British Surrealism at Falmouth Art Gallery

Agar, Eileen (1899-1991): Untitled, signed, inscribed 18/75, lithograph, 75.5 x 57 cms. Presented by Tremayne Applied Arts, St Ives.

There has been a renewed interest in works of British Surrealism in recent years. In summing up an exhibition in The Independent on the 26th May 2008 at The Middlesborough Institute of Modern Art- http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/british-surrealists-minor-league-but-major-players-834236.html -Tom Lubbock wrote,” People have said that Britain was Surrealism’s original native land Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, William Blake, the gothic novel, Gulliver’s Travels etc. Perhaps we didn’t need the whole movement-and-manifesto thing. But it produced, slightly by accident, a group of very interesting pictures that ought to have a wider showing, and which the Sherwin Collection is willing to lend.” Clearly symbolism and surrealism have obvious links in mythology and archetypes and such matters were thrown into the generally creative and tempestuous furore which grasped interest in the period between the wars.This climaxed in in the organisation of the International Surrealist Exhibition in London in 1936. There is some evidence of these issues in the paintings displayed in the current exhibition, mostly on loan in Falmouth from the Southampton Gallery. The artists on show include PAUL NASH,CECIL COLLINS, CERI RICHARDS, ROLAND PENROSE, JOHN TUNNARD, EILEEN AGAR &ITHELL COLQHOUN.

Some idea of the range of the Exhibition may be gained from the images to be found at this website, http://www.thisiscornwall.co.uk/pictures/Photos-British-Surrealists-Falmouth-Art-Gallery/pictures-16910494-detail/pictures.html

However, the most exuberant and baroque piece was a comparatively recent work by David Kemp – entitled “The Hanging Gardens of Basildon”. On his blog, Kemp comments, “It is one of a series of a dozen large plant forms, all influenced by “THE GARDEN OF EARTHLY DELIGHTS” an enigmatic painting by the great Hieronymus Bosch, which  explored many  aspects of medieval life, many of which might still be seen as relevant to the human condition, in our modern world?” This comment on the fantastic botanical forms and the connection with Bosch is reminiscent of the work of the VienneseSchool of Fantastic Realism as explified by Arik Brauer whose interest in Bosch he derived from his own tutor, Albert Paris von Gütersloh.

Arik Erich Brauer Die Honigkaeuferin

No visitor can possibly fail to be impressed by the peculiar botanical drawing, named “Prophylactic sea-mouth” by Edith Rimmington. The haunting form appears as some kind of elongated mutation of a dogfish egg-case with a coiling eel like flagellum.

However, for those interested in the development of the work of Paul Nash, his oil painting, “The Archer” will doubtless attract attention both for its muted complementary colours and the charmingly odd bucolic setting. A friend comments in a personal communication, “The Nash is one of his complex compositions worked on for years with bits from all over the place.  There is a letter by Nash about it in Tate Archives. The central ‘archer’ feature was a structure he made from an old toy boat, glass tube, twig, seaweed etc.  I don’t think it exists anymore other than as a photo. It looks more compelling in the photo with strong echoes of surrealist sculptures by Giacometti, Man Ray etc.  He constructed (like Lanyon), collected and photographed sculptural objects from which he derived elements of his paintings.

Paul Nash The Archer

The ‘target’ is from Men-An-Tol of course + mirrors etc; the shadow of the girl bottom right, sampled from De Chirico etc.etc.  All very sexual with the ineffective arrow being merely the shadow of the archer….. I’m not convinced that he managed to get it to cohere as an image.  I wish he had left the landscape dominant as with ‘Landscape at Iden’ http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/nash-landscape-at-iden-n05047 where the symbolic elements infuse the composition naturally.”

Those interested in Roland Penrose’s work can consult http://www.rolandpenrose.co.uk/works.aspx

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