Archive for category Publisher: Lund Humphries

Kurt Jackson’s Botanical Landscape

Kurt Jackson is that rare creature, a creator who is as at home with the written word as he is with the paintbrush. Eloquent in both media, this is his account of the natural world as he sees it. If this was a collaboration such as say, Robert Macfarlane’s The Lost Words, you’d describe it as an illustrated account, or perhaps a curated portrait. As it is, though, the two strands are inseparable and the paintings, drawings, poems and accounts of travels, excursions and experiences are a single piece.

I said that Jackson is a rare creature, and the truth is that this is a unique work and has to be taken as a whole. The words don’t explain the pictures and the pictures don’t illustrate the words; both account for the landscape as it is and as Jackson sees and experiences it. To open the book is to enter a world that is very personal, and yet at once recognisable. As individuals, we’ve all been caught in motorway jams and wondered at the variety of flora that populate the verges. (That’s from a chapter entitled Weeds that makes it clear that these neglected plants are anything but second-class citizens). We’ve also marvelled at the majesty of an oak tree and perhaps wandered through the undergrowth of a woodland, disturbing small creatures as we go.

So, what is the book like? Well, imagine looking out of an all-seeing window and listening to the words of an eloquent writer. Somehow, the two meld and sound becomes vision, vision sound. It’s no accident that Robert Macfarlane contributes a preface. He gets it.

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Mary Newcombe

There is a naïve quality to the work of Mary Newcombe that almost suggests an accidental artist, a “true find” among the rural East Anglian community in which she lived. This could not be further from the truth, but her work does nevertheless mainly stem from her immediate surroundings – the diurnal life of the countryside with its people, animals, flowers, birds and insects. Mary’s daughter Tessa describes her mother as “[feeling] connected to it in the same way that the nature poet John Clare did”, and having the same sense of living with nature rather than looking at it.

The more you look at the many works here, the more you realise that the depth of artistry is profound. These are not portraits or landscapes in the straightforward sense and Mary is most certainly no Alfred Wallis, no happy accident. Composition, structure and colour are all carefully assembled to create a sense of a living landscape viewed from within and not without. Mary is no metropolitan arriving in the country to find inspiration, still less herself.

The book tells the story of Mary’s life and work and also draws heavily on the illustrated diary she was encouraged to start in 1986 by Andras Kalman, who had been exhibiting her work since the early 1970s. It’s a tale worth telling and even more worth reading.

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Eric Ravilious Scrapbooks || Peyton Skipwith & Brian Webb

This varied and delightful book accompanies the same authors’ look at the sketchbooks of Edward Bawden that appeared two years ago. Ravilious and Bawden are, of course, very much in vogue and the counterpoints to their work make for enjoyable and fascinating study.

As with the Bawden volume, this includes preparatory drawings as well as materials the artist collected as what would now be called a “mood board”. As well as having some interest in their own right as historical records, these show the way Ravilious’ mind worked and how his ideas developed into finished pieces. As a designer as well as an artist, it is possible to see how he was using contemporary references to create images that chimed exactly with his own times.

As well as sketches and design clippings there are also newspaper stories, such as the first flight over Everest, the development of the parachute or a photograph (supplied by Bawden) of the English touring cricket team of 1859. Almost anything seems to have been grist to Ravilious’ mill, but the printed borders and figurative photographs he used as motifs and for reference are particularly interesting.

There is no shortage of books on Eric Ravilious and this is perhaps one for the more dedicated follower. However, it provides many delights in its own right as well as insights into the creative mind generally, along with that of its nominated subject.

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Frederick Walker and the Idyllists || Donato Esposito

Admired and collected by Van Gogh and described by Millais as “the greatest artist of the century”, Frederick Walker is today a largely forgotten figure, his career being cut short by his early death in 1875 at the age of 35.

Glancing at the works illustrated reveals what appear to be standard Victorian paintings. Some are narrative, but all are, as the title suggests, idealised. Bucolic charm pervades every page.

There were six artists in Walker’s group: himself, George John Pinwell, John William North, Cecil Gordon Lawson, Robert Walker Macbeth and George Hemming Mason. All except Mason were coeval and most died young. The book is a series of studies that major on each in turn, but which relate them at the same time to the group as a whole. They were a group of friends with a common aim rather than a specific movement and there are certainly no major technical or artistic innovations. They were no iconoclasts or mould-breakers.

