Eric Ravilious, Exhibition of Prints at Pallant House Gallery

Eric Ravilious, Newhaven Harbour, 1937, Lithograph, Private Collection.
Eric Ravilious, Newhaven Harbour, 1937, Lithograph, Private Collection.

An intimate exhibition of prints by the artist Eric Ravilious, who lived and worked in Sussex, is on show at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester until 8th December. The exhibition highlights prints and book illustrations from Ravilious’ oeuvre. His work is rooted in the landscape and life of pre-war and early wartime England, especially the South Downs where he grew up.

Eric Ravilious was born in 1903. As a very young boy he moved with his parents from Acton to Eastbourne in Sussex. There his father ran an antique shop. Ravilious was educated at Eastbourne Grammar School. In 1919 he won a scholarship to Eastbourne School of Art and in 1922 to the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London, where he met his lifelong friend and fellow artist Edward Bawden. Both men studied under the artist Paul Nash at the RCA. Nash was generous in encouraging and promoting their work and he helped Ravilious to acquire some of his first commissions for prints and book illustrations. Ravilious subsequently taught part-time at both art schools.

Eric Ravilious, Commander of a Submarine, Pallant House Gallery
Eric Ravilious, Commander of a Submarine looking through a Periscope from the Submarine Series, 1940-41, Lithograph, Pallant House Gallery, The Dennis Andrews and Christopher Whelan Gift (2008).
Eric Ravilious, Manor Gardens, 1927, Wood Engraving, Towner, Eastbourne
Eric Ravilious, Manor Gardens, 1927, Wood Engraving, Towner, Eastbourne
Eric Ravilious, Amusement Arcade, 1938, Lithograph, Private Collection
Eric Ravilious, Amusement Arcade, 1938, Lithograph, Private Collection

Alan Powers, in his excellent and beautifully illustrated new monograph Eric Ravilious, Artist and Designer, maintains that “Ravilious was a printmaker and illustrator first and a painter afterwards”. Ravilious was to excel in both mediums. Certainly, the exceptional textural quality he gives to the play of light upon surfaces is given life through his characteristic use of line and colour.

The print Newhaven Harbour perfectly illustrates Ravilious’ strong connection with Sussex. Here the westerly wind causes the clouds to move across the sky and the light dances on the gentle incoming tide, which brings an ocean liner safely to harbour. Texture, light and movement connect the artist’s work to the English Romantic tradition but with a particular and fresh voice. It is at once figurative and yet highly stylized. The life in this print is made possible by the process of autolithography, which was being promoted by the Curwen Press and others in the 1930s. This process allowed the artist to draw directly on to stone or printing plates, rather than relying upon an intermediary to transfer the image from a drawing. It is evident that Ravilious was trying to recapture his watercolour. The small brush strokes demanded by the viscous lithographic ink are combined with the effects of sponging in the treatment of the sky. There is a hopeful, joyous air to the scene depicted in this large poster-size print.

The mood of the pre-war Newhaven Harbour contrasts with the lithograph Commander of a Submarine looking through a Periscope from 1941. Here, the view from the periscope is abstracted into the shadows of the submarine, the flash of blue connecting this vignette to the commander’s eyes.

Wood engraving was Eric Ravilious’ first medium for print. It allowed for fine lines to be drawn against the black ground. The revival of wood engraving in the early 20th century provides a connection to 18th century artists like Thomas Berwick and William Blake, and to 19th century artists of the Arts and Crafts Movement, who worked in the same medium. By 1927, the date of the wood engraving Manor Gardens, Ravilious displays the line, flecking and crisp edging which define his woodblocks.

Illustrations by many artists are often viewed as being secondary to other aspects of their output. With Ravilious, however, his consistent and particular voice always shines through. Take, for example, the illustration Amusement Arcade from the book High Street, published by Country Life in 1938. Once again the luminosity of light is created by line and tone, creating an image of an arcade at night which is alive with movement and texture.

