Archive for category Publisher: Sansom & Company

Fiona McIntyre – A Tree Within || Alan Wilkinson

As a member of the Arborealist group (about whom Sansom published a book earlier this year), you might think that “A Tree Within” was the obvious title for this book. It is, however, a complete survey of McIntyre’s work rather than the specific, and most recent, and the link is not immediately obvious. As far as I can tell, it is influenced by a current exhibition – this publisher’s books often accompany them – but it makes the subject seem specific rather than general, which is a shame.

Fiona McIntyre is the great-granddaughter of Malcolm Drummond, one of the founders of the Camden Town Group and his influence on her work is clear – and readily seen thanks to several illustrations. It is a connection she is keen to acknowledge and she mentions a developing friendship with Tim Craven, curator of Southampton City Art Gallery, which has a considerable collection of Drummond’s work. Craven contributes a celebratory foreword.

Further textual material comes in the form of a extended interview with the book’s editor, Alan Wilkinson. In this, McIntyre talks candidly about her development as an artist, her influences and working methods. It is refreshing to find so many perceptive questions and such complete answers. Some artists seem almost embarrassed to talk about their work, but that is not the case here.

The illustrative sections of the book are chronological and grouped by place, with McIntyre’s current work, Arboreal, coming at the end.

This is an excellent opportunity to study the progression of the artistic mind and eye and could be generalised beyond its specific subject. To have had such complete co-operation, though, is a decided bonus.

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Brian Rice Paintings 1952 – 2016 || Andrew Lambirth

Published to coincide with the artist’s 80th birthday, this catalogue raisonné includes all of Rice’s work from a long career.

In the London art scene in the 1960s, Brian Rice was part of what amounts to a crowd of talent centred round the RCA and included such luminaries as David Hockney, Peter Blake, Allen Jones and Joe Tilson. He was interviewed by Michelangelo Antonioni as part of the background for Blow Up, the film that so evoked the era.

In the 1970s, Rice relocated to Dorset, becoming a sheep farmer and teaching part-time at Brighton College of Art. Discovering Bronze Age artefacts on the land he worked inspired him to take a new artistic direction and focus on landscape and habitation. The 1980s saw him renovate a run-down fifteen-century house and produce artworks centred around a strong sense of place.

Artists are often seen as existing in something of a vacuum, concentrating on nurturing their personal vision, whatever that happens to be. Brian Rice contradicts this and his work almost defiantly refuses to be categorised. Some of his earlier works use scraperboard and a style that seems almost to be looking backwards – maybe that sense of the past and of roots was always there. Later, he develops into styles that mirror their own times and certainly echo what is perhaps more familiar from what Hockney was doing at the time. Other work falls relatively neatly into Pop Art and there is also plenty of abstraction and the use of geometric shapes. Given the course of Rice’s life, it comes as something of a surprise that recent pieces do not have the reflective quality that sometimes pervades creative workers as they get older. In Rice’s case, change seems to have inspired renewed creativity and a desire to explore new avenues.

Inevitably in a book of this kind the illustrations are quite small – there are nearly a thousand of them to fit in. It is a tribute to the quality of the production, though, that this doesn’t leave the reader feeling short-changed. Just sometimes, both quantity and quality can be accommodated at the same time.

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Pat Douthwaite || Guy Peploe

The art of Pat Douthwaite is at once intriguing, disturbing and thought-provoking, making you ask as many questions of yourself as you do of the artist and her work – what the blurb calls “a dangerous dialogue”. It also tells us that she was “impossible to please and made enemies of her supporters with a impunity that was at once vicious and pathetic” – and this is from the sales material!

If you thought, “I can’t be bothered”, you could be forgiven, but you should also be encouraged to make the effort and at least have a look at the work. It’s strangely compelling. Dubbed by herself as “the high priestess of the grotesque”, her figures are disturbingly distorted, yet at the same time have a grounding in reality. This is not abstraction for its own sake, but the genuine vision of what may well have been a trouble mind. Her work also seems firmly rooted in tradition and it may well be these echoes that make us come back with a sense of familiarity and understanding. I’m transfixed by Cattle Kate, with its echoes of Gustav Klimt (of all people).

This is a superb collection of some remarkable art that deserves the widest audience it can get.

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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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The Arborealists: the art of the tree

Who doesn’t like trees? Put your hand down, Figgins Minor, it’s not funny and it’s not clever. Trees are under threat as never before, or so we’re led to believe, so this is, if nothing else, timely.

