Archive for category Author: Gill Clarke

Conflicting Views – pacifist artists || Gill Clarke

As we approach the anniversary of the end of the First World War, this is a timely publication. Fittingly, it is also not a sequence of proselytising anti-war images, but rather works by artists who were not recording heroic battles or glorious victories. Yes, Mark Gerlter’s Merry-Go-Round (1916) is here, as are George Micklewhite’s cartoon-like drawings of life as a conscientious objector, but there are also images from the home front and of life behind the lines.

There are two main sections, First World War and Second World War, each being treated separately. With a few exceptions, the artists featured in the second part were too young to feature in the first and, apart from attitudes, there are few comparisons to be made that are not immediately obvious to the viewer. It is interesting to note that some of those who refused WW1 changed their views in the 1930s in the face of Nazism. A short final chapter, Coda: a legacy of war and peace, sums up the theme of the book, but conflicts that fall outside the two main wars are outside its scope – to be fair, extending the brief would have made for a very large tome indeed.

The selection of artists is broad, as is the type of work illustrated. It is something of a shame that not every artist gets an illustration, but that could be seen as adding to the book’s completeness, rather than detracting from its appeal.

This is a useful and thought-provoking addition to the literature about war and art and is nicely put together and presented.

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The Diaries of Randolph Schwabe: British Art 1930-48 || Gill Clarke

I think it’s fair to say that you need to have an abiding interest in the minutiae of someone’s life to read their almost daily diary in detail. At nearly 600 pages, this is a weighty tome and consists almost entirely of its source material, with relatively little in the way of editorial content or illustrations – what there are of the latter, which are not all by Schwabe, might make you wish for more.

Quite what prompted Schwabe to start a diary at the age of 45 is not clear, and he is silent himself on his motivations. Their period, though, does start shortly before his appointment as Principal of the Slade School of Art and continues up to his death. Having worked as an art critic, writing came easily to him, so there is not the awkwardness that sometimes afflicts those who primarily think visually. His sometimes rather mundane entries are punctuated by observations on people, contemporary events and, perhaps most importantly, his own artistic practice. “[He] might be regarded as the Pepys of the art world”, the cover blurb helpfully and perceptively adds.

If you want a commentary on the art world in the period running up to the Second World War and continuing to its aftermath, you’ll find it here. Schwabe is a perceptive and sometimes acerbic commentator who is aware not only of his own milieu but also what surrounds it and acts on it. He certainly does not live in a bubble, as befits the Principal of a major institution whose job is as much administrative and political as it is artistic. Gill Clarke has kept a light editorial hand and her brief appearances are always relevant and avoid the schoolboy error of overwhelming her subject.

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Shorelines: artists on the south coast || Gill Clarke & Steve Marshall

This pleasantly serendipitous book spreads its net wide and its coverage ranges from Thanet in the East to Mousehole in the West – a lot more than the “Dover to Brighton” run that the term often seems to imply.

As several of Sansom’s similar recent offerings have, it accompanies an exhibition (in this case at the St Barbe Museum & Art Gallery in Lymington from 19 September 2015 – 9 January 2016). On the basis of the book, I’d urge you visit if you possibly can as you’ll see a more catholic choice of work and artists than is often possible.

The blurb slightly plays up ( as it’s entitled to do) the role of the coast in art from the seventeenth century to the present. Artists have indeed painted coastal subjects and are attracted both by the air and the light (they like a seaside break as much as the next person), but they’ve also painted buildings, landscapes, portraits in equal profusion.

But I quibble. This is about the coast in art and it’s a nicely-chosen selection that runs from Turner to Kurt Jackson by way of Paul Nash, Eric Ravilious and Laura Knight. The serendipity comes from the fact that these are artists you can really only anthologise by subject matter and, being necessarily a selection, you can’t easily guess what’s round the next corner or on the next page. If I was one to squeal with delight at every new discovery, I’d have been very annoying while I was reading this!

As well as being thoughtfully curated, the book has insightful essays by the editors that explain their choices and put them in a narrative context. It should also be said that the illustrations are well-reproduced and generously sized. Books of this type sometimes act more like a catalogue for the personal visitor and cram in too many pictures, with the result that many are little bigger than a postage-stamp. Long after the exhibition has closed, this will stand alone and it’s all the better for that.

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