Monday, 30 March 2009


Tatlin - Monument to the Third International Constructivism

We can derive stimulus and pleasure from visual art in a multitude of forms and styles, although personal subjective taste will of course determine what is the strongest “turn on” for any individual. Landscape, still life, city scenes, portraiture, life studies, to mention but a very few approaches, all have their addicts, but I would, for the purpose of this review, like to make a special plea for hard edged, geometric abstraction. There is something profoundly satisfying about the purity of geometric forms – straight lines, curves, circles, ovals, squares, triangles and whatnot strike a chord in many, if not all of us, and this satisfaction is intensified if the forms are the context for vibrant, dynamically juxtaposed pure colour. Many movements in modern art have sought expression in this way, e.g. de Stijl, Cubism, Futurism, Orphism – one could multiply the “-isms”. But not least among these schools of expression were the Russian “Constructivists” who flourished in the early twenties of last century, although their influence continued far beyond that time and, indeed, has made an ongoing impact on modern art right up to the present day.

The exhibition “Defining Constructivism” showing at Tate Modern until 17th May focuses on the output of two artists – Alexander Rodchenko and Liubov Popova. Their work displayed is dazzling and exciting in its own right, but the social and political context within which they were active is worth comment. As is well known the October Revolution of 1917 heralded a seismic change in Russian society, a change which had a global effect still apparent at the present day. From 1917 till the middle twenties, and before the oppressive rule of the Stalinist regime and after became dominant, it was felt that a “Bright New Dawn” had broken, that the ordinary people – workers and land labourers – having thrown off the shackles of Tsarist rule were at last free, free above all to build a new society in which all men and women were equal, where the wealth of the nation was equally shared, and where opportunities for self improvement were open to all. This created an atmosphere in which the arts flourished. Visual artists were encouraged in their work – no attempt was made to force it into a propagandist mould, but painters, sculptors and craftspersons of all kinds were encouraged to slant their work towards the physical and social environment in order to enrich the lives of the mass of the people. This triggered two main trends in Russian art: towards new approaches to architecture and urban planning; and likewise to industrial design.

The seeds of these developments were sown before 1917, particularly by Vladimir Tatlin. His visits to Berlin and Paris, and especially his contact with Picasso, inspired him to produce “constructed” sculptures, using a variety of functional materials, including wire, sheet metal, wood, string, and other stuff. Here, Tatlin’s emphasis was as much on “sculpting” the space his artefacts occupied as the materials he used. After 1917 it was natural for him to embrace the Constructivist approach, and Rodchenko quickly followed in his footsteps, producing constructs with materials used in manufacturing processes, thus strengthening the link between art and industry. His painting, and Popova’s “architectonic” images also reflected the growing obsession with urban and industrial design. Psychologically their hard edged geometric abstracts could also be seen as an expression of this preoccupation. Subsequently Rodchenko abandoned easel painting, concentrating on 3-D constructs and photo montage. Popova, meanwhile, varied her prolific output, moving into textile design, costumes, theatre and film sets,and allied art forms. She died prematurely at the age of thirty-five when at the height of her powers.

So much for the socio-political background which may, or may not, be of concern to us as artists. But this much can be said, that the Constructivist movement has bequeathed a body of abstract artwork which is unsurpassed in the boldness of its graphic design and its thrilling and dramatic use of colour.

“Rodchenko and Popova: Defining Constructivism” is an exhibition not to be missed – Tate Modern till 17th May 2009.

Rodchenko - Non-Objective Painting

Popova - Space Force Construction

Rodchenko - Linear Construction

Popova - Painterly Architectonic /p>

Rodchenko - Spacial Construction No.15

Popova - Fabric Designs

DANCE MACABRE 2009 by Owen Legg


At last, after ten months of printing I have finished my book about the Danse Macabre. There were of course twelve months before that of preparation, getting the linocuts prepared and proofed. But the printing of hose linocuts and the text took considerable effort.

