View in the Alps
1825 by Ernst Ferdinand Oehme
A Dialogue with Nature; Romantic Landscapes from Britain and Germany, The Courtauld Gallery, with The Morgan Library & Museum, until 27 April
The Courthauld’s A Dialogue with Nature is a quietly potent exhibition; its small works continuing to meditate upon beauty, long after their philosophers have died. An array of watercolours and drawings turn our gaze to the Romantic notion of landscape, with nature so delicately drawn she exudes an ethereal sigh. This breath of wonder sweeps through the exhibition, caught and carried in the exquisite detail of the landscapes and their jewel-like treatment of colour. The concentration of every element is poignant; a cluster of works in the middle of the exhibition concentrate only on the formation of clouds – ink washes and coloured paper perfectly capturing their weightless magic. Indeed, it seems almost a mystic coincidence that both British and German artists were captured by clouds, transfixed by the skies at the same moment in time. This joyful realisation embodies the treatment of the British and German artworks throughout the exhibition; neither are singled out, but left to harmoniously converse in their melodious interpretations of differing landscapes. Ernst Ferdinand Oehme painted alongside Caspar David Friedrich, a pioneer of early German Romanticism (Friedrich is also in the exhibition). View in the Alps is pregnant with the air of mysticism; the hills glowing with a green so lush, their tops roll with vitality. Colour fades and grows as a drawing breath, shadowy purples and deep emerald eclipsed by the radiant white of the mountain tops. The celebration of nature and its beauty is jubilant, singing of infinite possibilities and leaving us on a high that remains long after we have left the exhibition.
2014 by Jill McManners
Flowers of Basalt; Kaleidoscope, Mall Galleries until 1 March 2014
A badge is a not a postcard; but the way McManners has made badges of each of her Flowers of Basalt, is very much in the postcard spirit. The badges allow you to take a little image of the exhibition home, to pin on your wall or indeed on your bag or your jacket. The badges, like postcards, are little works of art in their own right. Flowers of Basalt runs alongside McManner’ solo exhibition Basalt, which presents her wonderfully textured watercolours inspired by the coastline of The Shiant Islands of the Outer Hebrides. Rock – the colour, texture, weathering and beauty of the material that builds our earth – is the subject of these vast paintings. Flowers of Basalt take textures and shapes from these and set them spinning in repetitive and brightly mounted prints, inspired by what are known as the ‘Flowers of Sulphur’. These are crystals that form from sulphurous volcanic vapours condensing on colder rock that, under a microscope, resemble flowers. Dianthus is the genus name of around 300 plant species, such as the Carnation and Sweet William. As deep and intense colour spreads inkily through the petals of Sweet William, McManners’ petals of 2.Dianthus are tinged with the intense pink and grey that dilutes through her rock faces. The tips of her jagged edged petals are flushed with a deep purple that runs in veins down the white face of the rock. These lines, repeated as each petal multiplies to complete the wheel, give McManners’ flowers a motion and energy that pushes them to move before our very eyes. As a kaleidoscope shrinks and grows in jewel-like patterns, the Flowers of Basalt dance to a music guided by McManners’ visual exploration of the various faces of rock. The large and bulbous shapes of the outer petals mesmerise like falling boulders, carrying our eyes with their constant and heavy rhythm to the centre, where small whirling shapes frame the epicentre of molten rock. The impact of all McManners’ flowers – large, as they are in print – is indeed that of a kaleidoscope, as they spin across the colours of the rainbow, each drawing on the intensity of McManners’ naturally inspired pattern and colour. Don’t miss Basalt and its flowers.
l’esprit de l’escalier bleu
2013 by Nick Wadley
The Postcard is a Public Work of Art, X Marks the Bökship until 1 March 2014
The Postcard is a Public Work of Art is made up of 60 British artists’ postcards. The postcards are not simply postcard-sized artworks but explorations into the postcard itself. Each artist has used the postcard shape to harness their ideas about the much loved card, using its ingrained meanings and associations to make points of their own. Whether it be Molly Rooke’s Realistic Expectation postcard, which shows a large white van driving in front of the building you just came to visit, or Ruth Claxton’s playful lampshade cut-outs around St. Celilia’s head, the exhibition is an electric display of big ideas in a small communication-focused form. These artists are playing with the crux of the postcard, that the image is supposed to carry the message, making these cards truly powerful works of art. Wadley plays with this idea of meaning and message by illustrating a phrase with no apparent meaning. Yet once set upon their watery blue stairs, the letters of his phrase fall into animation, ignited with humour and movement in their topsy turvey ascent – or indeed descent, as they appear to be toppling downward. In mixing letters and the image they describe, Wadley visualises one of the main relationships behind a postcard – the fact that his words are ‘meaningless’, even silly, makes the potent mixture all the more clear. The simplicity of this card, together with its none-too-serious approach, embodies the carefree or uninhibited reactions postcards allow us to have. They are wonderfully accessible, often deliberately personal – the carriers of memories and pleasant nostalgia. The Postcard is a Public Work of Art should not be missed; nor should its catalogue, a beautifully printed ‘breakaway’ book – made up, of course, of each of the postcards.
