Listed in alphabetical order
Neil Canning paints in a remote studio in rural West Cornwall, ancient province of rocky headlands, crashing waves and wild moors. The natural dramas played out daily where land meets sea and sky touches earth are an enduring inspiration for the bold and vivid abstracted works that bear his signature.
Neil’s work deliberately transcends visual depiction. And he likens the physicality of moving paint freely around the canvas as a process akin to alchemy. Using layer upon hidden layer of colour and texture, his aim is to encompass the holistic spirit of a location or experience – the very personal sensations he carries away with him from a particular time and place… the light, the sounds, the smells, the tastes, the textures and the passions. He undoubtedly succeeds.
Doug was born and raised in rural Scotland and comes from a long line of farmers and blacksmiths. Doug’s works speaks of the history of land he grew up in and the landscape in which he finds himself immersed now. His studio looks out upon the ever changing Tayside landscape. Nature therefore quite naturally takes center stage in his work. His material is mainly wood, in many shapes and forms. He builds his pieces with exact precision developing and forming movement from static material. The quality of his work reflects him and his career to date.
Barrie Cook’s paintings have occupied a distinctive position within British Art for over 30 years. Since the mid 1960’s he has maintained an almost unbroken allegiance to spray – painting. This technique has had few notable adherents and his achievement is to have established this way of working as a legitimate and versatile mode of expression in a fine art context.
Questions about visual truth and ambiguity are brought to mind, as we each form our own internal comprehension of Cook’s multi-hued canvases, which as a rule go against the grain of traditional representation. The use of spray-paint, having become an iconic and recognisable technique of Cook’s, was originally adopted to navigate having just two days a week to dedicate to his work, and a need to process and form his ideas quickly. In its scale, unexpected colour combinations and dramatic yet technically intricate forms, it is easy to view Cook’s work as a physical manifestation of the creative mental process, an idea that is lent credibility through layered and rapid execution.
Trained academically, the development towards spray-painting was, in Cook’s words, to ‘break the habit of brushstroke mentality’, and to escape the potential clichés that arise from a ‘monotony’ of technique. Cook’s work seems self-reflective, playful, apparently enjoying its ability to surprise its viewers – and indeed, its creator – through its versatility of form and colour. Our interpretation of the work must re-set itself with each piece we observe, a deliberate method of Cook’s to displace any sense of comfort and security, and to invite a deeper, prolonged response not simply to the work itself, but to our own interpretation of it.
Since moving to Cornwall, with its clear light and sparkling seas, Cook’s palette has broadened, shifting from the earlier sombre blues and greys to a greater emphasis on primary and secondary colours. These paintings, with their vibrant turquoises, lush oranges and citrus yellows, point to an aesthetically recharged artist with a more exuberant edge to his work. It would be wrong to imagine that they have lost their profundity of purpose: the message may have altered somewhat, but the motivation remains as committed as ever.
After 1963, when he first visited St Ives and befriended many of the leading artists of the modern movement, Dannatt supported and avidly collected their work while joining their ranks as a fellow abstractionist using a neo-constructivist geometry, tactile and expressive collage or a painterly gesturalism linked to the irrepressible local landscape. While he retained a personal touch in this work, it reflected the art of John Wells, Alexander Mackenzie, Terry Frost, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Roy Conn, Patrick Heron and others whose work he collected and lived with and who so directly inspired his own output.
Dannatt entered this illustrious milieu as a distinguished arriviste with a past career as Chartered Surveyor, music critic for the London News Chronicle and a burgeoning patron, collector and connoisseur. Music inspired his work directly and so it automatically accorded with the longstanding modernist ethos that saw abstract art as a kind of visual music and certainly in Dannatt’s rapidly developing oeuvre there are discernible qualities of harmony, melody and rhythm. Klee and Kandinsky pointed the way and it is undeniable that Dannatt, while steadfast in his allegiances to St Ives modernism, looked further afield to continental Purists and Concretists who were perhaps more aligned to the architectural or the mathematical than the more romantic, nature-orientated English school.
The longevity of his relationship to Ann Doncaster, whom he married in 1943, provided domestic stability and an ongoing sense of purpose throughout. Beyond the bedrock of this partnership Dannatt’s architect and interior designer brother Trevor, later a Royal Academician, proved useful. Trevor’s historically significant installation design for the Fitzroy Street weekend exhibitions in 1952 of advanced abstract art in Adrian Heath’s studio proved a seminal pointer to George’s adoption of an art career.
