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)

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.

“Like a boxing coach”: Bruce Sherratt remembers John Shelton

A few days ago a rather fascinating reminiscence by painter Bruce Sherratt of the Potteries artist John Shelton landed in the comments box on one of my pages on the Two Roberts, Colquhoun and MacBryde. This site has already pointed to John Shelton’s work in connection with the Roberts (top section, here), while an entire trove of great stuff on Shelton, including a catalogue of known oil paintings among much else, can be found here on Mark Finney’s site. Bruce’s recollections of Shelton’s tutoring of “this gauche, lost son of a coal miner” deserve better than to sit unnoticed on a past page, so I’m also posting them here, below.

 

Bruce’s own exuberantly feverish paintings can be found on his site here, and also here, at his Bali Center site. Here is his account of John Shelton:

I was a student of John Shelton from 1959 to 1962, and then went on from Newcastle-under-Lyme Art School to London and Camberwell Art School. John was my mentor and artistic father. John gave an identity and birth to this gauche, lost son of a coal miner who at 15 could do little else but draw.

From John I learned about the artists discussed here. Arthur Berry was a figure of mythic proportions to me as a boy growing up in the small Staffordshire coal mining village of Biddulph four miles from Stoke.

I used to see Arthur strolling like a mobile statue between Biddulph High Street and Coppice Wood where he lived with his dad in a jet black tar covered hut. Arthur and his dad kept a few pigs in a small sty next to the hut. Arthur was an enigmatic, statuesque figure feared by us boys. None of us knew his name or who he was. I only found out after entering the local art school in 1958.

At Camberwell there was an established school style. One was expected to strive to achieve this style, a painterly approach consisting of broad impressionistic brush strokes. Bonnard was held up as the ultimate role model. I was the odd-ball working class character from the North to whom this official style seemed shallow and anemic compared to what John Shelton had showed me, which included everything from the generation of British and other artists based in London during the war years whom you’ve discussed here, to the German Expressionists; Dix, Grosz, Barlach, Kolwitz and Max Beckman. My particular latent psycho-creative adolescent neurosis and talent propelled me directly into the very core of fantasy and surrealism and it’s most authentic purveyors, such as Ernst, Masson, Tanguy, Matta, Victor Brauna and on to their forbears, Grunewald, Durer, Goya and Bosch.

John Shelton encouraged and inspired me in all of this while also introducing me to the most revolutionary politically inspired artists in history; the Mexican muralists: Orosco, Rivera, Siqueiros, Tamayo, and the German-Austrian-Mexican surrealist Wolfgang Paalen, who Shelton told me was eaten alive in the Mexican desert by wild dogs. In fact, it appears he shot himself in the head on a hill outside Taxco in 1959 during one the bi-polar episodes that plagued, not just Paalen, but many other surrealists of his vintage throughout his life: a rich and heady initiation indeed into the artists’ world for the 15 years old coal miner’s son from Biddulph.

John showed me the work of Victor Brauner whose imagination had also been set aflame in Mexico, the Cuban Wilfredo Lam and the English woman surrealist and Ernst’s former lover and muse Leonora Carrington, whom I met in 1968 in Mexico city where my own work was first exhibited at the Instituto Anglo-Mexicano De Cultura.

John Shelton was an interesting mixture the tough, almost brutal taskmaster and benign, fatherly mentor who sowed the seeds for me to develop into what he called a “heavyweight” rather than a mere “bantamweight”. Indeed, like a boxing coach who goads the promising pugilist to reach far beyond himself John Shelton prodded, provoked and cajoled me, making it clear he was not at all interested in the verbally stated ideas and intentions of his followers but in what they actually produced. “Show me, then talk” was his axiom. On reflection I understood later that this was a continuation of the mentoring he had received as a young painter from the two Roberts and Adler: a blend of uncompromising, sometimes brutal honesty and candor cadenced with the sincere wish to nourish the seeds of an uncompromising, high voltage form of creativity and see them grow and mature into something splendid.

Having emulated John Shelton and the two Roberts (Colquhoun and MacBryde), Jankel Adler and others, unlike these London based painters of the 40’s and 50’s I went on to meander, not the streets of Soho but the world, setting up my first studio in Mexico, then San Francisco in 1970 and on to Africa, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Jakarta and now Bali.

I absorbed influences and inspiration from all these places and cultures so very far from my own geographical roots. These by now deeply digested influences, mixed with a hundred other ingredients including an early obsession with Buddhism, Eastern philosophies and psychologies, Freud, Jungian psychoanalysis, Melanie Klein’s ‘object relations psychology’ with reference to the origins of fantasy and on and on the list goes.