Entrance to this jewel-like exhibition is free and it is on show until 8th December 2013 at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester. Further details of this and the gallery’s other current exhibitions (which are really worth the ticket price) can be found at www.pallant.org.uk. The Pallant House Bookshop has copies of Eric Ravilious Artist & Designer at a special price to visitors of £30 – the perfect start to your Christmas shopping!

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 27th November 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Collage in British Modern Art

John Piper’s Chichester Cathedral reredos tapestry, circa 1966, depicting the Trinity, the Evangelists and the Elements.
John Piper’s Chichester Cathedral reredos tapestry, circa 1966, depicting the Trinity, the Evangelists and the Elements.

Picasso, Matisse, Braque and other celebrated, international artists all worked in collage. The word collage comes from the French verb coller, to stick or glue. The technique was used by both cubists and surrealists. British artists like John Piper, Nigel Henderson and Eduardo Paolozzi all embraced this method of working.

The current exhibition Modern British Collage and its Legacy at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, seeks to explore the role of collage in the course of modern British art. Exhibition curator Katy Norris comments, “Collage evolves in the 20th century from a marginal process to become a central part of the modern aesthetic.” She continues, “It is extraordinary how surrealists, pop and conceptual artists all embrace this method of working.” The works in this captivating exhibition are from the Gallery’s own remarkable collection. The pictures by Ben Nicholson, John Piper, William Scott, Ceri Richards, Nigel Henderson and, of course, Eduardo Paolozzi clearly articulate the importance of collage in British modernism.

I am particularly drawn to a preliminary collage design by John Piper for the reredos tapestry at Chichester Cathedral. In his book Patron of Art, Walter Hussey, then Dean of Chichester Cathedral and famous for his patronage of the arts, notes how he chose to follow Henry Moore’s advice to commission John Piper to create a worthy setting for the High Altar. Piper, known for his atmospheric depictions of English architecture and landscape, returned to the abstraction of his earlier work for this commission. A distinguished artist with a great sympathy for old churches, he suggested a tapestry. Tapestry, he argued, would work in concert with the old stonework and the 16th century carved oak screen. He felt that the seven strips of tapestry would be able to be read as a whole across the narrow wooden buttresses of the screen with its crest of medieval canopies. The original plan was to gild and paint these medieval sections but John Piper advised that they should be left plain and his advice was accepted. In January of 1965 Piper presented a final sketch, which met with favourable opinion. At lunch with Hussey and others, however, Piper was deeply troubled when the Archdeacon of Chichester commented that there was no specific symbol for God the Father in the central section of the design. The lack of this symbol in the earlier collage by John Piper, shown here with Katy Norris, is notable. Katy explains, “In this preliminary design we see the early scheme, worked out using simple cut-out shapes, which enabled Piper to trial different pictorial arrangements.” After much consideration, Piper introduced the white light left of centre on the tapestry itself, shown here in situ. The tapestry panels are schematic in their use of symbolism. The Trinity is represented in the three central panels. God the Father is depicted by a white light, God the Son by the blue Tau Cross and the Holy Spirit as a flame-like wing, all united by a red equilateral triangle within a border of green scattered flames. The flanking panels depict the Gospel Evangelists, Saint Matthew (a winged man), Saint Mark (a winged lion), Saint Luke (a winged ox) and Saint John (a winged eagle), beneath the Four Elements, earth, air, fire and water. Woven by the Pinton Frères atelier at Felletin, near Aubusson, the tapestry was installed in the autumn of 1966.

Whether we immediately understand the symbolism of the tapestry or not, it speaks to our senses and we cannot fail to be moved on many levels. The work’s length, structure, tone, rhythm and colour have a lyrical quality, which tells of our creator God in His Trinity.

Katy Norris, Pallant House Curatorial Assistant and Exhibition Curator for Modern British Collage and its Legacy, with John Piper’s preliminary collage design for the Chichester Cathedral tapestry, circa 1965.
Katy Norris, Pallant House Curatorial Assistant and Exhibition Curator for Modern British Collage and its Legacy, with John Piper’s preliminary collage design for the Chichester Cathedral tapestry, circa 1965.

