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Ian Welsh, Meltwater (detail)

Ian Welsh, Meltwater (detail).

The Last Waltz: New Work by an Old Man

Ian Welsh – chairman of Hastings Arts Forum until his recent death – was instrumental in raising the profile of the gallery, and steering it into a new phase of success and confidence following its recent refurbishment. Any visitor to the gallery will have sensed Ian’s ambitious influence in recent times. Tragically, he did not live to see his own final exhibition; but his enthusiasm has sparked a flame which will live on in the hearts of those who knew him. Cathy Simpson visited the show, reflecting that it is not just an appreciation of the work, but a final tribute to the artist himself. It is not just visual appreciation, but in some sense paying respects.

The exhibition is split into two halves, reflecting the nature of the gallery. The first series, Meltwater, is based on his experience of teaching in Norway: “If one is lucky enough to stand at the foot of the ice cliff which is the permutation of the Hardanger glacier, the world suddenly changes from iridescent blues and greens to mysterious blacks, flickering with pure white light, indicating the liquid thrust which has been the water trapped for thousands of years.”

Ian’s abstract interpretations of the physical world are his way of expressing his sensations in the face of it. The large, monumental paintings are displayed mostly in pairs. Dark, and possessed of a luminous energy, the paint bubbles and flows in an evocation of the water that inspired the work. They are a fitting testimony by an artist who faced the blackness of his own terminal illness, yet whose light continues to shine.

Gravity's Rainbow

Gravity's Rainbow.

In AF2, there is a display of his latest work, a series entitled Gravity’s Rainbow. He described these as the closest to pure abstraction of all his work, although related to the Meltwater series: “I’ve attempted to communicate two major factors by which the surface of our planet is realised – gravity and light.” Though related, this series in some ways stands in contrast to Meltwater; the darkness is replaced by playful colour and texture – sometimes reminiscent of a giant piece of abstract embroidery – bright, delicious and full of life. Sombre colours are relieved by shots of metallic gold and textures are built up almost to the point of bas-relief. He used many experimental techniques to paint, including the use of compressed air to create his textures, and it’s easy for the viewer to get lost in this work.

Cake at the private view, made by friends in the style of Gravity's Rainbow

Cake at the private view, made by friends in the style of Gravity's Rainbow.

Ian himself had an impressive education: his tutors included Leon Kossoff, Patrick Caulfield and John Hoyland, and he had a special vocation for teaching. He taught painting at Harlow Technical College and Norwich School of Art, and also ran his own independent art school in Suffolk. He was head of painting at Vestlandets Kunstakademi in Bergen, Norway from 1989-91. His generosity of spirit and desire to share his wealth of vision and experience made a magnificent contribution to Hastings Arts Forum in particular, and to the visual arts in this town in general.

Ian Welsh Hastings Arts Forum, 36 Marina, St. Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex TN38 0BU. Until 1 July, 11am-5pm daily.Phone 01424 201636.

Hastings Arts Forum website here.

 

Posted 10:26 Tuesday, Jun 24, 2014 In: Visual Arts

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