Today, a week later, the first four copies have gone to the binder, Mike Fitzgerald, of Cox Heath.

The book consists of a 15th Century French poem with a modern English translation by Giles de la Bedoyere. At the top of each page is a copy of the 16TH century mural which adorns a church in Brittany while at the bottom of the page footballers dance with skeletons. There are two full page illustrations of a player competing with a skeleton.

The whole poem is a reminder of the shortness of life and the vanity of riches. This is why I have contrasted the ethos of commercial football with the certainty of death. Giles is a poet who comes from Tunbridge Wells and by coincidence has an ancestral connection with the church of Kermaria where this mural exists.

The price will be £300 cloth edition and £450 embossed calf leather binding.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Foyle’s Gallery February 9 – 22 2009 by Phillip Worth

Penelope Mac Ewan has already given a lively account of the Private View and the exciting impression created by our varied and colourful exhibition, as witness the good attendance in spite of bleak weather conditions! She has also commented on some of the outstanding pieces on show, so it may not be inappropriate to extend her review and consider a few of the other exhibits. The selection must of course be random, as space will not allow us to include everything.

“Lion” by Grace Kimble A delicate little watercolour which could persuade us that “small is beautiful”. The appeal of this picture lies in its subtle blending of the dormant power of the lioness and the calm dignity with which she gazes into the distance (or at a herd of wildebeest?) She seems almost unaware of the little cub sporting itself on her back, but this study also breathes an air of relaxed motherhood. Nicely conceived and nicely drawn.

“Scorched” by Andy Fullalove Mention was made, in the Lauderdale review, of Andy’s bonding with nature, of how he feels that it has a life of its own, and so how it inspires his painting. This picture could represent anything, e.g. a bush fire, or the shimmering heat arising from a desert, or (who knows?) the kind of angry outburst that belches forth from an angry soul – whatever. Anyone at the PV feeling wet and cold would have done well to stand in front of “Scorched” and enjoy a good dry out!

“Eagle Over The Mountain” by Penelope Macewen In this simple but effective study Penelope must surely have convinced us that mountains are the natural context for this splendid creature. The fact that the picture shows only one bird intensifies the impression of the eagle’s lordship of its domain. Looking at this work the writer went back in memory to a visit to the Isle of Skye some years ago when he stood on a mountain top and saw these majestic birds wheeling and gliding through the rarified air. Thanks for the memory, Penelope!

“Fruit and Flowers” by Rosina Flower Rosina is a very old friend of FPS and over many years has enriched countless group shows with her beautiful and superbly executed still lifes. This piece is but the latest in a long and splendid pedigree. Her handling of still life, especially flowers, verges on the sensuous. She achieves what is so often beyond the reach of painters – to produce colours that compete with Mother Nature’s. Add wonderful fluid brushwork to that and the result nears perfection.

“14th July at St. Felix” by Janet Scott this small oil, so deceptively simple in its execution, is a little masterpiece of composition and plain but vital figuration. The scene is and open-air café somewhere in the Midi-Pyrenees and we see patrons, both locals and expats, relaxing with their friends over drinks, enjoying a day-off on Bastille Day. Janet clearly has a keen sense of places and people and also a gift for conveying an atmosphere with a few quick brush strokes – where else could we be but in France?

“St. Ulrich” by Sally Ward Another small study and one inspired as much by the mystical ambience of the subject as by any purely “picturesque” qualities it may possess, because I am sure the artist would agree that what she saw from a distance somewhere in the remote countryside of Alsace was not picturesque in the conventional sense. She has depicted a bald, conical mountain peak surmounted by a ruined chapel, seen through the branches of trees and bushes when she was nearing the summit. It’s anyone’s guess as to how the chapel was reached in time past, or indeed how it was built in the first place, but it is precisely this curiosity on the artist’s part, this sense of the unusual, this impulse to capture and record unaccountably moving places and events, that makes for real creativity.

