by Sue Hubbard
“These fragments I have shored against my ruins”
― T.S. Eliot: The Waste Land and Other Poems
From the young painter who, in July 1948, sold his canvases from the pavement in the LCC ‘Open-Air Exhibition' on the Embankment Gardens, Frank Auerbach has become one of the most important and challenging painters on the British landscape. Despite his great friendship with the priapic and party loving Freud, Auerbach has, by comparison, lead the life of an aesthete; a monk to his chosen calling. He hardly socialises, preferring the company of those he knows well. He drinks moderately, wears his clothes till they fall apart and paints 365 days a year.
Though he rarely gives interviews and does not like to talk about his work, he has said of painting: “The whole thing is about struggle”. As Alberto Giacometti contended it is “analogous to the gesture of a man groping his way in the darkness”…”the more one works on a picture, the more impossible it becomes to finish it”.
It is out of this creative darkness, this complexity and unknowability of the world and the self that Auerbach has conjured his series of extraordinary heads, nudes and landscapes. Whilst the past for him may be a foreign country where they do things differently, one that he doesn't choose to revisit – “I think I [do] this thing which psychiatrists frown on: I am in total denial” – it's hard to walk around this current exhibition at Tate Britain and not feel that his dramatic early years had a profound influence on his work.
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by Sue Hubbard
“Beauty is the mystery of life, it is not just in the eye. It is in the mind. It is our positive response to life.” —Agnes Martin
Over the last few years Tate Modern has paid homage to a number of important women artists including, amongst others, Eva Hesse, Frida Kahlo, Louise Bourgeois, Yayoi Kusama, Marlene Dumas and Sonia Delaunay. That the psychodrama of Frida Kahlo and Louise Bourgeois, the theatre of Kusama and the eroticism of Marlene Dumas should have had wide public appeal is not surprising. All provide the means for the viewer to identify with the artist, to ‘feel her pain' and be drawn into her emotional maelstrom and visual world. But the current exhibition of work by Agnes Martin is an altogether more difficult affair. It makes demands on the spectator who, if willing to engage, will be rewarded by moments of Zen-like stillness and clarity.
To sit among Martin's white paintings, The Islands I-XII, 1979, is akin to being alone with Rothko's Seagram paintings. Though while Rothko is chthonic, the colours womb-like and elemental as he wrestles with the dark night of the soul, the subtle tonalities of Martin's pale paintings are, in contrast, Apollonian. She is Ariel to Rothko's Caliban. Full of light and air, her paintings quieten the busy mind, provide space, tranquillity and silence. Yet each of these silences is subtly varied, broken by differing accents and rhythms. The tonal shifts, the small variations and delineations of the sections of the canvas demand attention and mindfulness. These works offer not so much an experience of the sublime – that form of masculine awe and ecstasy – as a dilution into nothingness, an arrival at T. S. Eliot's “still point in a turning world.” Here we find stasis, where everything, as in meditation, has been stripped away, so that we are left with nothing more than the rhythm of the world, with what simply IS.
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by Sue Hubbard
Roche Court is one of those well kept cultural secrets like Garsington Opera at Wormsley in the Chiltern Hills, or Charleston, the former home of the painter Vanessa Bell; loved and valued by those in the know as something unique and rather special. Just off the main A30, it is easy to miss the unassuming sign that directs you to the private sculpture park a few miles outside Salisbury. But as you turn into the driveway that leads through the idyllic Wiltshire countryside you are in for a surprise. In the middle of a field, at a height of more than 17 feet and measuring more than 25 feet across and 75 feet from end to end, stands a huge Cor-ten steel sculpture, Millbank Steps by Sir Anthony Caro, commissioned originally for Tate Britain in 2004, and comprising of four huge, stepped arches. This heroic form, like some great prehistoric henge, frames the clouds and sky, along with the surrounding fields, in a way that is quite magical, creating a dialogue between sculpture, architecture and even landscape painting, so that seeing the work here is a completely different experience to encountering it in a gallery. And that is the whole point of Roche Court; to experience contemporary sculpture within a rural setting.
Founded in 1958, the original New Art Centre was located in Sloane Street, London. Then in 1994 it relocated to Roche Court , a nineteenth-century house in rolling parkland, built in 1804 for Admiral Nelson, reputedly for trysts with his mistress Emma, though these were apparently cut short by his premature death at Trafalgar. Traces of Iron Age and Roman farms and two Saxon cemeteries have been located nearby on Roche Court Down. In the twenty acres or so of parkland and garden with its ha-ha and scenic views, sited amid the walled vegetable garden with its Victorian glass houses or dotted in wooded dells and hollows, are around 100 works by 20th and 21stcentury sculptors. From the terrace of the house a pair of huge bronze hares by Barry Flanagan can be seen leaping in the cleft of the valley. Roche Court also represents various artists' estates including those of Barbara Hepworth, Kenneth Armitage and Ian Stephenson.
In the autumn of 1998 the architect, Stephen Marshall, added the new gallery that now joins the house and the Orangery which, along with the award-winning Artist’s House, has proved to be a perfect addition to the park and won six architectural awards including the RIBA Stephen Lawrence Prize for best small building. This allows for an ever-changing programme of exhibitions. The present show is by Laura Ford.
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When Henry Moore's sculptures were first displayed, they were considered so shocking, says the art historian Hilary Spurling that opponents not only daubed them with paint but decapitated them. Yet during the 20th century Moore’s work became so ubiquitous within the public domain that familiarity bred a benign contempt. From Harlow New Town to Hampstead Heath, from the UNESCO building to the Lincoln Centre every new ‘modern’ public building had to have its signature Moore. Nowadays there is a tendency to see him as an avuncular Yorkshire man, with an ee-by-gum accent, who made sculptures with holes in the middle that became the easy and acceptable face of modern art, much lampooned in the cartoons of the late lamented satirical magazine Punch. How did this shift from earthy radical to the country’s artistic maiden aunt come about? A revaluation of Moore’s work at Tate Britain attempts to redress this balance.
It is hard for those born in the last 30 years, who have lived through the technological change and economic prosperity of the Thatcher and Blair years, to imagine a post war Britain; grey and ground down by bombing and rationing, a mono-cultural society where white skins predominated, the class system prevailed and poverty was, for many, a daily reality. Divorce was rare, sex outside marriage kept secret and homosexuality a criminal offence. After all, according to Philip Larkin, who was then a young poet:
''Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(Which was rather late for me) —
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles' first LP.'' (1)
This was a country where the food was bad, central heating unknown and, as the wonderful painter the late Prunella Clough once told me, no one was much interested in ‘modern art’, so that a black and white photograph of a Korean pot on the front of The Studio magazine was considered rather bold. Moore’s gently rounded female forms; his family groups, mothers and children abstracted from natural shapes – rocks, pebbles and bones – can all too easily seem to us, now, as they sit in their city centres and sculpture parks, as easy, undemanding and quintessentially English. Pastiche examples of his work abound in every little St. Ives craft shop and gallery. And yet this exhibition reveals a Moore who is darker, edgier and altogether more radical than these seemingly familiar images would suggest.
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