Before seeing the current series of exhibitions at Pallant House Gallery, I had not fully appreciated the importance of collage to artists like John Piper. Katy Norris concludes, “The link between the preliminary collage and the tapestry at Chichester Cathedral emphasizes that an important international artist like John Piper was working in Chichester at the Cathedral, thanks to the patronage and insight of Walter Hussey.”

I am excited that Toovey’s Fine Art Auctioneers are sponsoring Modern British Collage and its Legacy at Pallant House Gallery. The exhibition runs until 29th September 2013. While you are there, you must make sure that you also see Eduardo Paolozzi: Collaging Culture and perhaps wander over to Chichester Cathedral and allow the Piper tapestry to move you and delight your senses. It is a wonderful thing to reflect upon as you listen to and join with sung evensong – the modern and the ancient united.

For more information and opening times, go to www.pallant.org.uk and www.chichestercathedral.org.uk

Image1: John Piper’s Chichester Cathedral reredos tapestry, circa 1966, depicting the Trinity, the Evangelists and the Elements.

Image2: Katy Norris, Pallant House Curatorial Assistant and Exhibition Curator for Modern British Collage and its Legacy, with John Piper’s preliminary collage design for the Chichester Cathedral tapestry, circa 1965.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 28th August 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

‘Collaging Culture’ at Pallant House Gallery

Real Gold by Eduardo Paolozzi
Eduardo Paolozzi, “Real Gold”, 1949, printed papers on paper, Tate, presented by the artist 1995 © The Trustees of the Eduardo Paolozzi Foundation.

An exhibition of the important British artist Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005) has just opened at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester. Its title, “Collaging Culture”, captures the centrality of collage in inspiring and directing the artist’s work across disciplines. But it is the extraordinary breadth of art from the artist’s oeuvre which impresses and provides such insight into his work and times. Paolozzi’s sculptures, printmaking, textiles, ceramics and film are all represented.

Simon Martin, Head of Collections and Exhibitions at Pallant House Gallery, with Eduardo Paolozzi’s “Artificial Sun”, circa 1964.

Eduardo Paolozzi always located his work within a surrealist context. He claimed to have embraced “the iconography of the New World”. “The American magazine,” he said, “represented a catalogue of an exotic society, bountiful and generous, where the event of selling tinned pears was transformed in multi-coloured dreams.” This fascination with American culture is clearly expressed in his collage “Real Gold” from 1949, illustrated here. Disparate images jostle for the viewer’s attention – a futuristic car, a glamorous woman, tinned orange juice, a couple on a motorbike – and yet in this disunity a narrative for post-war American culture is expressed with a clear artistic voice. Paolozzi acknowledged that defacing an image, erasing and destroying its original context was a metaphor for the creative process itself. For him, raw materials equated with raw images. Simon Martin, Head of Collections and Exhibitions at Pallant House Gallery, explains, “In order to understand Paolozzi and the different aspects of the way he works, not just the sculptures but the prints, textiles and ceramics, you have to recognize the fact that his approach to collage connects all of this.” Paolozzi, the son of two Italian immigrants, worked at the family confectionery shop in the Scottish port of Leith. From an early age he collected cigarette cards and images in scrap albums, many of which he used in later work.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s a cold-war generation of artists in Britain began to turn towards New York for inspiration, rather than Paris. Paolozzi had a foot firmly in both camps and I am interested to better understand this link. Simon enthuses, “Through the process of collage, Paolozzi emerges as an artistic bridge between post-war Europe, Britain and the United States.”

Together with fellow sculptors William Turnbull and Geoffrey Clarke (whose work is represented at Chichester Cathedral and on the chapel of the Bishop Otter campus at the University of Chichester), Paolozzi was inspired by Picasso and Matisse and rebelled against the teaching at the Slade School of Fine Art. A near sell-out exhibition in 1947 at the Mayor Gallery allowed the artist to leave the Slade and go to Paris. There he met and befriended Isabel Lambert. Lambert, herself an artist engaged in drawing figures from the ballet, had modelled for and briefly lived with Alberto Giacometti. It was she who introduced the two artists. The influence of Giacometti is visible in Paolozzi’s sculptures at this time.