“Snow I” by Loretta Windsor There are many senses, apart from sight, that artwork can stimulate. For example, when looking at Janet Scott’s “14th July at St. Felix” I could smell freshly ground coffee and Gaulloise cigarette smoke. Likewise who could gaze at Russolo’s “Music” without hearing the peals of a mighty organ, or at Seurat’s “Baignade” without feeling one’s hot skin prickle with sweat? So with “Snow I”. The sense of a bitter chill getting into one’s marrow was strong, the effect heightened, somehow, by the repeated figure of a sprig long since stripped of its vegetation, lying defenceless on a wintry ground. It would be tempting to place “Snow I” and Andy Fullalove’s “Scorched” side by side. The inclination would be to go from the former to the latter, I suspect!

“Night Rider” by William Frith The figure of a horseman silhouetted against a ghostly moon is observed galloping through the night sky. If, for a moment, we wonder at his haste, a closer look will reveal the heavens crowded with demonic figures, all together exuding a kind of collective menace. So the rider’s precipitate onward flight can only be occasioned by panic. Will he escape, or be devoured by the powers of darkness? William Frith’s dramatic painting leaves us guessing – and that is its strength.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Foyles Show by Penelope Mac Ewan

Free Painters and Sculptors Society Private View:
(9th February, 2008 6.30-8.30 3rd Floor Foyles Gallery, London.)

The cold wind bit into my hands and face. Londoners jumped over puddles and dodged umbrellas. I looked with silent envy at their boots, my own court shoes having long since become drenched and freezing. Why was our private view on such a night I wondered? Surely no one would be there!

The rain lashed hard against the cars that passed, soaking unlucky pedestrians with their wash. With relief I sighted the ‘Foyles’ sign, certain that at least soon I would be out of the cold. With grim resolve I took the lift to the third floor, believing I would meet a silent reception. But nothing could have been more the antithesis of my expectation!

The room positively exploded with life. Colour radiated from the walls. People chatted in groups, women wore pretty dresses, apparently undaunted or unaware of the foul weather outside. Glasses clinked; music played and while no one seemed ready with a cheque book to buy anything it was clear that despite the credit crunch a real ‘feel-good-factor’ prevailed. The atmosphere was pregnant with joie de vivre.

As I glanced around the room my eye was drawn to Keith Stanfield’s warm portrait, another child (besides his musical older son now playing the violin) was silently present within the picture.

Pete Murry’s luxurious designs sang out too from the walls, as did the contrasting cools of the snow theme developed in the far corner. Olive Cross’s magnificent oil paintings of mountains begged a closer look so I went across the room, glass in hand to congratulate her.

We chatted a while and then I retired behind the bar, receiving further compliments from people about Demeter’s Haralabaki’s textile piece, and the rough immediacy of the boxers jousting behind us, by Philip Worth.

So when it became time to select a raffle ticket for one or more of the pictures in
the room, I knew a challenging choice lay ahead of the surprised winner . It did; but she methodically moved around the room, wisely electing three unframed works, two gaily coloured prints by Katie Moritz and one by Owen Legg, part of his beautifully crafted cycle from ‘The Omar Khayyám.’

I looked up at the other prints by Owen on the wall besides William Frith’s work, steeped in the dark romance of the orient. Yes, I thought, ‘Free Painters and Sculptors’ draws the crowds for a reason. The work reflects the freedom of artists to express themselves.

So I would hope we all extend our thanks to those who made the exhibition
Grace Kimble, (Chair); George Spencer, (who put the pictures up with Vivien
Lodge, newly back on the committee after a well earned rest); Pete Murry, (committee
member in charge of the FPS blog); Keith Stanfield, (Honorary Membership Secretary,
who hopes you have all renewed your membership) and our new publicity man, Cliff

Let’s lift our glasses and give them all a toast!

(Penelope MacEwen, 2008, Outreach officer)