When it comes to instructional books (which this is not), those on trees are thin on the ground; the paper used to print them certainly wouldn’t threaten a forest. They are, however, ubiquitous in landscapes, but few people bother to paint them as subjects in themselves. This is a shame as, apart from the representational challenges, they present an infinite variety of shapes, colours, textures and forms and change with every season.

What a book such as this does, for me above all, is to throw together a wonderfully varied collection of artists, styles and media that otherwise would probably never be found within a single collection. My antennae quickly said “exhibition” and this indeed did grow out of Under The Greenwood: Picturing The British Tree, which was held at the St Barbe Museum & Art Gallery in 2013. I warm to that “grew out of”, because this isn’t (just) a catalogue, but rather a determination to give a temporary collection greater permanence. The Arborealists isn’t just a handy title for the book, it’s a conscious grouping of the artists involved, a loose association borne out of a sense of camaraderie and which exhibits across the south of England.

No fewer than thirty-seven artists have contributed to the book, each given a double-page spread and, for the most part, two illustrations. It’s inevitably a sampler, but the format also emphasises the variety of the work on show from oils to watercolour to ink and printmaking. Each artist has a short introduction, either biographical or in their own words, but these never take over from the illustrations, which are given generous space, as they should be.

There are also some useful background essays which deal with trees and their position in culture, as well as a handy history of trees in art, which has some particularly nicely-chosen illustrations.

Overall, if you love trees, or painting, or even just happily miscellaneous collections, this is a book not to miss.

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William Gear || Andrew Lambirth

William Gear was one of only two British artists to be included in the CoBrA (Copenhagen/Brussels/Amsterdam) Group, Europe’s answer to American Abstract Expressionism, itself a short-lived but explosive movement. As a result, his reputation was largely international: Scottish by birth, he spent a lot of time in Paris in the late 1940’s, but returned to the UK in 1950.

His fame increased exponentially with Autumn Landscape, a controversial piece painted for 1951’s Festival of Britain and he became one of the leading innovators of that decade. Autumn Landscape is highly abstract and caused considerable shockwaves, this not being a familiar style at the time. It is, however, heavily influenced by the dapped light he saw in the hedgerows of Buckinghamshire where he had settled. Looked at now, it is more of a piece of classic abstractionism that nevertheless retains the quintessential Englishness of what had gone before and might even be regarded as “safe”.

Andrew Lambirth’s majestic study is both a biography and an account of Gear’s art and working methods. It is thoroughly illustrated and might even qualify partly as a catalogue raisonné, although you may find the indexing hard to navigate.

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Visual Contemplations || Lillian Delevoryas

This is nothing if not specialised: “Paintings Inspired by Gregory of Nyssa’s ‘The Life of Moses’”. I turned to the back-cover blurb for enlightenment. “We are in some manner our own parents, giving birth to ourselves by our own free choice in accordance with whatever we wish to be, whether male or female, moulding ourselves to the teaching of vice or virtue.” I’m glad we cleared that up.

It is, of course, always unfair to mock something you don’t understand, not to mention unwise as you display the limits of your own ignorance. Let’s delve a little deeper. Lillian Delevoryas is in her 80’s and has a lifetime of experience, having worked in oils, Japanese-influenced woodblock prints, English floral watercolours, icons and more. This work has been exhibited internationally for more than 60 years. A new talent trying to find an identity this is not. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: a review of a life and a distillation of all those various styles, to “return to [those] subjects in order to perfect them … [with them] stripped of everything but [their] essentials”.

St Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa was a fourth century Christian best known now for his spiritual writings. His Contemplation on the Life of Moses has a theme of “perfection according to virtue” and the prophet’s life is used as analogy for the journey of the soul from slavery to freedom. The introduction tells us that Delevoryas discovered it while recuperating from two bouts of surgery, a time when many people start to re-examine themselves and their lives. Texts read then often turn out to be influential.

Enough of the background, what of the book itself, which stands or falls on its own merits? If I showed you the cover, with its antique figure sitting on the back of an ostrich, which has its head buried in the sand, you might conclude that it wasn’t entirely serious. However, it doesn’t stand alone and, within the sequence of the book, it illustrates a section called “Heading Nowhere”. Suddenly, it’s not a joke. Sure, it’s surreal and meant to be, and illustrates “the state of blind (or purely sense-based) ignorance, which refuses to let in the light of true knowledge”. Other pieces are rather more iconographic and give a much stronger sense of being an illustrated St Gregory sampler – there are quotes from a variety of his writings.

So, to sum up, this is a spiritual journey that was initiated by the artist’s own life and predicament. It is, however, much more than merely inward-looking and has much that will be of interest to anyone embarking on a similar journey themselves.