Portrait of Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, 2000, © The Trustees of the Eduardo Paolozzi Foundation.

Giacometti provided another rich seam of influence when he introduced Paolozzi to the French existentialist philosopher, writer and political activist Jean-Paul Sartre. Existentialist philosophers disagreed about much but shared the belief that philosophical thinking includes the active, feeling, living human individual and not just the thinking person. Paolozzi’s work was included in the groundbreaking exhibition at the 1952 Venice Biennale of existentialist sculpture in the British Pavilion, alongside sculptors like Kenneth Armitage, Reg Butler, Lynn Chadwick, Geoffrey Clarke and William Turnbull. In the 1950s Paolozzi was a key member of the Independent Group, which was bound up with the Institute of Contemporary Art. Alongside his cultural icons and totems, the resilience and fragility of the human person and the influence of humankind’s relationship with technology, expressed through the culture of science fiction and robots, also recur as themes in Paolozzi’s work.

Eduardo Paolozzi, Mr Cruikshank, 1950, Bronze with a brown patina, The Ingram collection of Modern and Contemporary British Art © The Trustees of the Eduardo Paolozzi Foundation.

A number of British sculptors in the 1960s, like Eduardo Paolozzi and Hubert Dalwood, made work in aluminium. A more contemporary material than bronze, it reflected something of the age of invention and technology in which they lived. Paolozzi said of the large form “Artificial Sun”, circa 1964, that his aim had been to “get away from the idea in sculpture of trying to make a Thing – in a way, going beyond the Thing, and trying to make a presence”. This artificial sun in prefabricated aluminium reflects the artist’s delight in language games. Beside the sculpture in the exhibition is a colour screenprint of the same title from the series “As is When”. Paolozzi produced this series as a reflection on the work of Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein believed that a single proposition could stem from many more complex propositions – something which resonates with Paolozzi’s collage technique.

As a fine art auctioneer in Sussex, I have spent some twenty-nine years journeying with people and sharing the stories of their lives, told through their possessions. I have often reflected that the most precious objects in our lives are those that allow us to tell these stories – the prompts to fond memories. I refer to them as the “patchwork quilts” of our lives. Simon Martin responds, quoting Paolozzi, “All human experience is one big collage,” and he is right. Our human journeys reflect our strengths and our weaknesses, our hopes and our fears, and our joys and our sorrows – layered, at once disparate and united, like a collage – the resilience and fragility of humanity.

Exhibition Catalogue Cover

Simon Martin has once again produced an exemplary show, which affirms Eduardo Paolozzi’s reputation and place amongst Britain’s leading post-war artists. It is filled with what Simon refers to as “the witty juxtaposition of disparate images”. I hope it will capture and delight your imaginations as it has mine. This revealing and significant exhibition provides a unique insight into this important British artist of the cold-war era and runs until 13th October 2013. The exhibition catalogue, published by Pallant House Gallery and written by Simon Martin, is a must – elucidating on Paolozzi, his work and times. It is available at the Pallant House Bookshop, price £24.95 (special exhibition price £19.95, when visiting the exhibition). For more information and opening times, go to www.pallant.org.uk or telephone 01243 774557.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 31st July 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

The Sacred in the Secular, R.B. Kitaj and Barabara Hepworth

Simon Martin, Head of Collections at Pallant House
Simon Martin, Head of Collections at Pallant House Gallery with Kitaj’s painting ‘Juan de la Cruz’

It is always a pleasure to journey with Simon Martin, Head of Collections at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester. This week I am joining him at the Gallery’s important exhibition of work by the American born artist R.B. Kitaj. The show, titled ‘Obsessions’, runs until the 16th June and includes many international loans of iconic work from the artist’s extensive oeuvre.

Kitaj is considered to be one of the most significant painters of the post-war period and the last major retrospective exhibition of his work was held at Tate in 1994. Together with his friends Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach and Lucien Freud, he pioneered a new figurative art, challenging the prevailing trend of abstraction and conceptualism in London.