That said, there are stylistic links and it is clear that ideas were exchanged. The use of figures is consistent and there is a luminosity to the works that, while common in other Victorian painting, becomes particularly noticeable here.

The Idyllists didn’t change the world, nor did they want to. A monograph on them is more of a footnote rather than a major contribution to art history. Nevertheless, this first study of the group is worthwhile and gives them attention they otherwise would not get. It’s a service to them and, I would argue, to art history as well.

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Howard Hodgkin – Painting India || ed Eleanor Clayton

“I couldn’t work without it”, said Howard Hodgkin of India in 2014. He first visited the country in 1964 and it was a central influence on his work from then on and he made a considerable collection of its art that has featured elsewhere.

This book is, rather surprisingly, the first to consider the influence of India within Hodgkin’s own work and includes illustrations that cover pieces from 1965 right through to 2017. To complement these, it includes unpublished archival material as well as essays by specialists in Indian art and a 2016 interview by Andrew Bonacina, done as the Hepworth Gallery was preparing a major exhibition for 2017, which this book is intended to accompany.

This is an important look at a major aspect of the work of one of a contemporary artist and includes a great deal of authoritative material.

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Designing The V&A – the museum as a work of art 1857-1909 || Julius Bryant

I almost passed this by as architecture rather than art, but the idea continued to intrigue me, and I remembered many years ago reading an account of the building of the Houses of Parliament that was fascinating just as a historical document as well as the process of designing and building.

The Victoria and Albert Museum is more than just a collection: it’s an institution. Indeed, the collection itself is almost secondary and doesn’t have the same redolence as, say, the British Museum does. This is, frankly, odd, as it’s much more coherent that its august cousin, aiming to reflect the nature of the nation as well as the Victorian obsession with accumulation: they were magpies.

The building itself was always more than just a showcase or a cabinet of curiosities. The museum’s first director, Henry Cole, conceived it as something for leading artists to design and decorate and, long before Marshall McLuhan, the medium did indeed become part of the message. His express policy was to “assemble a splendid collection of objects representing the application of Fine Arts to manufacture” and he applied this as much to the fabric of the building, begun in 1857, as to the contents. It was the natural successor in art to the Great Exhibition of 1851, in which Cole also had a hand. Many of the objects from that found their way into the V&A’s initial collection.

This book details the fabric and decoration of the South Kensington building, showing details that are difficult to see and drawings that are not often exhibited. It explains the philosophy, practice and pitfalls of the project and tells a comprehensive story.

It is rare that the building that houses a collection becomes part of the collection itself, but such is the case with the V&A and this is a fascinating account of a piece of Victorian art history.

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America Collects Eighteenth Century French Painting

When Americans collect, they really collect! It’s generally known that Orson Wells’ Citizen Kane is based on the life of William Randolph Hearst and that Kane’s massive and obsessive acquisition of European artefacts reflected both that of his original and of many contemporaries. This, then, is not a slim volume of dilettante collections, but a blockbuster of a book with 232 top-quality illustrations and all the academic research and authority that the Washington National Gallery of Art can bring to the feast.

The tale begins in 1815, when Joseph Bonaparte (Napoleon’s brother) arrives from across the Atlantic with an impressive collection of the Eighteenth Century art of his country. This kick-started fashion and mansions were furnished with works by artists such as Boucher and Fragonard. In modern times, the neoclassicism of David and others has been added to the mix and the interest continues.

This book accompanies an exhibition which brings together sixty-eight paintings by thirty-eight artists, having been gathered from no fewer than twenty-five states. It’s worth quoting those numbers just to give an idea of the extent of the collection and the distribution of the works across the country. Even then, it’s been selective. It should also be said that the book stands alone as a separate product and is a long way from being an exhibition catalogue that would benefit from a visit.

The book, with contributions from eleven different writers, doesn’t just list, reproduce and explain the works, even if that might have been enough. It also tells the story of the collectors, collections, museums and galleries that now house them. It talks about the art dealers who brought them to where they are and becomes, in the process, something of a social history, both in terms of the process of acquisition and the American fascination with the France of the period – with revolution, in a word.

The artistic scope of the book makes it worthwhile on its own, but the historical elements make it compelling reading. Yes, it’s a book about art, but it’s also about collecting, obsession and society and what that tells us about ourselves.

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