Sunday, January 25, 2009

Ben Nicholson

Ben Nicholson, A Continuous Line, has just started at Tate St Ives. Gallery 1 focuses on his earlier works including faux-naive paintings, which I am not too keen on. His white and coloured reliefs, which I think are superb, came as a dramatic change of direction in the 1930's.
Relief, 1934, (left) is a classic example that is crafted from a single piece of wood (the later ones tend to be built up in layers). It is the hand carving that brings humanity to this work, it is not attempting to show the qualities of the material, it is the light and shadow that are important, they are an intrinsic part of the work. Simplicity of form was also a major concern of these elegant pieces.
Painted Relief (right) is a built up piece in which the subtle colours evoke the Cornish landscape, red from the iron oxide so common around the local tin mines, yellow ochre from the kilas of Gwithian and the brown/greys of the all pervasive granite composed of layers of colours successively applied and rubbed of to create greater depth of texture within the colours. The white has variously been seen as representing the light and the crashing seas of the area.
February 28 - 53, (Vertical Seconds), left, was produced in the famous Porthmeor Studios where he had the space to produce larger works and develop his still-life's. The textured backgrounds and hints of landscape offer a tie-in with the natural surroundings but the primary focus is abstraction. At first the blues, reds and yellows can seem out of place but a visit to the St Ives harbour reveals the brightly coloured fishing boats to be a source that Nicholson would have encountered daily.
This is an exhibition that I shall visit as often as possible. Also showing is work by Leach and his circle and Luke Frost, Artist in Residence.

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