British art

Alnwick Castle by Geoff Harrison

Alnwick Castle, Northumberland              Watercolour           JMW Turner

Alnwick Castle, Northumberland              Watercolour           JMW Turner

I've tended to shy away from watercolour painting as I believe watercolours lack the illusionistic qualities of oils.  But this work by Turner which I saw some years ago at the Art Gallery of South Australia has me reconsidering.  It is my favourite Turner watercolour, far more convincing to me than his Venice watercolours, due to its dark, mysterious, ethereal qualities.

Painted around 1829, it was part of a large series of watercolours produced by Turner for Charles Heath's "Picturesque Views In England & Wales" which comprised 96 engravings after the artist's work.  The engravings were poorly received by the public, resulting in Heath's bankruptcy.  

From Railway Clerk To Painter Of Twilight by Geoff Harrison

Like many people, I have this misconception that there were no British painters of any significance between Turner and Francis Bacon.  There was to name but one, John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893) who was featured in an exhibition in London in 2011.  An article in The Guardian accompanying the show paints a picture of an artist dogged by the pressure to produce work rapidly in order to pay the bills, keep the family together and in lieu of rent for his various residences.

Liverpool Quay By Moonlight  1887

Liverpool Quay By Moonlight  1887

His parents actively discouraged his artistic urges by refusing heating in his studio and throwing away his paints.  Proficient in both oils and watercolours, Grimshaw painted thinly (to save money) and used quick drying varnishes.

Heath Street, Hampstead

Heath Street, Hampstead

Grimshaw emerged from the shadows after a 1979 exhibition of his work at Leeds and he is now one of the most sought after artists of the period  "Another trademark subject, rain-washed streets in views of northern cities and central London, had the bonus of needing a smaller palette. It was shrewd move because a wet road reflects the sky so the same basic colouring can be used."

Boar Lane, Leeds  1881

Boar Lane, Leeds  1881

Grimshaw had 16 children, 10 of whom died prematurely while 4 became painters (see below). Greatly admired by Whistler, Grimshaw died of tuberculosis and left no journals, papers or letters thus leaving art historians little material to work with.

Grainger Street, Newcastle  1902                                                                            Louis Grimshaw

Grainger Street, Newcastle  1902                                                                            Louis Grimshaw

Edward Burra by Geoff Harrison

In an age where artists are constantly being reminded that they must come out from behind the canvas, the plinth, the camera or whatever and put themselves forward if they want to succeed, it's worth reflecting on the career of Edward Burra (English 1905-1976).

Striptease (1934)

Striptease (1934)

Stricken with painful arthritis from childhood, Burra mostly painted in watercolours as he felt this would put less strain on his hands.  He was fascinated by the seedy side of life in London and Paris - as an observer, not a participant.  After each trip abroad, he would return to his parents house to recuperate. 

Snack Bar (circa 1930)

Snack Bar (circa 1930)

Despite his debilitating illness, he did have 3 things going for him; his parents were wealthy (he never had to work), he was a fine draughtsman, and he had a patron.  His attitude to publicity can be summed up very simply; "I never tell anyone anything".  He hated being interviewed.

This was Burra's response to the Spanish Civil War which he witnessed first hand in 1936.

This was Burra's response to the Spanish Civil War which he witnessed first hand in 1936.

Evelyn Williams (1929-2012) by Geoff Harrison

All Night Through      1984       Painted Relief

All Night Through      1984       Painted Relief

"To be an artist and describe life as you experience it is to be a pioneer, an unstable and perilous position, it’s lonely and fraught with hazards, and self-doubt is the name of the enemy.  My work comes from my life, shaped, nourished, and determined by events, misfortunes, accidental happenings and relationships.   If I could write words or sing songs, there would be need to paint pictures."  EVELYN WILLIAMS