Galleries - May 2018

Galleries - May 2018

MAY 2018 GALLERIES 41 In life, it seems, much as in the film, the camera was a source of fascination for Turner. He visited the photographer, John Jabez Edwin Paisley Mayall regularly between 1847 and 49. Mayall, who openly considered himself as an artist, later recalled that the two exchanged “ideas about the treatment of light and shadow” and credited Turner with encouraging his efforts “when somewhat desponding on my success one day”. Together, the two sought to create “Rembrandt-like figure studies”, rather than straightforward portraits, blurring the lines between painting and photography. Could Turner have imagined how photography would drive the development of art towards abstraction in years to come? It’s a tempting thought. Indeed, the relationship between the media would only intensify. Now, the Tate Modern’s new exhibition ‘Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art’ demonstrates how the breakthrough in photography and new painting techniques fuelled mutual innovation in the push towards abstraction, picking up the story in 1910 and carrying it on into this century. With more than 300 works by more than 100 artists, it is a chance to witness many similar collaborations – and competitions – of more recent times. Frances Allitt John Craxton is very much flavour of the month with two closely linked exhibitions: ‘In Greece – The Unseen Works’ at Osborne Samuel and ‘Charmed Lives in Greece: Ghika, Craxton, Leigh Fermor’ at the British Museum, tracing the apparent circle of enchantment that surrounded Craxton and his charismatic friends through much of the second half of 20th century. Set to become a wunderkind of the turbulent and somewhat gloomy introspection of the post- war English Neo-Romantic movement –Ayrton, Minton, Vaughan et al – Craxton promptly took off in 1948 for the sunlit uplands and heady pleasures of Greece, forming close life time friendships with the travel writer Paddy Leigh Fermor and the celebrated Greek painter Ghika, on Hydra, Crete and Corfu. As the British Museum show makes very clear, the transformation it wrought on Craxton’s work was immediate, and not simply just a question of the light and the landscape, but also of the liberated, powerful example of the rather older and very sophisticated Ghika’s painting, with its high pitched colour and geometric interlocking planes. It showed him a way to handle the dazzling complexities of what he was experiencing in Greek life and culture and out of it he forged his own individual style. The only problem with paradise was that it was also a kind of ex- pat artistic exile, with English critics, galleries and collectors rather forgetting his existence. Apart from the dazzling book jackets that he designed for Leigh Fermor’s best selling books (eg ‘A Time of Gifts’) his work (if not his legend) was barely visible here in his lifetime, despite being elected an RA in 1993. That all changed with his death in 2009 – an exhibition at Tate Britain in 2011 and a biography followed – while the wealth of work in his estate (he liked to buy work back) is increasingly clarifying the nature of his achievement. The Osborne Samuel exhibition consists of some 60 plus unseen pieces, showing him unquestionably as more than a charming lightweight. Nicholas Usherwood Mike Leigh’s 2014 film ‘Mr Turner’ shows the artist having his daguerreotype taken in a photographer’s studio. The artist growls and grunts and asks a constant stream of questions about the device and the process. He regards the younger man by turns with interest, suspicion and envy.“It is finished” the photographer says, covering his lens.“I fear that I too am finished” the painter replies. By the late 1840s, Turner (1775- 1851) was nearing the end of his life, producing the large light and colour filled compositions criticised at the time as the products of a man losing his grip; today they are lionized as masterpieces, the precursors of abstract art. CODA from left: O tto Steinert ‘Luminogram II’ Jack Kirkland Collection Nottingham © Estate Otto Steinert, Museum Folkwang, Essen, Tate Modern John Craxton ‘Goat Eating’ Osborne Samuel L ight years All greek

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