FPS Winter Exhibition 2010: Review by Philip Worth

FPS Winter Exhibition 2010
 ‘Place’, South Kensington
 The selection by FPS of Campbells of London as the venue for their winter exhibition was an inspiration.  To begin with, its location is a plus.  The whole area within a substantial radius of South Kensington station has a terrific buzz.  It contains many of the world’s outstanding museums, there is the Royal Albert Hall with its summer music fest a bit further up the road, there are broad, elegant boulevards but also the unexpected, narrow side streets and alley ways in which central London specialises which seem to jump out at you and tempt you to explore and where you can discover the only shop in the UK which specialises in the sale of bagpipes (well, maybe I made that one up, but you get the gist!) – and, finally, mention could be made of some of the most mouth-watering eating places in the entire metropolis.

            At the hub of this exhilarating locale is Campbells Of London, an artist’s dream of an establishment.  Its basic business is framing, but it offers a whole range of ancillary services, all characterized by the top quality of which the firm boasts and which is visibly evident the moment you set foot on their premises.  But there is nothing precious about Campbells – it welcomes visitors in a delightfully informal, laid back way both in its publicity and in the warm greeting you get when you enter the shop (it even  offers to come and collect you if you are having difficulty finding it – catch Harrods doing that!)

            One of its many services to artists is, of course, its gallery space, and this our group made full use of  between 12th and 22nd November.  The space is not huge, consisting of a ground floor area at the rear, a basement area and a passageway connecting these.  But it is viewer friendly in a way that some West End galleries are not, with their subtle suggestion that unless you are a big spender your presence is merely tolerated.

            So now to the FPS exhibition.  Reviewing a group show is always difficult as there are, frequently, so many artists whose work is represented that comment on each and every one is impossible.  So selection is unavoidable – but how to select?  In the present case a random selection of half a dozen works has been made which together, hopefully,  will convey a flavour of the exhibition as a whole.

            Caught in the Palm of your Hand, a large canvas by Amy Lister, winner of the student art competition,  rests on an  easel in the front part of the shop and is the first thing you see as you enter.  It depicts the open palm of a hand on a massive scale and, appropriately, seems about to grab you and draw you in forcibly to the rest of the show.  To portray a relatively small object on a large scale is a daring approach reminiscent, perhaps, of Georgia O’Keefe’s treatment of flowers.  Of course, size in itself does not equate with artistic merit – we expect to see our mountains mountainous, our monuments monumental, and our elephants elephantine.  But hands?  Certainly we can speak of ‘large hands’ but we would hesitate to shake one measuring thirty inches across!  Amy’s purpose, presumably, is to present reality in a different way, and her technique is surprise; in this she has succeeded.

            Another work which seeks to avoid the obvious is Underground by Bruni Schling.  Bruni’s reference to her style as ‘reminiscent of German Expressionism’ is apt in terms of this painting.  This is no photographic representation of a train arriving at a tube station.  For me it conveys the tension induced by the thunder of its arrival, by the press of its passengers to board, by the hot, stuffy atmosphere and, in general, by the relentless, chaotic bustle of modern urban living, all emotions feelingly transferred by the artist to her canvas.

            Dade’s Valley  by Grace Kimble gives us a spacious landscape with mountain peaks in both the middle and far distance.  The influence of the Canadian ‘Group of Seven’ is clear, both in its concern with nature in its grander manifestation, but also with its hint of stylisation, not as decoration but as a process of stripping away superfluous, distracting detail.  Of course, Grace does not need to go to the Rockies for inspiration – she need travel no further than our Lake District!

            Rosina Flower has been a regular contributor to FPS shows for many years now, and her vibrant art has always enriched the group’s displays.  Her speciality has tended to be still life with the emphasis on flowers and her work in this genre has unfailingly shown a beguiling freshness and vitality.  It is therefore with considerable interest that we can see, in this show, an example of a more recent change of focus towards landscape.  Field Tracks  has been painted with the same freedom of brushwork as her still life, but also with the same concern for colour composition.

            I loved Loretta Windsor’s angle on Big Ben from street level looking up.  This is the best vantage point from which to view this awesome structure, towering above Westminster and, during the heyday of the British Empire, seeming to embody its might and boundless reach.  The artist has done full justice to Pugin’s masterpiece.  Beautifully drawn, the colour key is red, heightening the turbulence of the backdrop sky and echoed on the tower’s frontage.

            John MacKenzie’s sculpted head St Amarand is intriguing, both historically and aesthetically.  Historically it has been difficult to identify the subject, and a discussion I had with the artist revealed that he was as much in the dark as I was!  It seems that the name in itself attracted him and somehow guided his hands as he brought her features to life.  When I suggested that she might have been a martyr to the guillotine during the French Revolution, John readily fell in with the idea.  The features have a tranquil beauty often to be found, I understand, on the decapitated heads of some of the victims of the terror.  

            A work of great interest in our show was Poule Rouge, Giant Skink, a carefully executed oil showing two animals long since extinct (Poule Rouge being more familiarly know as the Dodo).  This work was by guest artist Julian Hume, who combines two skills to intriguing effect: as a palaeontologist he has been working in Mauritius, collecting and analysing the fossil remains of extinct life forms such as the Dodo; and as an accomplished professional artist he has been able to bring these strange creatures to vivid life, and Poule Rouge, Giant Skink is an example.

            It is with some diffidence that I offer comment on only seven works out of over forty items but limited space, as usual, is the enemy.  Suffice it to say that this has been an  exhibition in the best FPS tradition, distinguished by fascinating variety in both technique and subject matter, and of consistently high standard.

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