All this, plus much more led to the development of a visual syntax that is thoroughly international and archetypal, perhaps universal even in content, form and meaning.

Yet after processing this plethora of experiences that have impacted and mediated my own particular creative nexus and character over the course of more than five decades I find my thoughts returning to those potent early heroes of John Shelton’s youth and subequently my own early beginnings. Men such as Robert Colquhoun and Robert McBride, Jankel Adler, Graham Sutherland, Alan Davie, Francis Bacon and the poet George Barker.

Voting Day

Well, it’s a funny old day, isn’t it? A day when by official conspiracy, nothing persuasive is permitted to be said. A non-day, a little like Sundays used to be when I was a kid.

So, having cast my vote early, I find myself passing time online, while listening to young master Aesop Rock. Oh yes, I’m down with the kids, even if he was my thirty-something daughter’s suggestion. What’s he on about? I’m not always sure, but his vocabulary is expansive and I like his tone of voice.

This afternoon I shall take Grandson One (aged six) to his swimming practice. I shall watch him thrashing and splashing on his back. From time to time he will bob his head up and look about him, invariably surprised to discover that he has continued not to move across the pool. It will be, I’m afraid, simply too trite a parable of our national condition.

All that remains is to wait for the coming bad news. So to pass a little time, here’s a poem that I like by Gordon Wharton, written the year he died, and unpublished, as far as I know.

Morning and Evening

More news from another unwinnable war;
detritus of spatchcocked women and more
maimed boys. A giant company’s shares
have dropped by a dizzying 5%;
but they’re not in armaments, of course.

On an inside page the crowds assemble,
darkening Wootton Bassett’s High Street
in anticipation of a flag-draped hearse’s
hushed procession; of the British Legion’s
abrupt salute: ‘Up’ a few moments, then ‘Down’.

Meanwhile I struggle with the problem
of sweetening my bran flakes. Honey, I think,
rather than sugar; and a saccharine derivative
to make my coffee palatable. A cigarette
to round off a light breaking of my fast.

Then, lifting my eyes, I glimpse the vain tower
with its weathercock flaunting high overhead
its repetitive message proclaimed at all hours
from dawn to dusk (and probably also in the dark):
NEWS it crows dumbly, NEWS, NEWS, NEWS.

A Messiaenic gizmo

Flagging a bit on this blog lately, especially on the poetry front. Well, especially on every front. Apologies for the slacking. Meanwhile, three snaps taken after last night’s gobsmacking performance in Birmingham of Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie. (This was premiered the year I was born, though I’m afraid I can’t pretend it was the music I heard in the womb, which was more likely something from Workers’ Playtime.)

For the eighty minutes of multi-layered, modernist, breath-crunching crash-bang-wallop, alternating with fragile, stellar ecstasy, the BBC Symphony Orchestra was fronted by piano, celeste, keyboard glockenspiel, and, not least, the ondes Martenot, played for this occasion by Cynthia Millar, who very decently descended after the performance in her giant flowered frock, to give the small crowd who had gathered to stare at the vintage electronic instrument a mini-tutorial in its peculiarities. [Click images to enlarge.]


Among the mix of five speakers ranged across the stage, chief object of curiosity was the lyre-shaped diffuseur palme, whose twelve tuned strings resonate subtly with the electronic note. This piece of singing sculpture strikes me as an orphic-electronic device containing both classical past and SF future, embodying the present of its own invention while also managing to sit defiantly outside time itself – appropriately enough for a Messiaenic gizmo.


First half of the programme was the original orchestral setting of Messiaen’s L’Ascension. As the returning Christ floated up, up and away, heading for reunion with the Father, the strings somehow sounded as if they were playing in reversed time, like a tape run backwards, and in a mini-light bulb moment it occurred to me that the parable of the Prodigal Son is, in part, an image of the Ascension. The boy’s coming home.

Outside, in the foyer, two other boys, in blue and carrying light machine guns, were there to guard my insight from any untoward interruption. I tend to fight shy of any talk of spiritual warfare, but I guess it’s time to stake a claim to our understanding of the numinous.

Invasion of the car park people

When I was a kid, I always fancied becoming the person who put the squodgy white and yellow lines along the road with that great little machine on wheels. In that line of work the high moment of creative release must be to invent the little people who turn up on walkways in the best car parks.  (This would have been the ideal job for L S Lowry.) Though today’s regulation stencilled people are a bit of a cop-out, there are still wonderful freehand examples to be discovered. Here’s a quick collage of a few I’ve snapped recently. Don’t tell me I need to get out more often. I visit plenty of car parks.

