Sven and other men

SVEN BERLIN – Newly Discovered Paintings and Drawings from the Artist’s Studio

The current exhibition at the Belgrave Gallery at 22 Fore Street in St Ives is one of the most interesting, vibrant and cheerful displays on the scene in this early part of the year. It chimes in well with the recent display of Patrick Heron which was recently shown at the Tate(St Ives) and the current selection of Roger Hilton’s work by Rose Hilton at the Newlyn Gallery.

As soon as you enter the gallery, you are confronted by the large, dynamic  and assertive Acrylic on board; 91.5 x 61 cms Self Portrait (Red Jacket And Blue Shirt) 1979. Sven has portrayed himself, white- haired and bearded and sun-tanned, nonchalantly and flamboyantly holding a paintbrush loaded with scarlet paint with the poise of an aristocrat with a cigarette holder. Indeed, Berlin comes across as some kind of feral aristocrat who holds to a belief in himself  and expressionist panache. At first this can seem self-indulgent, even self-obsessed but by the time you have viewed all these drawings, canvases and sculptures the sheer zest and enthusiasm of the work is both charming and cheering.

The fact of the matter is that Berlin worked assiduously over a long period and maintained integrity to his own conception of artistic inspiration. From the stories that the local community tell it is clear that he fitted into the general idea of what an artist ought to be. He cut a figure and his general demeanour corresponded to the stereotype of a lonely and romantic artist. He appears in the popular imagination as a figure somewhere between Caspar David Fredrich, a wanderer above the sea at Porthgwidden and Anthony Powell’s X Trapnel (Julian Maclaren-Ross).

Two further points are worth remarking. Berlin was a considerable writer as well as an artist possibly comparable with Wyndham Lewis in this respect. Secondly, he was also a war artist and made drawings of the D-Day landings and this and his earlier work have been collected in Hampshire and are of considerable interest. In any event this is an excellent exhibition and will repay the effort of making a visit. and


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