Galleries - February 2015

close artistic contacts with his avant garde contemporaries in Europe and the USA in the immediate post-war period (in fact he had already studied in Paris with Léger before the war), being invited to show alongside Jackson Pollock (of whom he had not yet heard!) at Betty Parsons Gallery in New York in 1949. Meanwhile, living in Paris until 1950, he had already been recruited into the hugely experimental CoBrA group of expressionist painters (1948-51) at the invitation of Asger Jorn. It was an extraordinary journey for the son of a Fife coal-miner but you sense it was his clear rootedness in the visual memories of his childhood in this strange and ferocious landscape, its massive pithead buildings juxtaposed with the winter storms pounding the coal-blackened beaches nearby, the red cliffs above surmounted by the grim ruins of Macduff Castle, that form the starting point for his tough, often powerfully architectural, abstract studies. Later too, when a student in Edinburgh, the massive lattice grids of the Forth Railway Bridge made a similar impact, while travels in Italy – where Ravenna’s glittering Byzantine mosaics made a particular impression – and Greece seem also to have been of crucial importance to his use of colour. For those who have perhaps only ever seen the work of Gear’s late years – all that ever starters and catchers-up, for whom family responsibilities came first, such as Irene Lees. A nice touch too has been the invitation to all the participants to donate a drawing of the female form for sale in the Threadneedle Space at the Mall Galleries, each to be sold for £600 in support of the Royal Marsden Hospital’s BDU Research Fund that supports breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. ‘The female form because . . .’ was the question asked of each artist in the show – the answers have come back rich, hugely varied. and exhilarating. An Observable World A major figure in the immediate post-war avant garde scene in this country – in all the big state- art shows and collections of the time, Arts Council, British Council et al – William Gear’s painting had already fallen into comparative, and puzzling, neglect by the 1970s and really remained so right up to his death in 1997. Finally though, thanks in good part to the efforts of his son David, there are clear signs of a revival of interest, of which this show of his works on paper (1947-96), the third in a series which he has put on in collaboration with the Fosse Gallery in recent years, is an important part. Like his near Scottish contemporary, Alan Davie, Gear had already made 6 GALLERIES FEBRUARY 2015 ANTENNAE I’m Nobody . . . Who are you?’ a line from Emily Dickinson goes and, used by artist Irene Lees for her remarkable and haunting drawings of burkas, it makes for an apt description of the feminine struggle for identity and recognition that burkas – and women’s art more generally – has come to symbolise in our age. They are, above all though, beautiful and haunting works and they represent just one strand in a remarkable exhibition, entitled ‘Good Figures’, opening at the Mall Galleries (10 to 14 February), in which some 30 women artists, aged between 22 and 82, were invited by the West- Sussex based gallery/ contemporary art-forum Tint-Art, to contribute a group of works depicting the female form. Organised by gallery director and art historian Candida Stevens in collaboration with Philippa Gogarty and Alexandra Gray, they have come up with a genuinely impressive display that has involved powerful support from two women RAs, Eileen Cooper and Kathie Pilkington (no Tracey Emin for a change!), and that also moves well beyond any semblance of feminist agenda. It’s an excellent mix, in short, of the well-established – Annie Kevans and Jane Macadam Freud, the young up-and- coming, Kate Montgomery and Alice Dyba and, perhaps most significantly of all, the late