A tale of two Stanleys: Stanley Jackson and Stanley Jackson

I’m long overdue settling my confused account of the oddly varied work of painter and illustrator Stanley Jackson, as promised back here. Apologies to all involved. For previous episodes, see here and here, but rather than add bibs and bobs at this point, it seems better to lay out the whole thing afresh and refer back sparingly. Mainly because, as previously noted in passing, it turns out that there were two Stanley Jacksons, whose stories show some striking coincidences. To the extent, in fact, that at one stage in our investigations the descendants of one Stanley were pretty much convinced that both might have been the same person. But it wasn’t so … Let’s call them Stanley One and Stanley Two. As we retrace their lives, in many ways quite different, some strange points of convergence may emerge.

Stanley One

Self portrait [Courtesy Jackie & Eloise Hendrick]

Stanley Arthur Jackson, painter, commercial artist, newspaperman and advertiser, was born in 1910, though he was later to claim that his birth year was 1917. Vanity? Perhaps. An undated self portrait, apparently done in the ‘thirties, shows a confident, almost raffish, young man in a dark overcoat and white polo neck, gazing out steadily at the viewer. [Click all images to enlarge.]

We tend to assume that, war service excepted, the lives of our twentieth century forebears were pretty static, but in fact, for those with the need or the inclination to wander, the British Empire provided an early form of globalisation, with ready opportunities to uproot and begin again. And Stanley Jackson, a man clearly with both drive and charm, was never one who was afraid to begin again.


In the ‘thirties he worked in India, and from 1937 was General Manager of the Madras Mail, overhauling and expanding its advertising. In 1942 he was appointed Director of Public Relations to the Joint War Organisation in India, creating publicity campaigns employing press, radio and film. His surviving paintings of Indian subjects were done during this time: the National Army Museum has a cheerful 1943 painting of a Madras infantryman, while Nuneaton Museum & Art Gallery has an undated oil of Madras boat builders, attributed to an E Jackson, but in my humble opinion by our man. (The identity of this painting has been the subject of an extremely protracted discussion on the Art Detective site, here.) These works are highly competent, the style chunky, with a warm, almost romantic feel.


At the close of the war in 1945 Jackson moved to London, working at Lintas advertising agency creating campaigns for soap brands, but two years later moved to South Africa and with his first wife set up his own business, the S & J Jackson advertising agency, Johannesburg. His commercial art of the period is fluent, highly styled, very much of its time. (Celrose, a Durban clothing manufacturer, is still in business today, incidentally.) Following his wife’s unexpected death Stanley Jackson remarried in 1950, sold up and returned to the UK, but before long was separated and on the move again, this time to Hong Kong.

 

From here the trail gets more than a bit hazy, but there are glimpses, albeit in different continents: we know that Jackson created murals at the Hong Kong Club and at some point was commissioned to paint a portrait of Chiang Kai Shek. Later in the ‘fifties he was in Kenya, and later still in Bangkok, where he married for a third time and raised a new family. In the ‘seventies he worked for a newspaper in Canberra, Australia.  He died at some point in the ‘eighties. An attractive painting from the Bangkok period, a lively, golden Thai dancer, turned up for sale recently in New Zealand. It has a touch of the psychedelic.

[Courtesy Jim Rowe]


There’s certainly a great deal more that we don’t know about Stanley One, a man of the world whose restless self-reinventions would make, as his granddaughter Eloise says, a great movie. I’m most grateful to her and to Stanley’s daughter Jackie for their help in pinning him down at least a little.

Stanley Two

Stanley Jackson, painter, commercial artist and writer, was born in 1917. (My thanks to Oliver Perry for unearthing a brief Who’s Who in Art entry for him.) He was schooled in Ongar and studied art at St Martin’s. His paintings – many apparently landscapes and townscapes – were exhibited quite widely in the late ‘thirties and early ‘forties, including at the RA.


Two watercolours with gouache, views of Edinburgh and Canterbury, sold at Toovey’s, the Sussex auction house, a few years back, fetching just £20 the pair. Jackson’s style is analytical but crisply confident; despite the mundanely picturesque subjects, the strong tonal planes owe much to post-cubism – there is a modernist lurking in here. On a rather different note, but recognisably by the same hand, is a painting of wartime refugees, the single Jackson item to show up on auction value sites.

