Richard Warren

20thc British art and poetry (mainly), plus bits of my own – "Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Monthly Archives: July 2017

Snaps of mortality

Here’s a few odd things that turned up around corners on our recent trip up North. Even if I have a camera with me when I’m away, in the event I too often end up using my phone, though at times it gives a sort of pleasing phone-y quality, especially in black and white. (Click for slides and click lower right of the slide for full size.)

1: Wystan in Derbyshire

Who stands, the crux left of the watershed,
On the wet road between the chafing grass
Below him sees dismantled washing-floors,
Snatches of tramline running to the wood,
An industry already comatose,
Yet sparsely living. A ramshackle engine
at Cashwell raises water …

The boy W H Auden’s fascination with industrial dereliction was stimulated partly by, among other things, a holiday in Derbyshire, and the landscape of the lead mining areas contributes to the decaying backdrop of some of his earlier work. Here, by the side of the Cromford canal, are one or two abandoned buildings and the Leawood pumphouse.

 

2: Barbara in Sheffield

Spotted in the womens’ wear at John Lewis’s in Sheffield: Hepworth’s Writings and Conversations roped in as a signifier of  “Modern Rarity”, the flower arrangements in the cover image cunningly extended into the display. As prices of Hepworths continue to spiral beyond all sanity, Barbara herself, in trademark beret and stripey top, is now employed by Lewis’s as a “national treasure”, at least of a northern sort, it being not too far from Wakefield here.

 

3: Damien and Lucian

And on to Chatsworth, the simply too, too large residence of the Devonshires, for the eyeball-bashing “House Style” fashion and costume exhibition, knowingly curated as a stately spectacle of shameless excess. Dramatically subdued lighting made it difficult in places actually to see much of the clothes or to work out what it was that one was unable to see, not that the elbowing crowds of tablet snappers seemed too bothered. In one vast room, housing an elevated, candle-lit, Fellinian parade of sepulchral wedding dresses, I felt a little sorry for the Damien Hirst at the far end, on loan from Sotheby’s but now unable to hold its own against the invading weight of all the other kitsch. (An oversized gilded Saint Bartholomew, holding aloft his flayed skin, this is nicked from Vesalius, as all Hirst’s ideas are nicked.)

It was a relief to struggle out of the sumptuous vampiric gloom to find myself in a small, overlooked, sunlit corner hung with half a dozen Freuds, various Devonshires having trooped off to have themselves done by family friend Lucian in the ‘sixties. After all the spotlit satins, baubles and feathers, what a welcome dose of honesty! The upper classes as they are, beneath the costumes – saggy, vexed, irritable, bored, anonymous. Just people, in fact. The baby has a worrying quality of elderliness, as if Freud had seen in his or her features the sufferings of the adult to come. Now there’s a lesson in mortality that Hirst, a successful dealer in attractive surfaces, just can’t match.

 

4: Poor Keith

Another passed-over piece of corridor holds a sampling from the archive of Jorge Lewinski artist photos purchased by Chatsworth. Among the familiar faces I noticed the less familiar one of Keith Vaughan, photographed by Lewinski in 1963. Set against the company of his life sized young men, all hard edged, vigorous and assured, he himself seems ill at ease, poorly defined, subdued, resentful, as if the stick and the stool are there to give him something to do with his hands and feet. Or perhaps as if instructed, a bit too cleverly, to mimic the pose of the central figure, generating an unhappy irony. It’s too easy, of course, knowing of his suicide in 1977, to read suffering into any image of Vaughan, but looking at this, while admiring the painter one can’t help feeling for the man.

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John Armstrong Turnbull flies again

It’s more than five years (gulp) since I did a quick post on the nearly vanished “English Aeropittura” of John Armstrong Turnbull, the Biggles of “Group X”, the post-Vorticist show organised in 1920 by Wyndham Lewis. My thanks to Stephen Delaney, who points out that there are two paintings by Turnbull at the Canadian War Museum in addition to the one I posted. How did I miss these at the time? Or maybe they weren’t online then. But here are all three now, and rather a revelation they are too. William Roberts may have sniffed, but Lewis knew a good thing when he saw one. Click to enlarge the images.

 

These have a fine Vorticist sensibility, the two “new” works particularly. The inevitable comparison with the aeropittura of the second wave Futurism of twenty years later (Dottori or Crali) is a fair one, but there is no chunky fascist-Deco confidence here; we are in a vertiginously fragile world where verticals and horizontals have lost their bearings, and the Vortex is a tail-spin. The Red Air-fighter, in particular, is such a spiralling abstraction that it is impossible to decide whether in fact it has been displayed here sideways.

But beyond these, where on earth is the rest of Turnbull’s work? For starters, does anyone out there have an image of his pages in the “Group X” catalogue? It’s a shame that the Imperial War Museum does not have a painting by him. Very topically, this reminds me that I still have to see the applauded Wyndham Lewis exhibition at IWM North, on till next January. Does it include a Turnbull? I don’t think so. But meanwhile, here’s a helpful review by Nathan Waddell.