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Tim Shaw || Indra Khanna, Don Jordan & Mark Hudson

Tim Shaw, says Mark Hudson in his introductory essay to this lavish survey of the artist’s work, is one of the great storytellers of British art. His pieces are certainly unsettling, questioning and often uncomfortable. It’s perhaps inevitable that the hooded Abu Ghraib figure of Casting A Dark Democracy features largely in it, maybe even to the extent that it appears to be what the book is about, rather than the many other figurative pieces with their distorted bodies and featureless faces. If it does, this is a shame, as Shaw’s work is more varied, both in style and location, than a rather heavily political piece implies.

The majority of the book is taken up with generously-sized and excellent quality photographs of Shaw’s pieces. These are often not just single images, but include close-ups as well as wider, contextualising shots – even when that context is an otherwise empty space. This helps to give a sense both of scale and impact – how sculpture occupies its location can be as important as where it occupies it, to the extent that it can be part of the work itself.

The text includes essays as well as an interview by the independent curator, Indra Khanna, with Tim Shaw that, while relatively short, examines some of his thought processes and creative intentions.

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London || Peter Brown

Peter Brown is “Pete the Street”, whose DVD I’ve reviewed previously. This book has an interesting genesis, having been crowdfunded on Kickstarter and I wasn’t at the time aware that it was going to be anything other than privately published.

Peter’s painting method is all about observation – of the light, the weather, reflections, people and everything that goes to make up the scene. He works almost exclusively on location, meaning that things change as he is working; the film makes clear how he adopts and adapts this to produce results that are both a record and an interpretation at the same time. They also retain the vitality that’s essential for a successful street scene.

This is a collection of Peter’s quite extensive and really rather magnificent work in the larger area of London (it’s not confined to the centre or the tourist spots) with brief notes on the circumstances that pertained at the time, or what interested him. It’s not, nor is it intended to be, a book about how to paint or the painting process. Nevertheless, if you want to learn about observation, its study will reward you considerably. It’s remarkably informative, both in that respect and about the streets he paints, which are by no means mean.

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Inquisitive Eyes – Slade Painters in Edwardian Wessex || Gwen Yarker

Every so often a book turn up that starts me wondering whether the author isn’t having a laugh. Some are on subjects so narrow you wonder whether there’s really more than a single page to be got out of them, others that makes links so tenuous that you’re sure an answer is being made to fit a question that may have developed from trying to find the tiniest gap in a crowded market. As often as not, those books come from Sansom and, as often as not, I end up eating my words (well it’s less fattening than cake) and loving them, not least for opening my eyes to something that really was rather well hidden and deserves its renewed moment in the sun.

This is one such (you may have guessed). The blurb doesn’t help its cause, telling me that it “reveals for the first time the importance of Thomas Hardy’s Wessex landscape at a pivotal moment in British art”. However, adding that the county’s rolling hills and ancient coastline were described as “lovely beyond words” by no less a figure than Augustus John does tend to pique the interest. And then there are the artists themselves: John, William Orpen, Vanessa Bell, Roger Fry et al are much more of a who’s who than a who’s that! Then you add the fact that this was effectively the Slade and the NEAC decamped to the countryside and you can accept the assertion that they were establishing what amounted to a colony, and one that rivalled those of St Ives and Newlyn. Though maybe describing the traditionalism of Fry and Bell, when set against the modernism of the Slade painters, was “the modernist battle … waged on the beaches of Dorset” is egging the pudding just a trifle.

However, you can forgive an author’s (or a publisher’s) enthusiasm. They do, after all, have to get you to choose their, rather than anyone else’s book and there’s nothing like a controversial claim to get you picking the thing up! So, let’s accept that this is a very worthy and thorough look at the provincial paintings of a very interesting group, ignore the hyperbole and the frankly spurious link with Thomas Hardy. It is, after all, compulsory to prefix his name to any mention of Wessex – did you not get the memo?

This is a comprehensive account of the artists, the region and the works, all set thoroughly in context. It’s generously illustrated and the selection and quality are spot-on, giving a good variety of subject matter and styles – you won’t often see the interior scenes of William Orpen alongside William Tonks’ almost narrative exteriors, still less Roger Fry’s exuberantly modernist landscapes, and certainly not in a context that makes anything like as much sense as this.

The early Twentieth Century was a melting pot in the history of art and perhaps the only way to make sense of it is to break it down as serendipitously as has been done here. We can delight in a triumph that’s also a triumph of delight.

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