Jackson also had an income as a commercial illustrator, including for children’s books; his cover for May Wynne’s Little Brown Tala Stories suggests a strong yearning for imaginary worlds. From 1944 this found a sudden and startling flowering in his covers for jazz publications written or edited by Albert (AJ) McCarthy of the “Jazz Sociological Society” – Jazz Forum, Jazz Review, Piano Jazz and publications by Jazz Music Books. The ambience of McCarthy’s jazz coterie was strongly literary and experimental, and in these images Jackson lurches abruptly into surrealist semi-abstractions, which found their ultimate bongoid flowering in his “Pattern of Frustration” series reproduced in black and white in George Woodcock’s anarchist literary review Now in 1944.


McCarthy’s write-up for “Pattern of Frustration” announced Jackson’s “withdrawal from the academic field towards a personal maturity which can only be expressed in less rigid forms.” That puts it mildly. I’ve re-gathered the images here, but McCarthy’s full text can be read in my first Stanley post, while Jackson’s own feverish artistic credo – “Everlasting layers of ideas, feelings, images, images which madden, which terrify, which intoxicate, images which sob” – can be read in full here, in my follow-up post.


Clearly, Jackson had toppled headlong into Bohemia and avant-gardism. However, at this point the bonkers abstractions suddenly disappear as his career veers off at right angles. In 1946 he married Ruth Pearl, a professional musician of real standing, the first woman to be a concertmaster of a professional orchestra in Britain and, until 1949, the leader of her own English String Quartet, a favourite of Vaughan Williams. That year she and Stanley moved to New Zealand where their son was born and where she thrived as a concert soloist, while Stanley did – what?

One of Ruth’s obituaries describes him as “a musician and artist who made a living as a commercial artist and music teacher”. Despite his jazz connections, I’m unsure about the music bit, as a quite different Stanley Jackson, organist and music teacher, was active in New Zealand then and beyond our Stanley’s death, which suggests a possible confusion. Three landscapes by Stanley Two are noted on Australian auction record sites, where he is down as “working 1950s” but unlisted in the standard sources; beyond that, I’ve found nothing. Stanley Jackson died in 1961 in New Zealand. His wife Ruth remarried, continued her career and died in 2008; her obituaries can be found here and here.

The Stanley convergences

At one point in this enquiry, I suspected that the apparent level of coincidence between the Stanley stories might be no more than my way of lending dignity to my own confusion, but then again …

To summarise: both Stanley Jacksons were born, or claimed to have been born, in 1917. Both were fine artists, commercial artists and writers. Both were in or around London during 1945 to 1947, and for all I know might have brushed shoulders on the Tube. Both then left the UK for new lives and new families in distant parts. Postwar, both lived and painted in the Antipodes. (The late emergence of a painting by Stanley One in New Zealand, where Stanley Two relocated, flung a particular spanner in the works!)


Observant readers will have spotted that the chunky lettering of Stanley One’s signature is quite different to the usual sharp italics of Stanley Two’s. However, they may also have noticed that it’s not totally incompatible with the “Jackson”, “Jaxon” or “Jxn” signatures of Stanley Two’s loopy period, a  resemblance that threw me for a bit. (One distinguishing oddity is that Stanley Two seems to have signed his full name, at least on occasions, minus the “e” in “Stanley”, though in print he is always referred to as “Stanley”.)

Common to both their stories is the theme of repeated renewal, removal and reappearance, the reinvention of self. What creatively extraordinary lives some people have lived!


Finally, I’m still uncertain as to which of our two Stanleys may have been the author of An Indiscreet Guide to Soho, an obscure but racy little volume of 1946 that today is a bit of a cult buy. The blurb describes the author as “a master of the art of reportage” who “knows his Soho intimately and has lived in this colourful area”. Stanley One, newspaperman and advertising copywriter, seems at first glance the likely candidate, but then again Stanley Two’s Bohemian-jazz connections might suggest a deeper acquaintance with the pulsing wartime nightlife of the quarter, and he certainly could write. Both were in the right area at the right time, so it must have been one of them, surely?

Unless, of course, there was a third Stanley Jackson prowling the alleyways of Soho, perhaps alternating his masterful reportage with the occasional painting or illustration … If there was, please let me know!

He is risen: the angels roar!

Happy Easter! And here’s a woodcut by Karl Schmidt-Rottluff:

 

Hodgkin before the splodges

So it’s goodbye to Sir Howard Hodgkin. Though some of his later work has seemed a bit repetitious, declining in conviction, the painfully gorgeous colours and ridiculously juicy splatches of his best and more fruitful years certainly make up for that.