I have been back to the Kitaj exhibition several times now and on each occasion I am excited by the depth and quality of the work, but it is the large oil on canvas ‘Juan de la Cruz’, shown here with Simon Martin, that arrests my attention. “Kitaj often comments on the politics of modern culture,” Simon explains, “and this work speaks of the Vietnam War and America’s role in global politics.” The young man’s face is exquisitely observed and painted; it has a timeless quality reminiscent of 17th century portraits. I am captivated by the impassive eyes of this African American soldier. His penetrating gaze involves you with the scenes of cruelty and inhumanity that play out around him; we are not passive observers. “There is great ambiguity in this painting,” Simon interjects. “The soldier looks at you on the level. His emotional detachment invites us to question his role in the scenes depicted around him. Is he victim or perpetrator? The young man’s name, ‘Cross’, and the crosses in the centre right of the picture are rich in Christian iconography. Is this serious and intentional or a pun?’ To me, the crosses speak powerfully of Christ sharing our human suffering, united with us by the Cross, involved and not passive, the crosses symbols of hope rather than despair.

It is a remarkable achievement to present an exhibition of such importance in the heart of Sussex and Simon Martin acknowledges the hard work involved. I admire his vision, assuredness, passion and tenacity in all that he does. This is a show not to be missed and Simon deserves our thanks.

Before I leave Pallant House Gallery there is just time to see, once again, the ‘Barbara Hepworth’s Hospital Drawings’ exhibition. Barbara Hepworth embarked on this series of studies of the operating theatre in the late 1940s. They were begun on the invitation of her friend, the surgeon Norman Capener, who had saved Hepworth’s daughter, Sarah, from a near fatal illness. These then are a very personal reflection on the surgeon and theatre.

Barbara Hepworth, ‘Prelude II’, 1948, The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, copyright Bowness, Hepworth Estate. Image Courtesy of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
Barbara Hepworth, ‘Prelude II’, 1948, The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, copyright Bowness, Hepworth Estate. Image Courtesy of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

The work is figurative with a wonderful quality of light and mass, reminiscent of the early Italian Renaissance artists Giotto di Bondone (1266-1337) and Masaccio (1401-1428). Many of the pictures are worked on a gesso-type ground, a kind of fine, dry plaster, which Hepworth rubbed and scraped before applying a thin coloured oil paint wash, which she then scratched through to reveal areas of white ground. The technique was pioneered by Picasso, who shared it with Hepworth’s lover, Ben Nicholson. These studies are filled with narrative and reverence; there is a sacred quality to the figures as they prepare to operate. You sense the sculptor’s affinity with the surgeon’s craft. I share the exhibition curator Nathaniel Hepburn’s fondness for this sacred quality, expressed in ‘Prelude II’, shown here, painted in 1948. At the foot of the bed a woman sits with her hands joined and head bowed in a gesture of prayer. The characters in this story are gathered in the operating lamp’s pool of light. In the centre a man stands with his hand raised, as if in blessing, surrounded by figures whose hands are clasped, as if in prayer. In other drawings the surgeon stands at the operating table, his hands reminiscent of a priest’s celebrating Holy Communion, consecrating bread and wine at an altar.

It has been a privilege to support, through Toovey’s, the Barbara Hepworth’s Hospital Drawings exhibition, which provides such an extraordinary insight into Hepworth’s work and life. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have; it is both beautiful and unexpected.

These two extraordinary artists’ exhibitions allow us to glimpse something beyond our immediate perception of the world and our humanity, something at once sacred and secular. They continue for only a few more weeks, rare treats too good to be missed.

‘R.B. Kitaj – Obsessions’ runs until 16th June 2013 and ‘Barbara Hepworth’s Hospital Drawings’ until 2nd June 2013. For more information about the exhibitions, related talks and opening times, go to www.pallant.org.uk or telephone 01243 774557.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 15th May 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

‘Paul Nash – The Clare Neilson Gift’ at Pallant House

Clare Neilson, Photograph of Paul Nash, Pallant House Gallery, The Clare Neilson Gift through the Art Fund

An insightful show of work by the 20th century British artist Paul Nash opened at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester earlier this week, including wood engravings, etchings, photographs, collage and illustrated books.

