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Jazz in the Park - Ben White

Jazz in the Park.

Travels in creativity

Ben White’s exhibition at the Stables Art Gallery, Small Movements of The Heart, could equally be called Travels in Creativity. His watercolours, etchings, engravings, prints, lino and wood cuts have an enquiring, mostly joyful, life-affirming feeling, yet at times also have an unsettling, reflective, or mysterious quality. The aspect of working into direction of light and play of shadow is a recurring theme. Former pupil Alan Wright went to take a look.

An art teacher for 20 years, Ben White’s diverse and heart-felt exhibition spans work from his student days at St Martins School of Art to more recent iPad prints.  He developed work on the iPad after falling on ice last year, turning misfortune into an opportunity to explore a new medium and respond to some of his favourite poems, including some by Americans such as Robert Frost.

A TS Eliot poem adds flavour to the memory of how the Docklands used to be.  The work is a lino-cut print. As a 13-year-old pupil, when Ben taught at Priory Road School in Hastings, I was happy to be trusted with this medium.  A Sicilian once said to me that, “A bad teacher is like the mafia; keeping one in ignorance.” Ben was my best teacher.

The one very early work, Thames Barges, goes back several decades to the time Ben studied during the day at St. Martins School of Art in London while at night working as an international telephone operator to allow day time for drawing along the Docklands part of the River Thames. The painting is in response to light reflected off the water, barges casting shadow, and the curious mechanical cranes.

An underlying theme is Time ­– and reflecting on its passing: what has happened, what may have been, and the present.  A recent iPad image to a poem by Langston

The Path not Taken Ben White

The Path not Taken.

Hughes, titled The Present, shows hands reaching for the moon. This makes one think of unobtainable desire and the impermanence of time. The Path Not Taken, to a poem by Robert Frost, shows the artist having taken a path less travelled. It is the path one chooses that makes the person.

Flying Crooked, to Robert Graves’ poem, analogous to butterfly flight, says something about an artist’s erratic way of seeing and working, infuriating at times,which can also be a gift of not having tunnel or blinkered vision.

The Emperor Of Ice Cream, to Wallace Stephens’ poem, is the most literal in uses of imagery and has a narrative about power, love and death.  Ben has used a particular yellow as a second colour, chosen after trying many others.

Whatever its intention, William Blake’s  poem The Sick Rose speaks to me of Nature being spoilt by man’s domination over all other life. Depth and layering is an added quality Ben has achieved, which I had not imagined an ipad capable of, having seen David Hockney’s iPad work.

Not to be missed, at the end of the room, Within A Wood, to Philip Larkin’s poem, reminds us of current destruction in the name of so-called ‘progress’.

The image Archipelagos and Derek Walcott’s poem reminds us that even though things may seem unchangeable, things do change if you have ears to hear.

Love is a recurring theme.  Linda France’s If Love Was Jazz illustrates an acknowledgment that love is not just simple enjoyment, and Love Set You Going, Sylvia Plath. Small Journeys Of the Heart, related to the exhibition title, shows an illuminated leaf image enveloped by darkness and, dare I say, mystical light, and says something about the preciousness of the heart.

Works with excerpts from On The Death Camps by George Steiner re-use photographic images as the basis for print-making: one taken of pre-war school children seen from above and the other, Barbed Wire, showing  smiling faces  of duped victims, photographed before their fate was known ­– their visages dissolving like the metal etching plate in acid.

Wistful qualities are evoked in the Absent Artist and the  Absent Writer: creatives not at their post, but there is still a ghostly presence; a jacket slung over a chair that looks like a bird form. Grainy-ness of wood-cut, like memory.

Ben seems unafraid of changing proportions, angles and perspectives, which feels right for the medium, particularly in print-making using cutting tools. In The Absent Sleeper there is a big change of scale, of boots left in a room with a bed, and also evident in The Studio, with its interior of a creative space and view of roofs.

The Vessel, to a poem by David Hart, speaks to me of the loneliness of one’s journey through life. It shows an empty beached boat, with a small ladder for access and possible company.

Guitar Ben White

Guitar.

Ben’s love of music – he is also a jazz guitarist –  comes through in Dream Boogie and other work.  But the most joyful work  is Isle Of White Botanic Garden, which through mono-printing recaptures the immediacy of responding to Nature with vibrant colour.

Also on show are three magical paintings and 3D works  by Lone Ormonde.

I would recommend seeing the exhibition and being moved by the heart.

Exhibition continues until 3 August 2013 at Stables Art Gallery. Open 10.30am to 2pm and 6pm to 8pm Monday to Saturday.

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Posted 09:03 Wednesday, Jun 26, 2013 In: Visual Arts

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