The Nine British Art summer exhibition, St Ives, Modern British, Contemporary Showcases a selection of paintings and sculpture from the 1930s to the present day with groundbreaking British artists including Trevor Bell, Roger Hilton, Ivon Hitchens and Bernard Meadows. They are complemented by recent works from Jonathan Clarke, Peter Joyce and Tommy Rowe that build on the incredible history of 20th century British art for which The Nine British Art has become synonymous, while forging their own place in the 21st century world.
Our catalogue - now available on request - begins in St Ives with Trevor Bell, the vibrant abstract artist who did so much to bring the St Ives scene to wider attention. Ropes and Boats (1957) is an important work from his early years amid the Cornish artistic community, where he exhibited with Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Roger Hilton, Patrick Heron and Ben Nicholson. A year later Heron himself described Bell as “the best non-figurative painter under 30,” and this energetic yet refined study of the coastal landscape was surely in the forefront of his mind.
Talking of that St Ives community, we are delighted to present one of Roger Hilton’s iconic late 1950s canvases, Sans Titre (1958). Hilton’s unique quality was to leave a small but crucial trace of the human form in his abstraction, grounding his work in the corporeal. In that sense Sans Titre has a rare wit and warmth, the upward sweep of his brush a smiling reflection, perhaps, of his desire to 'reinvent figuration’.
The sculptor Denis Mitchell had similarly reinvented himself, giving up teaching to commit fully to his practice. He would often produce preparatory sketches for his sculptures, but with Bosvigo (1968) he had the space and time to take these initial investigations a step further, here working with oils and marking into a gesso-prepared board to create a textured, contemplative, and confident stand-alone painting with genuine aesthetic quality. We also have Mitchell’s much-loved slate carving Bosence (1971) in this show.
Moving into the Modern British section first means travelling back in time, and a remarkable pre-war still life from Glyn Philpot. Stachys and Leaves (1934-5) which has been in a private collection since 1998, presents a rare opportunity to appreciate the ethereal quality of this master study of the medicinal plant, also known as woundwort.
Staying with still life, Jack Smith’s Still Life with Tap (1953) might seem like a prosaic title - but perhaps that is the point. A celebration of the ordinary kitchen scene and drained of colour there is a magnificence in the mundanity of this realist work. “That was my life at the time, that’s all,” he said. “I just painted the objects around me, I lived in that kind of house...If one had lived in a palace, one might have painted chandeliers.”
Possibly keener to make an instant impression, but no less considered for it, Bernard Meadows’ sculpture Armed Bust I (1961) is another work in this show reflecting an artist on the cusp of change. Meadows, previously more synonymous with bird-like forms, had been struck by the Renaissance sculptors during a visit to Florence in 1960 and here human references are more pronounced in this bronze bust, with an armoured, almost confrontational aspect.
Like most 20th century sculptors, Meadows was indirectly influenced by Constantin Brancusi - and the ripples of his pioneering modernist work continue to be felt today. Brancusi’s classic Sleeping Muse was also the source of inspiration for Jonathan Clarke’s New Muse (2020) - most obviously in its smooth, rounded forehead. After that moment of playfulness, though, the work is all Clarke’s, in the angular use of pitted aluminium and placement on a four-legged plinth that has become a constant theme in his practice.
Another new sculpture in this show also speaks to the past; Tommy Rowe was an assistant to Barbara Hepworth before producing his own sculpture across the next six decades, working alongside another artist in this show, Denis Mitchell. His latest, Zawn Brinny (2021), is a neat summation of the all the inspirations he’s found in the slippery, elusive, ever-changing topographies of the Cornish coast, a lithe study of form and space.
And we stay on the coast for Peter Joyce’s immersive Sea Breeze (2021). It is a bold artist who resolves to capture the sensations and rhythms of fresh air, but Joyce finds an enveloping solution in abstraction - Sea Breeze’s fresh use of colour and sweeping shapes evoking his experience of living and working close to the sea in Dorset and Bouin, France.
These highlighted works are just a small selection of a show which also includes painting by Alan Davie, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Adrian Heath, John Plumb and Gary Wragg, as well as sculpture by Robert Fogell and Richard Fox.
Gallery: Monday to Friday 11am to 6 pm. Outside of these hours by arrangement.
Please contact us for home and private viewing.
Tel: 020 7930 9293 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
To view the full exhibition, click here