Thursday, 27 October 2011

Well rounded cabbages

Saturday saw us at the Tower of London and on Sunday we were swanning around Chichester in West Sussex. What a contrast that was. On Saturday evening my sister-in-law spotted a review in the paper of an exhibition of Edward Burra's paintings at Pallant House and on Sunday morning that is where we headed.

To my shame here is another artist I had never heard of but apparently Edward Burra (1905-1976) was one of the most individual and celebrated artists of the 20th century. Like Tracey Emin's work you find yourself drawn into his paintings even if you find them repellent or menacing.

A lot of his works are very large watercolours using several sheets of paper joined together. I don't think I've seen watercolour paintings this big before with such intensity and depth of colour. According to one of the printed notices on the wall his friends said he would begin painting at the bottom right hand corner and work his way up to the top left hand corner. He had such a fantastic sense of composition and storytelling that you find your eyes going round and round a painting while you explore it to the point of feeling travel sick.

Because of the size of these works I assumed he must have used large brushes. This assumption was crushed when we got a chance to look at some of his brushes and palettes on display in a cabinet. They were tiny! So that made me wonder just how long it took him to complete one piece of work and there was a lot of work on display.

In his youth he was fascinated with the dark side of humanity and it is present in very ordinary looking scenes, for example sailors buying coffee in a café. He uses perspective in an odd way which is disturbing. A lot of the work is sexually ambiguous and he was fascinated with soldiers, sailors and prostitutes and particularly their well rounded behinds. As I moved from one painting to another I got the feeling that these characters were following my every move.

In time Edward Burra turned to still lifes and landscapes. Apparently he had a photographic memory so could recall a view when he was back in his studio. I wish I could do that. One still life depicted well rounded cabbages that recalled the well rounded bottoms of soldiers climbing into a truck in an earlier gallery. He managed to instill menace into these cabbages and I felt they were following me around too! A still life of flowers in a vase appeared to have eyes that followed us around as well.

His depiction of the English landscape was not in the least sentimental and in one showed the pollution being belched out by lorries and motorcycles. Of all his work these were the works I most liked. There was one charming painting he probably made towards the end of his life. It is a collection of portraits of local characters including a self-portrait of him standing away from everyone else eating a Cornish pasty.


Marta Szabo said...

I loved hearing about an artist I of course had not heard of -- I looked him up right away and looked at some of his paintings online -- thank you!

Heather said...

You're very welcome. :)