Watteau at the RA and British Art Show 7 at the Hayward

I started my week reading into the small hours, the book, the mesmerising ‘The hand that first held mine’ by Maggie O’Farrell.  The weaving narrative overlapping the Soho of the 1950s and contemporary London had a sustained air of menace.   Wednesday to the Lighthouse in Poole to see the charismatic James Macmillan conduct his own compositions, The Sacrifice and The Confession of Isabel Gowdie, as well as Vaughan Williams’,  Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis and Laurence Power playing the Walton Viola Concerto.  I love the rich timbre of the viola and Power played beautifully but it was the drama and huge sound of the Isabel Gowdie, which stole the show. Perfect illustration of why one should actually hear music live.  The power and resonance of the 13 chords representing her 13 confessions boomed out in a way that just does not come across on a CD.  At this point I realized why there was no theatre performance or film screening that night.  Possibly too much sound! Wonderful.

Rose Hilton Blue Café

© Image from Messums Gallery Website

By Thursday I was back in London and did a quick loop around Cork Street before heading for the Watteau Show at the Royal Academy.  Rose Hilton’s sumptuous paintings were on show at Messums.  The blues of the very abstract Blue Café were pure Matisse and some of her nudes elsewhere had more than a passing nod to that master of loose flowing drawing. Many of the colours, yellows, oranges and thin layers of pinks suggested Bonnard particularly the Le Cannet paintings; the figure outlining is reminiscent of Cezanne’s contained fruits and stronger Fauve colours are there too.  A riot of luscious colour, which led me to ponder the concept of a female palette.  If Rose Hilton’s palette is feminine then so too must Bonnard’s have been, so perhaps it is more to do with the subject matter, the female toilette, the domesticity of interiors that suggest femininity rather than the colour.  But I am not sure I am convinced!

Next I moved up the road to the Bernard Jacobson Gallery to look at the William Tillyer watercolours. Here colour again, but dramatic masked out areas of white with dreaming swathes of palest hue gradually darkening, then suddenly punctuated by sharp curves of saturated colour stabbing outwards like anemone spines.

William Tillyer The Balcony 32 Watercolour on Paper

© Image from Bernard Jacobson Gallery Website

Finally the Watteau drawings at the Royal Academy.  Not too crowded but why do they hang them so that I get such a crick in my neck looking up at them?  Surely it is easier for tall people to look down than it is for shorter people to look up!  However to the point. Small drawings with amazingly fine lines and details given that most of them are in red chalk.  They look as if they could be taken from sketchbooks but whether or not, they are studies, often containing different views, different angles and even later additions of a completely different subject on the same sheet.  A fascinating insight into his process.  It made me wonder how quickly he had drawn these and how much was from observation and how much from memory.  There were hands, arms, exquisite little studies of girls’ heads, musicians, drapery and more.  A must see exhibition on every level.

The next day I pottered off to the Hayward Gallery on the south Bank to see the British Art Show 7.  Just inside the door six of Phoebe Unwin’s paintings.  Abstract but with definite hints of figuration, something which is also even more evident in Maaike Schoorel”s paintings.  White canvases, actually two black as well, with just the merest hint of a figure moving beneath the surface of the paint.  You really need to stare at them for a long time for them to release their underlying image.  Like almost everything in this show they demand time and there is so much there particularly the videos, some of them feature length.  You could spend a couple of weeks full time absorbing it all.  Christian Marclay’s video The Clock , which I dipped into, runs for twenty four hours, showing clips from old feature films where time is indicated by dialogue, or actual time pieces and it is run in real time. I had to tear myself away to go and catch my train which was also running in real time.  Becky Beasley’s hugely enlarged photographs of Fool’s Gold, taken from every angle caught my eye because they looked like beautiful rubbed charcoal and wash drawings close up and then when you step back they come into focus.  They reference Korrecktur the novel by Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard, each image being accompanied by a quotation from his text.  This exhibition is challenging and meaty and the accompanying little booklet which comes free with the entrance ticket is a really useful and essential companion to the show.

Going to see exhibitions always makes me want to rush home to the studio and get on with my work which is actually what I did when I got home on Friday.  I did a small drawing based on the Horizons Sketchbook which was selected for the Sketch National Drawing Prize Show. I have meaning to explore this idea for a while and was fairly satisfied with the first of what I suspect will be a new group of drawings. I am not sure about the proportions of the masked out area so I expect I will revisit this in the coming days.

New Horizons Sketchbook Drawing.  Fiona Robinson, May 2011.  Charcoal, graphite, white chalk, mixed media.

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