Since his death, choice examples from his collection together with samples of his own work have been bequested to Pallant House Gallery, Chichester and to Southampton City Art Gallery. In the recent exhibition ‘Shared History: The Art of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, George Dannatt and John Wells’ at Dannatt’s London dealers Waterhouse and Dodd and the 2015 exhibition ‘George Dannatt and Friends’ at his then London dealers Osborne Samuel emphasis was placed on the symbiotic relationship between Dannatt and those artists whose work he collected. These relationships were social as much as professional.
Living at East Hatch on the Wiltshire/Dorset border the financially secure Dannatt worked at a geographic – but never spiritual or aesthetic – remove from Cornwall which he did however regularly visit. He also holidayed with Denis and Jane Mitchell in Devon and entered into a long 30-year correspondence with Wells, perhaps ultimately his foremost colleague.
The Fitzroy weekend exhibitions culminated in critic Lawrence Alloway’s landmark book Nine Abstract Artists of 1954. Alloway detected an aesthetic fault-line within the nine, between the Purists and Concretists on the one hand and the softer St Ivesian landscape tendency on the other. Dannatt swung both ways. The hard logic of mathematics certainly appealed less to George than the more human realm of nature, landscape and music. Dannatt did, however, persevere with the beauties of geometry as we see here with White Circles with a Red Complex (1995), Linear Inversion Ochre (1976), Linear Form with Blue Circle (1998), Fanfare (1974) and the double sided Vaporetto (1977). Collage undoubtedly appealed to George with its rich, mostly local, cultural references. In A Swiss Collage (1985) and Milano (1977) Dannatt paid homage to Kurt Schwitters or Max Bill, works that use the Merz master’s lettering or else transform found posters into expressive papieres déchirés.
One of the foremost features of the current survey is the extent of Dannatt’s experimentation with different graphic media. There is a marked relish for utilising the intrinsic physical and plastic properties of media encompassing pencil, charcoal, gouache, extrinsic collage, wash, tempera, ink, crayon, pastel or paint. In works like White Sea (1960), Ariel Movement (1962) and Tuscania (1969) Dannatt emulates the tactile expressiveness of Paul Feiler, William Scott or Terry Frost, while the playful geometry of John Wells is never far away. Such versatility made Dannatt at his best a virtuoso plastic performer able to stand squarely on his own distinctive and individual terms alongside his established Cornish colleagues.
Stephanie Dees was born in Northumberland in 1974. Her formal art training took place at Edinburgh College of Art between 1992 and 1998 where Stephanie obtained BA (Hons) in Drawing and Painting and MFA in Painting.
Stephanie paints using several media. This includes: mixed media, acrylic, watercolour, pencil, oil bar and oil pastel. Her paintings are based on the architecture and landscape of a variety of places including Edinburgh, Italy, Cornwall and the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.
Stephanie’s paintings evoke atmosphere and fond memories. She enjoys portraying the numerous affects light and different seasons have on the landscape both urban and rural. Her paintings of Edinburgh, Devon and Cornish vistas are the result of keen observation and skillful draftsmanship . Capturing the pale light and uncluttered charm of her subject Stephanie’s paintings communicate a subtle quietness. Although people are not featured in her paintings there is a sense that they are never far away.
In 2002 Stephanie Dees won the ‘Alexander Graham Munro Travel Award RSW’, which is presented annually by the Society for the best painting by an artist under 30 years of age. She has won many other art prizes, including the Andrew Grant Bequest Prize for Drawing ECA in 1997, and the Scottish Education Trust Award in 2008.
Solo exhibitions include Lemon Street Gallery, Cornwall, 2003; Compass Gallery, Glasgow, 2001; Scottish Gallery, Edinburgh, 2001, 2004, 2006 and 2008. Dees is a regular exhibitor at Society and Commercial Gallery group exhibitions throughout the UK and has been showing with the Scottish Gallery since 1997.
Her works feature in Private and Public Collections worldwide.
