This is a fascinating exhibition featuring some of the most famous images from British war artists in World War I. The pictures so much inform our idea of how trench warfare was that it is difficult to imagine how shocking they must have been to their first audience. Futurism with its subtext of ‘humanity subsumed by the machinery of war’ [IWM text] produced pictures which vibrate with anger and despair and their titles punctuate that purpose with an exclamation mark! Nash’s desolate landscape entitled ‘We are making a bright new world’ or Nevinson’s bleak painting of dead soldiers, ‘Paths of Glory’, are raw with emotion and were even occasionally banned by the ministry as unhelpful propaganda. The relationship between war artists and government has to be an uneasy one – that would make a fascinating dissertation topic…which is a particularly interesting point in the context of the exhibition, which separates in different rooms works of ‘truth’ and works of ‘memory’. I preferred the ‘Truth’ section as it felt more directly from the experience of war but how much is my taste governed by the fact that our contemporary culture values the instant, the immediate rather than the mature and considered reflection of ‘memory’?
I absolutely recommend a visit if you get a chance. It raises all kinds of questions and, as with the best exhibitions, doesn’t provide any of the answers. Personal favourites were a series called ‘Dance of Death’ by Percy Delf Smith. Finishes 8 March.
I have rejoined the employed temporarily as I have taken up the post of acting Curator at West Ox Arts Gallery in Bampton, Oxfordshire. It is only one day a week in theory and I am responsible for hanging and organising exhibitions, producing the publicity and a few other bits and pieces. It’s actually quite fun and should only be until the summer as I am providing maternity cover for the existing Curator but it has really brought home the issues that maternity benefits throw up for a small business. The Gallery only employs 2 people and to lose one for up to year but not be able to fill the post makes life really difficult. Don’t mistake me; I have children and I used the advantages that maternity laws offered but it does seem to me that it might be more sensible to have slightly different rules for large and small companies. Apparently we are a) not allowed to ask the curator whether or not she wants to come back until she is ready to tell us (within a certain time frame which is I think a year) and b) any decision she makes in the meantime she can revoke so, even if she says today that she does not want to come back, she can change her mind and the job must be available. Can this really be correct? Because if it is it seems incredibly patronising – a woman six months after she has had her baby is still not sufficiently in her right mind to make a decision as to whether or not she wishes to go back to work! Really?! Ok – just a small rant and now it is over…
…meantime my lovely new Polymetaal etching press is still sitting waiting for me in my studio…
It feels a lot like autumn already with the nights starting to draw in. I have noticed quite a few really interesting exhibitions coming up so thought I would share them: close to home (for me anyway) there is ‘Bacon and Moore’ at the Ashmoleum, Oxford which looks to be fascinating. I have been doing quite a bit of stonecarving over the summer so am looking at sculpture with whole different eyes! That one runs from 12 Sept to 19 Jan. Then at the Royal Academy from 26 October is an exhibition of Daumier’s work; his washy monochrome atmospheric paintings are a joy! And the V&A are running a ‘Masterpieces of Chinese Painting’ also from October 26 which I imagine will be drawing on pictures from the vaults and should be really interesting.
Then I must not leave out (as I am now a Trustee and have been involved in the organisation) our very own West Ox Arts in Bampton is putting on an exhibition of costumes from Downton Abbey throughout September. Bampton Gallery has lost grants this year because of the local council cuts so are trying to raise some funds with this exhibition which is a paid entry. Bampton is the outside film location for Downton Abbey and Carnival Films have lent us the costumes as a thankyou for putting up with them. Hopefully it will be a huge success and put some money in the coffers so we can continue supporting the arts locally.
Anybody gets to any of these exhibitions before me, I would love to know what you think! In the meantime, I am off to Andalucía in early September for a pastels holiday. I haven’t ever done one of these before and am really looking forward to it. To be able to just paint all day with no chores hanging over you feels like a real indulgence. Can’t wait!