Lab 5 Bertram

06 Sep

Surreal Encounters at Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Edinburgh

Surreal Encounters: Collecting the Marvellous brought together some of the finest Surrealist works of art from four legendary collections, those of Roland Penrose, Edward James, Gabrielle Keiller and Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch. The ways that Surrealist art had been collected display many of the idiosyncratic passions of Surrealism itself. The exhibition examined the different impulses behind these four extraordinary collections presenting a fuller and richer picture of the Surrealist movement as a whole.

This was a most engaging and thought provoking exhibition. There is an awful lot to take in. For someone who is not a natural follower of surrealism I found it fascinating to see the how the support and influence of Penrose and James was so critical in maintaining the movement’s momentum in the 1930s. Penrose in particular was actively promoting their work in London. Each collector in their own way has contributed to sustaining this most individual of art movements.

14 Apr

The Glasgow Boys – a Spirit of Rebellion at St Andrews Museum

While in St Andrews as part of my work with the Barns-Graham Charitable Trust I dropped into St Andrew Museum and found a wonderful collection of works by the Glasgow Boys selected by Kirkcaldy Art Gallery.  It has been too long since I had seen their work and a revisit long overdue.

Linked by friendship and a shared desire to challenge the artistic traditions of late 19th century Scotland, the Glasgow Boys became one of the most significant groups of painters working in Britain at that time. A loose association of around 20 artists, many of them went on to enjoy critical acclaim and commercial success, both at home and abroad.

The exhibition looked at the evolving style of the Glasgow Boys and their impact on the art world. It featured works by leading members of the group and many others associated with it, including Arthur Melville, John Lavery, E A Hornel, George Henry, James Guthrie, Joseph Crawhall, E A Walton, Alexander Roche and Thomas Corsan Morton.

Perfectly scaled in size, this was a gem of an exhibition. These are just a few examples:


E A Hornel 'Seashore Roses'
John Lavery 'My House in Morocco'
George Henry 'Lady with Goldfish'
W Y Macgregor 'Summer Landscape'
02 Oct

Delighted to help sponsor Amazing Space, the event that celebrates 45 years of the Dove Studios in Butleigh. The Dove has been an arts and crafts centre committed to excellence in the arts and to art education in the wider community since its inception in 1970. The exhibition includes specially commissioned work by local artists - Bronwen Bradshaw, Pennie Elfick, Michael Fairfax and Fiona Hingston – who have made site specific installations inspired by the Dove; emerging artist Jenny Newbury has produced a specially commissioned work inspired by the archive; and there is a fine display of Mini Prints and Books prints by the Dove students as well as a sculpture garden. Thanks to a well preserved and documented archive, an illustrated book highlighting the history of The Dove has been published. The exhibition runs throughout Somerset Art Weeks, from 3rd to until 18th October. It’s Venue 81 and can be found on Barton Road, Butleigh, Somerset BA6 8TL. There is a considerable amount to see!

09 Sep

I can't believe that the summer is almost over. Another year shooting by! I have been travelling up and down the country on behalf of the Barns-Graham Charitable Trust (more on that later) and been able to take in some exhibitions here and there. My highlight was the most surprising, coming on a day off driving around Dartmoor. Confluence consisted of the work of five artists - Susan Derges, Peter Randall-Page, Amy Shelton, Marcus Vergette and Sally Vergette -  at Green Hill Arts in Moretonhampstead. The exhibition grew out of a series of conversations between the artists and the gallery. All five live locally and are powerful advocates for the natural world; their friendships and deep concerns informing their practice. It was a finely curated exhibition - plenty to see but not overdone -  and of the highest quality art which would not have looked out of place in any international setting. Susan Derges's river photograms were displayed adjacent to Sally Vergette's textiles, wool rugs that she makes on a Navajo loom using wool from her own flock. Peter Randall-Page made drawings and prints of the Sap River, 'letting wet pigment flow under gravity across the paper in a quasi controlled manner'. Amy Shelton created a series of light boxes comprising pressed flowers while a central focus in the gallery was Marcus Vergette's table with 28 bronze cast bells, each with a different pitch.

It is a wonder what one can sometimes find in the more remote outposts of the gallery world. Much of it for sale too!

02 Mar

I do not know if it is because I find myself becoming disconnected with aspects of contemporary art but I have started to rekindle my appreciation and excitement about Old Master paintings. The start of this new journey is the research I am undertaking on seventeenth century printmaking and the consequent investigation of the landscape backgrounds of the Old Masters. That being another story for another time I confess I have not looked at Renaissance and post Renaissance paintings for many years. Having spent my entire university courses studying Baroque to Neo Classicism I rather turned my back on all things historical when dedicating myself to my career in modern and contemporary art.


Now that I am returning to the past I discover that I am looking at these works in completely different light, being rather older and wiser. Recent experiences at the National Gallery of Scotland and at Tate Britain have been instructive in ways I consider that I would have been unable to appreciate thirty years ago. I am not for a moment propounding anything earthshattering in anyone’s understanding or appreciation of, say, eighteenth and early nineteenth century British painting. This is a very personal apotheosis. I have never realised quite how modern Constable is, for example, in his use of flashes of white to scintillate even the darkest areas of foliage or shade, or how abstractly depicted (in almost modernist ways) are areas of Titian’s backgrounds.


I first experienced a view of interpreting Old Master paintings in a contemporary light when seeing Andrea Mantegna’s glorious series Triumphs of Caesar in an exhibition at the Royal Academy (they are usually housed the orangery at Hampton Court) in 1992. At a time when British Art was defined by the popularity, both critical and public, of strong and distinctive figurative art, and definitely pre pickled sharks, I remember asking a question in my mind about quite how far contemporary figurative art had come in five hundred years.

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