Lucy Williams

Lucy Williams’ work is very specific. She produces collages (which she calls “reliefs”) inspired by modern architecture – building profiles as well as some interior spaces. Some of these give, possibly deliberately, the impression of architects’ concept drawings, but the inclusion of more realistic environments – sparse, but believable – adds a sense of serenity that is at odds with the often Brutalist nature of her subject. Where the concept drawing would include people to give a token sense of scale and humanity, they are completely missing from Williams’ pieces and this somehow seems give a greater sense of their place in a real world than does the technical vision. There is no doubt that they are works of art and not mere representations of form.

In this surprisingly mesmerising book, the works are placed alongside period photographs of buildings, some of which no longer exist, that inspired the works illustrated.

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Patrick George || Andrew Lambirth

I described Patrick George elsewhere as the best artist you’ve never heard of. This is largely because he is better known as a teacher – he was at the Slade, ending up as Professor and Director – for forty years.

With his efforts directed elsewhere, Patrick is not a prolific painter, but what he lacks in quantity is more than made up for in quality and, above all, selectivity. Such works as there are have been painted because the artist has something to say about the subject rather than simply because it was there. Patrick’s views are interesting: his portraits generally address the viewer, though in a uncommenting and uncomplaining way. His landscapes are similarly what falls within his purview and give a sense of what is there, rather than what has been presented as being there. It’s a difficult concept to get across, but it helps to imagine looking out of (say) a window without turning your head or raising or lowering your eyes. What you see (and what we see) is what you get. It’s a thoroughly honest approach.

The result is an overwhelming sense of calm which, if you’ve met Patrick or seen the excellent DVD (see the link above) made about his work, he himself conveys. I asked him about this at the launch of this excellent and perceptive book and his reply was that he paints what he likes – meaning, I think, the things he likes rather than what he cares to paint. If he was your teacher, you feel that his criticism, while sharply perceptive, would always be constructive.

This is a thorough and comprehensive look at Patrick George’s work, life and working methods. It sets him in the context of the School of London group of painters, which includes Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach and Euan Uglow – all of them, interestingly, about as different from Patrick as could be imagined, yet all friends, colleagues or supporters. As a proportion of the artist’s work, the number of illustrations is a high one and represents both portraiture and landscapes as well as the serendipitous objects (including wallpaper) that Patrick chooses.

Whether you know, or want to know about Patrick George, it’s simply a joy to handle.

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A Life’s Work – the art of Evelyn Williams || Anthony Perry

Evelyn Williams’ work is almost exclusively figurative. These are not portraits, however, or, mostly, representations of real people. Rather, they are often-repeated puppet-like shapes that represent an emotional state or a part of humanity. They can be amusing, disturbing, quizzical or sometimes calm and reassuring, but they always demand attention. Titles, such as Crowd, Portrait of an Anxious Man or When We Dead Awake, are important and provide context.

This is a comprehensive and large-format retrospective that amply fulfils the brief of its main title, A Life’s Work, carrying with it the sense not merely of a collection, but a corpus. The accompanying text is not the more usual monograph, but rather a series of appreciations by owners, critics and fans. This is right as Evelyn Williams’ work prompts, indeed demands, an emotional rather than an intellectual or academic response.

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Cornish Light – the Nottingham 1894 Exhibition Revisited || David Tovey & Sarah Skinner

The 1894 Nottingham Castle exhibition of Cornish painters was, in its way, ground-breaking. It brought a burgeoning new style and range of subjects to a much wider public and fostered awareness of painters from Newlyn, St Ives and Falmouth.

Much of the work was, in typical Victorian style, both art and social commentary and much of it is romanticised – craggy-faced fishermen gaze knowingly towards the horizon and the young women working on the shore have suspiciously lustrous complexions. There are didactic elements, too, with school-room scenes that reek of “improvement” and an air, once you notice it, of condescension. This sounds like criticism and, in a way, it is. Don’t think, though, that I don’t like Victorian painting. I love its social recording and commentary; I know I have to read between the lines and I’m prepared to do so.

For that reason, I find this a book to treasure and the project that revived the original exhibition, both at Nottingham and the Penlee House Gallery in Penzance, thoroughly worthwhile. Collecting as many of the original paintings together as curator David Tovey has managed to won’t have been an easy task and it inevitably leads you to want more. 1894 saw over 200 works by 50 artists.

This book, which accompanies the present project, reproduces an excellent selection of works and gives a feel for the exhibition for anyone unable to visit. It also painstakingly catalogues all the original works and includes chronological information about the artists. It’s an excellent record although, from a purely artistic point of view, I’d have liked more pictures and fewer words. That’s not really fair though, as there are other books which will do this and the current one would be something other than it sets out to be.

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Cy Twombly Late Paintings 2003-2011 || Nela Pavlouskova

My current bedside reading is a biography of JMW Turner and I’m nearly at the end. There’s considerable discussion, reflecting what was said at the time, about whether his creative powers were fading (he was 75, a figure which is significant here), as sharp as ever, or even entering a new quasi-golden age.

Cy Twombly is, as I’ve remarked previously, a challenge. His work is absolutely non-representational and, consisting as it does mainly of what appear to be completely random shapes, is less than easily categorised as abstract either, if you accept that the term “abstract” refers to something abstracted, or drawn out from, a recognisable form.

Now, here’s the thing. In 2003, when this book begins, oh best beloved, Cy Twombly was 75. Whatever you think of his art, and even if you don’t understand it, there’s no doubting the vitality that’s here. You have to look at the captions to get the sheer size (98 x 74 inches isn’t uncommon), but the explosion of brilliant colour is unmissable. No book can really capture the expansive sweep of the shapes, but you do get a sense of the confidence of the artist. These are not the tentative strokes of a man trying to recover old glories, but rather the statements of someone whose previous work could almost be said to be a preparation for this moment. As well as the detractors, there were those who said the same of Turner, that his brilliant colours were not the result of fading eyesight (though Turner may well have been suffering from cataracts), but of a man whose inner vision was clearer than ever.

I’m still not a Twombly convert, but I can certainly see his greatness.

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The Curator’s Handbook || Adrian George

This is one of those useful guides to good practice in those fields that are becoming increasingly professionalised. There was a time (and it may have been a very long time ago) when setting up an exhibition meant little more than hiring a space and renting some display panels. The term “curator” was applied more to museums than exhibitions.

Nowadays, there are all kinds of regulations, Health and Safety and insurance to consider, as well as responsibilities to exhibit owners and to visitors, who will expect more than an amateurish experience.

Adrian George is well-qualified to be your guide, having completed the RA’s prestigious Curating MA and worked at the New Museum in New York, Tates Modern and Liverpool and being currently employed as Deputy Director of the UK Government Art Collection.

This is a thorough and authoritative guide that will fulfil the needs of even the most demanding reader.

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Sketch! || France Belleville-Van Stone

Subtitled “the non-artist’s guide to inspiration, techniques, and drawing daily life”, this is a rather delightful book packed with fun, inspiration and ideas. The text is somewhat anecdotal and is probably best dipped into, stopping when you see something that interests you, rather than reading through. It’s as much an observation of life (and, sometimes, a statement of the obvious) as anything else. Nevertheless, France is an engaging writer and you’ll find as much to divert you here as you will in the drawings, which are eclectic and varied. There are objects, shapes, still lifes, colours, hatching, people, buildings – well, everything you see as you make your way through daily life. If this was a website, it would be a life-log, and it’s none the worse for that.

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