The work provides a rare insight into the relationship between patron and artist, as shown by the photograph taken of Paul Nash by collector Clare Neilson. Their very particular friendship was first formed while Nash was living in and around Rye in the 1930s. It is fitting then that this collection should find its new permanent home in Sussex, thanks to the generosity of Clare Neilson’s godson Jeremy Greenwood and the Art Fund, the national fundraising charity for art.

Simon Martin, Head of Collections at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, is delighted by the gift of the Neilson Collection, which also includes correspondence. “It is a significant addition to Pallant House Gallery’s collection of Modern British Art,” he acknowledged, “and a fascinating and personal view into friendship and artistic patronage in the 1930s and ‘40s.”

Paul Nash is often thought of as an essentially English artist but between the wars he also sought to champion the hope embodied in continental modernism, defending Picasso and experimenting with abstraction before embracing Surrealism. He served as a soldier in the trenches of the Great War and subsequently worked as a war artist on the Western Front between 1917 and 1918 and again during the Second World War. This body of work provides a stark commentary on the reality of war.

He was drawn to objects sculpted by nature and had what some have described as an overriding habit of metaphor. Trees, for example, could take on the character of stones. This serves to highlight the poetic nature of his painting and how firmly rooted he was in the English tradition as well. Indeed, his earlier work is influenced by the 19th century English Romantic tradition of William Blake (who also lived in Sussex, at Felpham, between 1800 and 1803), Samuel Palmer and Dante Gabrielle Rossetti. With this in mind, you could forgive John Piper for including one of Nash’s paintings in his 1943 book ‘British Romantic Artists’. Nash was less than pleased, though. It was the word ‘romantic’ which bothered him and he referred, instead, to the ‘poetic’. Certainly, as an artist he returned again and again to the poetry of the English landscape. He sought to look beyond the immediate to what he referred to as the ‘genius loci’, the spirit of the place, to ‘a reality more real’.

Paul Nash, Still Life (No.2), circa 1927, wood engraving, Pallant House Gallery, The Clare Neilson Gift through the Art Fund, copyright TATE London 2013.

Paul Nash was noted for collecting all manner of objects, including seashells, pebbles, seedpods and bits of branches, all of which fuelled his imagination. In 1920, the Society of Wood Engravers was formed and Nash joined. His still life studies are not generally among his most highly regarded pictures. In this woodblock print from 1927, however, the relationship between the glimpsed landscape and still life reflects a paradoxical quality, which recurs in his work. Note also the uncompromising contrast of black and white, of which some, like Jacob Epstein, were critical. But this technique, combined with his unerring and poetic eye, seeds drama in our imaginations and allows us to glimpse something beyond our immediate perception of the world.

Paul Nash exhibited with Epstein at the important ‘Exhibition of the Work of English Post-Impressionists, Cubists and Others’, where his work was selected by Spencer Gore of the Camden Town Group. The exhibition was held at the Public Art Galleries in Brighton between 16th December 1913 and 14th January 1914. Nash also taught and championed two other artists noted in Sussex, Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden, at the Royal College of Art in London. I have long been of the opinion that Sussex stands out as an important centre for Modern British Artists working in the 20th century. Paul Nash’s original and influential work, his connection with Sussex and the insight the Clare Neilson Collection affords us, serve to reinforce my view.

We live out our lives relationally and our possessions can help us to articulate the narrative of our lives. Very often they reflect points of love and friendship in our journeys. In these ways they can help to ground us in this life, but it is important to remember that we are only the custodians. The Clare Neilson Collection and the generosity of its gift speak loudly of this and deserve to be celebrated.

‘Paul Nash – The Clare Neilson Gift Exhibition’ is on show from 9th April to 30th June 2013. For more information and opening times go to www.pallant.org.uk or telephone 01243 774557.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 10th April 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.