Jerwood loose connections
HOT reporter Lauris Morgan-Griffiths thought that the latest Jerwood hang might have been overlooked in view of their recent popular exhibitions – Gillian Ayres and Knock Knock, 7 Artists in Hastings, so she went down to take a look.
The Jerwood is now a year old. A year on, the curators are learning about the gallery, how it can work and how they – and the space – can to made more flexible. Things change and move on. And some things stay the same. Some pictures have survived the rehang and are now nudging up to new friends. The themed rooms continue.
Then I tripped upon their first mini show: the Chapman Brothers, as part of the Night of the Museum events which are being held at various museums around the country.
The Chapmans could be considered somewhat out of kilter with the Jerwood collection, since it is made up of 20th and 21st century British landscape, still life, figurative, floral and abstract genres. However, there is always room for different artists, styles and subjects.
At first, there did not appear to be any connection between Jake and Dinos and the other artists. But then, as I wandered around reading the gallery notes, I noticed that there were links between them all.
Jake and Dinos are contemporary. They are shocking. But so were others in their time: they were considered anarchic; breaking new ground, painting in different ways, naïve or in the styles of expressionism, cubism or abstract.
Jake and Dinos, like others, can be described as local; they were brought up and went to college in Hastings. And similarly many of the others – Frank Dobson, John Bratby, Jeffrey Camp, John Banting – have local connections. See Camp’s stormy picture of Beachy Head, and John Bratby’s picture of the breakwaters on Winchelsea beach.
There are also many examples of figurative work: nudes, figures, studies for sculptures. They all study the human figure in their own way. Keith Vaughan’s expressive nudes, Roger Colquhoun’s Two Irish People, lived-in faces staring outwards, viewers looking in at them. The Chapmans have their own singular take on the human form.
But how do you categorise the brothers. Surreal? Sensationalist? Some would put Jake and Dinos into the surreal, others slot them firmly into the macabre. However, these particular etchings make a definite nod to the surrealists. The work was instigated by the game Consequences, or Le Cadavre Exqui, which many might know from childhood, of folding a piece of paper horizontally, drawing a head and passing it on to the next person to draw the body – to produce a drawing of disparate body parts. Very apt.
In the 1920s and 30s, many British artists were influenced and inspired by Surrealism. The works of Eileen Agar, Julian Trevelyan and John Banting were exhibited as part The International Surrealist Exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries, London, in 1936 and now hang in room 4 at the gallery. Julian Trevelyan’s Standing Figure with Ace of Clubs is of a heart-broken joker, painted after he returned from his inspirational time in Paris.
Julian Trevelyan knew and worked alongside the Parisian artists in the 1930s – Max Ernest, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro – a companionship of like-minded artists. The St Ives artists knew each other well. Jake and Dinos Chapman also have a contemporary grouping, with so many artists coming through at the same time. How much each has influenced the others, who really knows? Except there is a certain shock factor, mortality and morbidity about the work of the Young British Artists .
On reflection, the Chapman Brothers don’t stick out like sore thumbs – there are connections, as there always are, to art history as artists look back to what has gone before, find their eye, and reinterpret for their time.
Until 10 July, one of the rooms will be transformed for the etchings by Jake and Dinos. Their work is hardly of the floral, neat, family pictorial groupings. Pretty is not a word you would normally use about their work. However, they are always surprising. The brothers’ work is graphic, either leaving little to the imagination or taking the imagination into suppressed territories. Their art creates nightmare themes of multi-limbed, many-headed figures. There are skulls, eyeballs on stalks, grotesque animal heads, claw-like hands and feet as well as spiders, flies, insects’ wings and branching roots in place of limbs are inserted into the lurid scenes.
Maybe not for the faint-hearted.
Besides this mini exhibition, the Jerwood is worth a visit to look at the recent hang, to read the informative gallery notes and discover things you might not know about the art, artists and art movements. Little tips make the experience richer. It is interesting that Frederick Edward McWilliam was a friend of Henry Moore; Terry Frost had been inspired by work of de Kooning, Rothko and Pollock. And there are technique tips on Maggi Hambling’s monotype of Jemma, by removing thick, black ink to produce a figure – white on black. She calls it ‘drawing in light’.
My personal favourite in the present hang is Winter Landscape 1952 painted by Wilhelmina Barns-Graham. It is a cubist style painting in green, blues and greys, melding different perspectives of an icy Swiss landscape. Beautiful.
The Chapman Brothers exhibition runs from 17 May for about a month.
Jerwood Gallery, Rock-a-Nore Road, Hastings. Open 11am-5pm, Tuesday to Friday; 11am-6pm at weekends.