2013 by Sarah Bold
FBA Futures, Mall Galleries (until 25 January)
Bold uses her painting to explore the looming onset of climate change. Her 2013 degree show was a vivid display of barren and desolate landscapes, where she deliberately made life appear precarious and dependent on environment. In Waterhole dangerously thin cracks fragment the bleak expanse across her canvas, dividing and splitting the already uncertain surface of the land. The uncertainty of Bold’s land is conveyed in the mottled depths of her paint, where the shadowy abyss draws our eyes beneath the surface and poignant red dilutes in bloody patches from the ominous ‘waterhole’ in the centre. The form of Bold’s land appears translucent, fleeting, luminous only in the very natural colours that Bold – perhaps ironically – chooses to use. Life is perhaps just visible, illuminating the yellow white that hangs like a waning mist in the distance. Spreading across the deathly tones of darkening purple, melting as the cracks become stronger, the white appears almost acrid, like the turn of sour milk. Bold’s paintings embody that chilling feeling that accompanies thinking in any great detail about the changes, many irreversible, that we’ve forced upon the earth.
Soon to be Removed (Yellow)
2012 by Piers Bourke
Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery
Soon to be Removed states perhaps what many are afraid of, that the British icons we recognise and love are disappearing before our eyes. Though many telephone boxes remain in central London, where tourists come to pose, they are rarely to be seen on the suburban backstreet corners where they once stood as beacons of communication. Loaded with memories for many generations – if walls had ears – the poignancy of these icons will be acute for those that used them, the generation of those that didn’t growing fast. Bourke’s bright paintings (there is also Soon to be Removed Purple, Blue etc) celebrate these memories, allowing the metal encasements to glow with the emotions that took place inside. Colouring in our nostalgia, Bourke embellishes the playfulness we now associate with such long-standing structures. The romance of state-funded design is now rare and bright red (happily green in Ireland) post or telephone boxes are cheerful on grey pavements. The energy behind these Soon to be Removed structures is highlighted with Bourke’s coiled and waiting-to-spring inky lines; bristling with life, they appear as the very unspoken scripture of what they adorn. Bright and small squares of colour are then pasted to the yellow walls, moving as if to music, glorifying the buzz that surrounds the telephone box. Just through the dirty glass is reality – the grimy telephone, the call-girl’s card; though far from distracting from Bourke’s glorification they contribute to it. Bourke reminds us that reality is quirky and, though these things may be disappearing, art has the ability to set in stone.
1938 by M. Barnard
London Transport Museum
There isn’t much time left to see London Transport Museum’s exhibition Poster Art 150 (open until 5th January), so if you haven’t now is the time to run along. There is perhaps nothing so synonymous of the style and feel of a point in time in our beloved London than the tube poster. With each age came the evocative ad, whether it was to depict the gentrification that would lure the Victorians, the collective determination of the homefront during wartime or the roaring style of the ’20s, London has always travelled underground and these posters were designed to both mirror their needs and entice them. Various artists, many anonymous, were enlisted to design such posters, with focus often as much on the ‘art’ as the message. The icy blue of this poster immediately casts us into the chill of winter, broken only by the block colour that is so common in these designs. In jolly red and green – it is the festive season – the skier throws up their poles in delight, perched on the brink of the Winter Cavalcade, the letters of which curve harmoniously towards the figure, reflected with the juxtaposing arch of Earls Court above them. All components of the poster are cheerfully euphoric. The curved almost sculptural-like approach to the lines of the figure and its streamlined limbs is reminiscent of thirties’ artists such as Henry Moore; indeed Recumbent Figure (postcard 270) shares the same year. This celebration of the thirties’ interpretation of form is what makes this poster so evocative of time, yet the message is never lost. The instantly recognisable font and London Transport’s logo ties our appreciation of the tube together, though I’m not sure our modern London Transport would allow their signature blue and red to be tampered with for the sake of design.
1927-32 by Stanley Spencer
Sandham Memorial Chapel; on display at Somerset House until 26 January 2014
There are many attractions to Spencer’s Sandham chapel paintings – their multiplicity in showing different faces of war, their dedication in being painted pain-stakingly over 5 years for a space designed to quietly remember, and of course Spencer’s distinctive style that is evocative of the time. The struggle to produce such a poignant memorial is something most of the world are trying desperately to achieve in light of the coming centenary, which perhaps highlights how successful Spencer’s (albeit from actual experience) reflections are. Although each painting is full of activity – whether it be a hospital scene, figures laid out in death or fatigue, the mundane but evidently necessary Filling Water-bottles – the soft detail Spencer applies in his painting slows each action down, drawing it out for our realisation and the emotion that comes with it. The figures are caught in the agonising pull of army life, which Spencer draws out visually with his style. Their faces, limbs and labours are pulled out before us – in Map-Reading soldiers’ arms are caught and drawn with desperation across the bushes in the background, while figures are draped languidly one by one across the grass. The ‘Map-Reader’ is then elevated in his task, floating above his men, picked out and swollen with responsibility as the map falls out in front of him. The arched shape that all the paintings adhere to encourages the feeling of looking in, peering into a world we can hardly comprehend, Spencer’s warped sense of perspective carrying us into the disbelief of what was reality. The paintings appear ethereal, picked out with such details as the pure and small white leaves scattered across the bushes that give this painting a curious and quiet beauty, akin to Heaven rather than warfare. Free and in central London, whether you’ve been to Sandham or not, these paintings are well worth a visit.