But how about these three? (Click for slides/enlargements.) Back in the late forties Camberwell student Hodgkin bounced Mughal painting off the Euston Road realism of his tutors to come up with this sort of spiny, expressionist satire. I noticed the miniature Tea Party in America at the Hodgkin Tate retro of 2006, parked quietly and apologetically round the corner at the margins of the real show, but found in the end that I liked its monstrous housewives best of all. It’s beautifully intense, disturbed, claustrophobic. Memoirs, I take it, shows a psychoanalyst at work, but not one I’d feel comfortable opening up to.


There’s something here akin to the contemporary oddball jerkiness of Edwin G Lucas, though without the feverish confusion. I appreciate that the famous dots and rich colours are already detectable in these early pieces, but they can be enjoyed in their own right, not just as juvenile harbingers. As the observed elements in his paintings steadily morphed into mush through the ‘fifties, H H lost this early twitch, this spikiness. In the move into contemplation, he sacrificed a bit of edge, you might say.

Entertaining goodness: Paul Sandby

Paul Sandby in 1780

Paul Sandby in 1780

The other day (while looking for something entirely different, in the usual way of things) I found myself browsing the many images by Paul Sandby in the British Museum online collection. Eighteenth century painters are a bit off piste for this blog, but indulge me. I was reminded of the two sides to Sandby’s work: his tasteful, deftly observed but mildly mannered bread-and-butter landscapes, and then the feverish density and oddity of his earlier caricature-styled work, particularly his ferocious attacks on Hogarth for his Analysis of Beauty, published in 1753. The (modest) Warren print collection includes one of these, featuring Hogarth sat in his own filth. It’s called The Analyst Besh****n in his own Taste – a fine title; “beshitten” is such a good old English word …

The many incidental small figures that populate Sandby’s views, most notably those of the busy military encampments in London in 1780, are witness to his deep fascination with folk of all ranks and stations – the fashionable visitors, the workaday, the ragged, the incorrigible, the feral children. Interestingly, at a point in the early 1750’s, roughly concurrent with his savaging of Hogarth, Sandby’s “figure studies” collided with his more experimental, caricaturish line, resulting in some fine images, particularly a little set of etchings titled Good Entertainment: A New Book of Figures, apparently published in 1752, when Sandby would have been 21 years old. And here they are. (As usual, click the thumbnails for enlarged slides.)


These owe something to the vernacular caricature tradition, such as the works of “Tim Bobbin”, but they’re not quite like anything else from the period. Sandby’s observing eye is wonderfully keen as always, but there is a visionary, almost expressionist intensity here, though it embodies an optimism that recognises the deep, sacred goodness in the ordinary, a kind of transcendent humanism; take, for instance, the steady gaze of the little girl with a doll, a child study utterly honest and emptied of all sentimentality.

Sandby’s mastery of bold tonal hatching gives these images at times a hallucinatory immediacy beyond even that of a photograph. Though more than 250 years old, the images are somehow oddly modern; the cook, captain and mate could be straight out of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast. In a way, these long gone, anonymous individuals who confront us in the here and now are in the same family tree as the haggard and hollowed post-cubist peasants and tinkers of the Two Roberts and their school.

The song of Simeon Solomon

Blogs are not best used to vent, I know. However …

One often despairs of the Church of England, but after yesterday’s report on same-sex marriage by the House of Bishops, I really wonder how much longer it’s possible to stay a member. Another smack in the teeth for those whose God-given yearning for faithful relationships stays damned: celibacy or inconstancy – your choice.

But never mind; the Bishop of Norwich, heading up the report, promises instead “a fresh tone and culture of welcome and support for lesbian and gay people.” Quite what sort of “support” the bishop has in mind is not clear, unless it’s along the lines of the dependency of the tortured upon the torturer.

“There is much more that I could say to you, but the burden would be too great for you now. However, when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.” (John 16: 13)

Indeed. As my wife said to me this morning, the church’s cowardice is nothing short of a sin against the Holy Spirit. In Christ, the perfect liberation, there is no male or female, as St Paul pointed out on one of his better days. So chew on that, Norwich.

Since one has to hold up something against this miserable betrayal, here’s Simeon Solomon’s quite wonderful The Mystery of Faith (1870). But then, we all know what happened to poor Simeon. If we don’t, read about it here.

the-mystery-of-faith