Dear Trust Members

Welcome to Spring and welcome to another newsletter.

You will no doubt share the hope that as the current covid situation improves and we all become ‘jab reinforced’, life will get back to normal. If so, this will allow us to proceed with our SAGT programme including our summer exhibition.

Meanwhile as we all try to “Keep calm and carry on”…

In November 1941, Roy Plumley, an out of work actor and radio announcer, wrote to the BBC with an idea for a programme. In January 1942 the first of eight planned programs was broadcast under the title of ‘Desert Island Discs ‘…and the rest is on-going history.

It occurred to me that instead of taking music to a desert island, what if I were to take paintings? Any six paintings I wanted, regardless of constraints. Oh dear, the difficulty I found was not what to take, but what to leave out. In the end I settled upon a Desert Island Gallery. These then are the paintings and my reason for choosing them may interest you.

Alfred Wallis 1855 - 1942. 'Schooner under the Moon' 1935
Alfred Wallis 1855 – 1942. ‘Schooner under the Moon’ 1935

I have an odd connection with Alfred Wallis. I was born the day he died. It is of course fanciful to suppose that he passed his artistic baton to me, but I like that idea. I also like the fact that Wallis, an impoverished seafarer, was also a true naive artist. Painting with bits of cardboard and house paint, any image produced was always less important than the memory behind it. Swen Berlin, (a real bohemian), who first documented Wallis, told me that Wallis  saw painting as a pastime and then saw the chance to make “A few bob” out of Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood, the modernist artists who ‘discovered’ him.

I have had many holidays in Cornwall – mainly Porthleven – and no trip to Cornwall passes without a visit to St Ives and a little pilgrimage along Back Street where Wallis lived. In the town one is reminded of him everywhere.  The shop in the Tate has more Wallis themed merchandise. Sad then that he died a pauper. Incidentally one of the best places to see Wallis’s work is in Kettles Yard in Cambridge -highly recommended.

For me, any painting by Wallis would be a delight, but ‘Schooner under the Moon’ says a lot about Wallis. He just liked doing things his way, plain and simple. The art world still thinks otherwise.

Vanessa Bell 1879 - 1961 Studland and Beach 1912
Vanessa Bell 1879 – 1961 Studland and Beach 1912

The first time I saw an illustration of this painting, in an art book in the early 60’s, I liked it. I felt it conveyed more than the image. There is a tension in the painting. The tranquillity is at odds with the spaces in the composition. Of course once one has some knowledge about an artist and the context in which a work is created, other judgments come into play. When I did eventually see this version of ‘Studland Beach’ in the Tate, it did not disappoint. I like it even more now because of the controlled abstraction. (I always worry about total abstraction). It was modern in 1912 and to me, it still seems that way. A painting that keeps getting better.

On my desert island, this painting will remind me of a walk I did across the Sussex Downs from Eastbourne to Winchester. The route cut through Charlestone Farm and was an ideal excuse to exercise the mind and not the legs. Also Studland is an area I know fairly well having been on a rock climbing course in that area. However I know the Square and Compass pub at nearby Worth Maltravers, even better. Happy days and fond memories.

Sidney Nolan 1917 - 1992. Ned Kelly 1946
Sidney Nolan 1917 – 1992. Ned Kelly 1946

Sidney Nolan was the wild colonial boy of Australian art. He arrived on the Melbourne art scene at the Heide Art colony with little idea of what he wanted to do except paint. After experimenting with European influences Nolan literally saw the Australian light. His free spirited Ned Kelly series proved to be the perfect metaphor for Nolan himself.

In this painting a defiant Kelly turns his back on the world. But he does not ride off into the sunset.  He rides out into adventures unknown. Nolan life was itself an adventure until he became a respectable. He died in England with Knighthood and the honour of being a member of the Order of Merit. Of course I preferred the early Nolan!

I have been fortunate to visit Australia several times – my eldest daughter lives there. This painting will remind me of our happy times travelling around visiting art galleries and sipping wine in the sun.

Rachael Reckitt 1908 - 1995. West Country Hamlet (Roadwater)
Rachael Reckitt 1908 – 1995. West Country Hamlet (Roadwater)

For the past 54 years I have lived in Somerset. It is truly a county of green hills and the Brandon Hills are perhaps the greenest? They are certainly my favourite walking area. It also happens to be area where Rachael Reckitt lived and worked for most of her life.

Some SAGT members may recall the Rachael Reckitt retrospective in 2001 in The County Museum. Her sculptures were shown in tandem at the Rural Life Museum in Street. These two exhibitions recognised the talent of an artist of energy and imagination. Proof of her abilities are on public display in number of West Country churches.

I once spent a delightful afternoon with Rachael Reckitt in her garden, discussing art in general. She was very modest about her abilities and her accomplishments. I found her open to all forms of art, largely she suggested, as a result of her training in the 1930’s at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art under Iain Macnab. Here she learnt lino cuttings and wood engraving. Her view was that a good design was the first requirement for the engraver and a good drawing the first requirement for the artist.

This woodcut depicts a scene still common in the Brandon Hills, -tight hedged lanes and small thatched or stone cottages set deep in a countryside given over to farming; everything connected to the land. A satisfying thought of Somerset.

David Hockney 1937 - present. Nichols Canyon 1980
David Hockney 1937 – present. Nichols Canyon 1980

How could I not choose a David Hockney, the most fêted artist of my generation? What has he not done? Printing, photography, stage design and a whole range of painting styles, (some embracing technology), they all demonstrate his abilities, imagination and work ethic.

Hockney’s colourful life is reflected in his work. It is a visual diary. ‘Nichols Canyon’ is one of his biggest and brightest acrylic painting. It is a departure from dazzling swimming pools and modernist architecture. It is a painting full of confidence. Hackney has immersed himself into a landscape that was then his home. It is a long way from grey Bradford. Now he is in a farmhouse in Normandy, still working and still smoking.

The wonderful thing about a painting like ‘Nichols Canyon’, is that it is that it provides a form of escapism. It triggers memories and one is transported to another place. Perfect on a desert island.

Self-Portrait 1962
Self-Portrait 1962

I have chosen this painting, not for conceit, but for the lifetime of memories it holds as I look back to my 20 year old self gazing into the future.

This painting, an oil on cardboard was done on impulse – sort of. I had no art training but had read a number of library books about art and artists. It seemed to me that all real artists painted a self-portrait, so I thought I should do one. Then, one evening, after work, I was wondering what to paint instead of a still life…and here is another one!

For many years I kept this painting in my attic. It seemed pretentious to have it on display. However when I acquired a posh antique guilt frame it seemed fitting (!), that I hang it in my home. At first my wife and children found it mildly amusing. Now no one notices me. Never mind, on my desert island I shall always have someone to talk to.

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