For me, although not for him, Arturo Di Stefano has been a painter-in-waiting ever since I came across his work for the first time, at his 1994 Purdy Hicks show. A verbal response has been a long time coming. Paintings, all works of art, are very patient. On the one hand, that is their job, and a necessary condition of their survival. On the other hand, they would suffer a nervous breakdown if they hung around on the off-chance that the pulses, bones and marrow of a poet who loves painting and music precisely because they are not verbal, would send the necessary signals to the mind’s eye whence come the words. Yes, pulses, bones and marrow are the ante-chambers of the word. The reasons for my delay are unimportant, even to me. But now I sense the day has come:
I want to know and share with Arturo what grabs me in his work. The painterly skill, the architectonic ability, the expressive power, are right there “in your face”. They could be described and perhaps even explained. But what most interests me — a poet and writer not an art critic — in his work is that the story which is the driving force of his art, generated from emotion and intellection, makes its presence felt off stage, a presence which is an absence. The implosive energy remains: the energy of the unseen destiny of anonymous persons. There is a dignity to this deliberate “backstaging” of what, in some pictures, I read as suffering, sometimes associated with cruelty. I am not reading the process of backstaging into the paintings. I am reading it out of them. Arturo is not repressing his feelings or his thoughts. On the contrary, he is a man of great feeling and powerful intellect who deploys what painters know better than anyone how to recognise, explore and convey – surface structures of the phenomenal world as represented by documentary imagination – to tell us something of what is really going on, were we troubled enough to find out, before our very eyes. He, like William Burroughs’ paranoiac, is in possession of the facts.
The artist has made a choice. One reason for refusing the option of absorption into an explicit story is to avoid the danger of frisson. I should make clear that it is possible to tell an explicit story and avoid frisson, for example in Paula Rego’s ‘War’ and the ‘Interrogator’s Garden’. But that is not Arturo’s way. He too directs the viewer but he trusts us in a different way – by proposing that we enter into the spirit, into the human province of the work, by generating our own story, a peopled landscape. Representation is always metamorphosis. ‘Adit’ and ‘Aditum’, to me, hint at a scary story, a back story, perhaps a cruelty being perpetrated on an innocent. Frisson is disabled.
Even without the issue of frisson, Arturo’s non figurative paintings are always suggestive of human presence and he has his reasons: thus the ‘Chapel in Greenwich’ proposes spirituality as it rises towards and at the same time draws on a distant light which creates reflection, in both senses. His ‘Santo Spirito’ in Florence speaks of utter holiness, protected by a plain wall. The cloisters at ‘Santa Croce’ cannot by any stretch of the imagination be said to be realistic, still less naturalistic. In the best sense the picture has designs upon us, indeed is a design upon us. The image is haunted not only by monks who are somewhere else today, at prayer or doing charitable work, but also by generations of monks who walked there. This painting, like many others by Arturo, is a homage to a lost world of the Italian ancestors of the Huddersfield-born artist. Sancta simplicitas is not possible for Arturo, but he respects and loves it, and he reminds us of Morandi, surely one of his exemplars.
Di Stefano is a remembrancer, very knowing, very modern. He directs us away from nostalgia and sentimentality by not drawing (our attention to) human beings, but requiring our inner eye to paint the persons living in that great cathedral which is the collective unconscious, the dead persons he wishes to honour, just as he honours us by requiring our collaboration. Arturo’s ‘Arcades’ are cloisters under another name. I see Morandi’s sisters quietly walking along, while, a few miles away, their brother proleptically announces Arturo Di Stefano. In Arturo’s ‘Coram’s Fields’, the foundlings survive, ever lost to the parents, ever remembered.
‘The Ritz’ in London has not been seen, let alone represented, in this way before. The painter is not denying the man who hands out the Evening Standard there, let alone the billionaire entering the hotel. On the contrary, they are raised, in absentia, to their common humanity, equal in the eyes of the God who intoxicates Arturo (as he did Spinoza), even if God’s presence is equated with or associated with the collective unconscious or group memory. This painting, like all true paintings, is what Merleau-Ponty in a famous essay calls a “coherent deformation”.
London, June 2014
PS September 29, 2014: I visited Arturo’s London gallery to see new and recent pictures. I do not feel any need to revise what I have already written, but would like to add a word about his picture ‘Painting in Raking Light’. I looked at the two embracing figures contained in a classic Di Stefano framework and said: “Kitaj”. Arturo replied: “Giotto, Joachim and Anna”. Yes, Arturo’s picture consciously references Giotto, but I was not wrong: he has also introjected Kitaj, who painted works after Giotto and knew ‘Joachim and Anna’ very well. Giotto, Kitaj, Di Stefano: even as they make art out of life, they make art out of art. There is no contradiction: art and life give each other meaning and this is the dialectic of the imagination, which keeps us human.
Gareth Edwards’ paintings gift to us the luxury of endless space and solitude. Through the stripping away of material reality, they allow us to stand unhindered at the boundary of self, to look outward across an internal world, a liquid plane of shifting beauty, thought and feeling.
As a child Edwards was given a Larousse Encyclopaedia of Oceanography, and at the image of an immense tidal wave experienced a ‘sublime terror’ which never left him. In his adulthood, years spent chasing the echoes of some richer, more vivid inner life finally drew him back to an intense and revelatory relationship with the sea.
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