Category Archives: British

Preview: Mitch Griffiths at Halcyon Gallery

Actor Ray Winstone given permanence by the brush of Mitch Griffiths

Exhibition: Mitch Griffiths – The Promised Land, Halcyon Gallery, London, until May 31 2010

It has been said that being unfashionable is a sure way to get in fashion. If that be the case, Mitch Griffiths might soon come into ironic vogue in the same way as socks and sandals are now in some circles acceptable.

Griffiths paints large scale portraits in the style of the old masters but with radically updated themes. In place of religion and royalty, his new show at Halcyon Gallery takes on celebrity, consumerism and British nationalism.

The self-taught artist has gone on record with the following claim: “Once you paint a MacDonald’s burger in oil paint, it becomes important and immortal. It’s a permanent mark of the disposable.”

In the latest shows, two of the immortals who gaze out from the canvas are actors Ray Winston and his daughter Lois. Both are wrapped in Union Jacks and wear the look of battle-weary heroes.

Other paintings feature plastic surgeons, paparazzi and a suicidal Tesco customer. All of the above are high impact, technically skilled works. Only you feel they might be a little short on ambiguity.

The 25 paintings on show have already sold and Griffiths will be looking ahead to the next big exhibition. Iconostasis in 2011 will be a “blockbuster” according to Halcyon Gallery president Paul Green, and it may even be flavour of the month…in theory.

Written for Culture24.

Review: From Sickert to Gertler – Modern British Art from Boxted House

Exhibition: From Sickert to Gertler – Modern British Art from Boxted House, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, until September 12 2010

Long before Brit Art, there was British Art. In the early 20th century this was typified by the painterly, figurative work of a group centred around Camden in London.

Compared with contemporaries in Paris, the Camden Town Group were retrospective technicians. The art can seem as modest and matter-of-fact as that name.

The System, painted in 1924-5 by Walter Sickert, is a case in point. As a portrait of a luckless character type with finely balanced colours, it is impressive. But there are no flights of abstraction. You wouldn’t guess the first Surrealist manifesto had just been published.

Robert Bevan was another member of the Group and its his work which dominates this show. After experiments with fauvism and pointillism, his style settles into an angular yet sedate form of post-impressionism, with the emphasis on landscapes.

In the years before and after the First World War, Bevan and his wife, Stanislawa de Karlowska, were central figures in the London art scene. It was their son, Bobby, together with his wife Natalie, who collected most of the works on display here.

Their house was a showcase for paintings by Sickert, Bevan and Karlowska, along with Mark Gertler, Harold Gilman, Charles Ginner, Cedric Morris and John Nash. Most of these talents were also friends in one way or another.

The web of relationships between the artworks and artists in this show is dense. To complicate matters further, Bobby built up an eclectic range of works on paper, in which Goya, Cezanne and Toulouse-Lautrec sit more or less side by side. Natalie, meanwhile, had an exhibition of her own ceramics at the Anthony d’Offay gallery.

But it is their family home of Boxted House in Essex which draws together all these guests, possessions and passions. The artwork here is displayed room by room, so the results are no less disordered than a perusal of anyone else’s place of residence.

In his lifetime, Bevan only sold one painting to a public gallery. Brighton Art Gallery bought The Cab Yard, Night in 1913. It was a favourite subject, but horse drawn cabs would soon be replaced by cars. In Italy, this would spawn Futurism. Here we did not exactly embrace modernity.

Written for Culture24.

Review: Tony Bevan goes large with painting installation at De La Warr Pavilion

Exhibition: Tony Bevan, New painting installation, De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, until June 13 2010

Monumental painting can be a serious business. It brings to mind thickly laid on paint with an often spiritual dimension laid on just as thick. Tony Bevan’s installation at De La Warr Pavilion, on the other hand, is of the order of a cosmic joke.

His centrepiece may depict a religious figurehead. But Back of Buddha’s Head crops its subject so tight, we focus on his tonsured baldness. And just who are we to be looking down on the supreme enlightened one anyhow?

In fact, Bevan has drawn inspiration from a visit to China, where vast statue the Great Buddha of Leshan is often approached by a hilltop hike. That explains the detail in his almost-as-vast graphic painting, with its row upon row of orange curls.

Self Portrait After Messerschmidt is equally bold and equally light in tone. Bevan paints himself an unflattering, low viewpoint. The skin on his neck is strained, his nostrils are cavernous and his ears jut into space.

Once again the work is part-based on statuary. Franz Xaver Messerschmidt was an 18th century sculptor with a radical line in extreme, and comic, facial expressions.

The third work, Head Horizon, is as sketchy and dynamic as a high-calibre piece of comic book art. The foreshortened face is an intense mask of concentration. Black vectors criss-cross the unidentified cranium.

Charcoal is used, along with paint, leaving abrasive streaks behind as a visceral reminder of the physicality of mark-making. Long brushstrokes and flecks of acrylic give an impression of speed. But a gloss to the finish puts the whole arrangement in stasis.

Similar media are used throughout the installation. The artist’s self portrait is deep red while his Buddha glistens with bright orange. Most of these spacious canvases are left unpainted.

The paintings are minimal yet complete. Just as they manage to be poppy, painterly, expressionistic, and jaunty, all at the same time. That is such a tough juggling act, it is a wonder Bevan can keep that sense of humour.

Written for Culture24.