with Bomberg’s moving Last Self-Portrait from 1956, the year before he died.

The exhibition provides a strong and insightful narrative to accompany Bomberg’s visually striking work. That it redresses our understanding of this important British – Jewish artist, whose work was often overlooked during his own lifetime, is to be commended. Introducing Bomberg: A Master of British Art runs until 4th February 2018. For more information visit www.pallant.org.uk or telephone 01243 774557.

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.

John Minton Retrospective

Illustration from Time was Away: A Notebook in Corsica, by John Minton and Alan Ross, published by John Lehmann Ltd, 1947, pen and ink on paper © Royal College of Art
Illustration from Time was Away: A Notebook in Corsica, by John Minton and Alan Ross, published by John Lehmann Ltd, 1947, pen and ink on paper © Royal College of Art

A retrospective of the British Neo-Romantic artist, John Minton, has recently opened at the Pallant House Gallery, Chichester to mark the centenary of the artist’s birth.

The exhibition has been curated by Pallant House Gallery Director, Simon Martin, and art historian and author, Frances Spalding. It highlights how John Minton’s art is inseparably bound up with his life. The work holds in tension what Simon Martin describes as ‘an atmosphere of poetic melancholy [and]…an exuberant joie-de-vivre’. Minton was at once an extrovert at ease in the company of his contemporaries but also suffered from periods of introspective self-doubt. Minton’s sensitivity, self-doubt and introspection are poignantly captured in the portrait of him by his friend Lucien Freud. Freud’s portrait is one of the highlights of the show.

John Minton was part of a group of British Neo-Romantic artists. He is perhaps best remembered as the illustrator of Elizabeth David’s revolutionary cookery books on French and Mediterranean cuisine. Minton gave post-war austerity Britain a glimpse of the foreign and exotic through his illustrations and paintings. Take for example the beautifully conceived illustration for Alan Ross’ Corsican travel memoir, Time Was Away. It depicts a contemplative male figure seated on a quay. The artist draws the viewer’s eye beyond the introspective youth to the boats and town beyond. These vignettes are united within the composition by the bold use of light and colour.

John Minton, Jamaican Village, 1951, oil on canvas, private collection, photograph © 2016 Christie's Images Limited/ Bridgeman Images © Royal College of Art
John Minton, Jamaican Village, 1951, oil on canvas, private collection, photograph © 2016 Christie’s Images Limited/ Bridgeman Images © Royal College of Art

Jamaican Village has not been seen since it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1951. The heat of the Jamaican night is richly articulated in the artist’s use of colour. John Minton explained that in this painting he sought to give a sense of disquiet in response to something unknown and impending. This large decorative canvas is certainly atmospheric but lacks this sense of foreboding. There is however a stillness and poignancy to the silent figures caught up in their own thoughts as they stand framed by the moonlight and electric lights.

John Minton, Portrait of David Tindle as a Boy, 1952, oil on canvas, Pallant House Gallery (Hussey Bequest, Chichester District Council, 1985) © Royal College of Art
John Minton, Portrait of David Tindle as a Boy, 1952, oil on canvas, Pallant House Gallery (Hussey Bequest, Chichester District Council, 1985) © Royal College of Art

The beauty, strength and vulnerability in John Minton’s portraits reflects something of the artist’s character and life. In a period when homosexuality was not accepted by British society Minton’s sexuality, at times, left him conflicted. This tension is reflected in many of his paintings and especially his portraits. His study of the artist David Tindle illustrates this and is filled with poetic melancholy and emotional intensity. Minton would tragically commit suicide in 1957 at the age of just thirty-nine, the same year as the Wolfenden Report was published recommending the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

John Minton’s work displays an emotional intensity born out of the contradicting stresses between his often vivid social life and his introspection and self-doubt. I am delighted that Toovey’s and De’Longhi are amongst the headline sponsors of this timely exhibition. John Minton: A Centenary runs at the Pallant House Gallery, Chichester throughout the summer until 1st October 2017.

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.