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Alfred Wallis: Two Boats

Alfred Wallis: Two Boats

Jerwood Collection Revealed; In Focus: Alfred Wallis

No sooner has the Jerwood hosted a nude flashmob in the hope of attracting Spencer Tunick to Hastings, than it open its doors to Jerwood Collection: Revealed. This stunning exhibition celebrates the growth of the Jerwood Foundation’s small private collection into a major collection of 20th and 21st century British Art. The gallery also features a smaller exhibition – In Focus: Alfred Wallis. HOT reporter Cathy Simpson, accompanied by Assistant Curator Victoria Howarth, toured the exhibition.

It is significant that the Jerwood Foundation Collection started effectively as paintings for the office wall, and that sense of personal choice and vision shines out from every room.  As Alan Grieve, Chairman of the Jerwood Foundation reflects: “It is very much a personal journey and I have tried to collect what I like. If others can now enjoy some of my pleasure and passion for the power of visual language, then I have succeeded.”

Christopher Wood: The Bather

Christopher Wood: The Bather

Our journey starts with the Foreshore Gallery, where Christopher Wood’s iconic piece The Bather stares straight back from the far wall.

She is flanked by a tenderly intimate portrait by Winifred Nicholson and a quasi abstract/cubist piece by John Trevelyan – and this juxtaposition of the highly observed, the abstract and the monumental somehow sets the tone for the whole exhibition.

The enormous internal space has been broken up judiciously by walls which give more of a sense of human scale, and ensures that small works do not get ‘lost’ in it – but there is nevertheless a vast area devoted to portraiture. These range from huge to small scale; academic to abstract; vibrantly coloured to monochrome. They include works by Ruskin Spear, John Bratby and Shani Rhys James, but perhaps the most striking examples are Alfred Wolmark’s Portrait of Norman Kohnstamm and Anita Taylor’s Resigned.

Alfred Wolmark: Portrait of Norman Kohnstamm © Mrs Diana S. Hall

Alfred Wolmark: Portrait of Norman Kohnstamm © Mrs Diana S. Hall

Smaller works on the adjoining walls feature wider interpretations of the human figure, and a series of townscapes including work by L S Lowry and John Piper.

The pieces in the entrance hall are all positioned so that you can spend time with them – and they amply repay the effort. They range from Michael Rooney’s ghostly illustrative pieces, a painting by Carel Weight and John Fitton’s Private View, where figures which could have stepped out of a work by George Grosz socialise painfully, and the only real contact is between the eyes of the ‘paintings’ and the viewer.

The rest of the ground floor is dedicated to works which were either winners of, or shortlisted for, the Jerwood Painting Prize since its inception in 1994. Before you reach those rooms, though, you meet Maggi Hambling’s stunningly sensitive portrait, Frances Rose. The old lady seems to breathe; the painting is so lifelike that you can imagine her speech, the delicately rendered arthritic hands telling their own tale.

Maggi Hambling: Frances Rose

Maggi Hambling: Frances Rose © The Artist

Upstairs, you are greeted by James Fisher’s exquisite I Live in Fear, where the ghoul-like figures are so decoratively rendered that it takes a little while to realise how menacing they are.

One of the striking aspects of this exhibition is quite how organic it is; paintings are grouped according to how well they work together visually, rather than by rigidly defined hanging schemes or themes. A room of still life paintings is not confined to still life, for example, but scenes of domesticity – from Eliza Hodgkins’ breathtaking lifelike Irises to Mark Gertler’s Through the Window, where colourful paintwork jostles with the vibrancy of the garden.

Two smaller rooms upstairs are dedicated to the human figure, ranging from the playful and illustrative work of Ceri Richards to the monumental pieces by Keith Vaughan. There is also a series of maquettes which have only recently returned from the Royal College of Physicians, London, including pieces by Dame Elizabeth Frink, Jacob Epstein and Henry Moore. One of the particularly intriguing aspects of the display is the link between drawing and sculpture by the same artists, and the dialogue between the two.

Still on the first floor, I was assured that the gallery staff were trying NOT to place sea-themed works in a room featuring a view of East Hill and fishermen’s huts, where the beach is clearly visible from an adjoining window. It hasn’t worked. Delicious seascapes and landscapes – playful and formal, traditional and modern, stylised and observed, sit side by side in a harmony created by the vision which brought them together, enhanced by the vistas beyond the gallery walls.

Finally, the life and work of Alfred Wallis is celebrated in the room next to the view of the fishermen’s beach. It is difficult to imagine a better location for the work of this modest, self taught artist whose devotion to the sea was his raison d’être.

The impression of an intensely personal view is heightened by the way so many of his paintings are made with ship enamel on scraps of paper and card, and it is easy to see why their honesty and directness would have appealed so strongly to his St Ives contemporaries. He had developed his own artistic language to capture memories and experiences of the sea. Horizons are slanted to convey the upswell of the ocean, the scale of objects reflects their relative importance rather than their size.

He described his work thus: “What I do mosley is what used to bee out of my own memory what we may never see again.” He has ensured the immortality of that memory.

This entire exhibition is a wonderful opportunity to experience the Jerwood Foundation’s collection, much of which is in the public domain for the first time. I wholeheartedly recommend it!

I would also like particularly to thank Assistant Curator, Victoria Howarth, whose enthusiasm and insight added considerably to my enjoyment of the exhibition.

Jerwood Collection: Revealed and In Focus: Alfred Wallis can be seen until 23 April 2014.

Details of opening hours and admission prices can be found on the Jerwood website.

 

 

 

 

Posted 08:26 Monday, Feb 3, 2014 In: Visual Arts

Also in: Visual Arts

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