Saturday 26 March 2011

The conscientious Claughton Pellew

It takes imagination nowadays to recall just how completely forgotten many British printmakers of the early C20th really were. The effects of the collapse of the over-heated printmarket in the late 1920s and the second war were bad enough for them. But worse were the doctrinaire attitudes that wafted round the twin gods of abstraction and experimentation from the 1950s onwards. Of all those artists, no one lapsed more thoroughly than the hapless Claughton Pellew (1890 - 1962).

I first came across him in The Studio about 1983 or 1984. I remember being astonished and captivated by The Squirell, astonished not just because I'd never heard of him but because no one knew anything about him. Even Albert Garret, with his infuriating but invaluable History of Wood Engraving, didn't mention him once. I could hardly have known, as I conscientiously made note of this intensely individual artist, that down in Oxfordshire Anne Stevens was assiduously building a collection of his wood-engravings. As a volunteer in the print room at the Ashmolean Museum, it became part of her role to organise yearly exhibitions and Pellew finally began to receive his due in 1987. For me it was perhaps one of the most telling events of the revivalist flood that was so much a feature of that decade.

Born in Redruth in Cornwall, he spent the earlier part of his childhood in Canada (his father was a mining engineer). Nevertheless reviewing a second exhibition in Brighton in 1990, John Russell Taylor had this to say: ' Pellew touches on a number of interesting and unexpected aspects of English art between the wars'. Generally, the Cornish don't strike me as particularly English, specially when they have spent their childhood in Canada. But there you are, this artist of almost unique sensibility and sensitivity did train under Henry Tonks and Wilson Steer at the Slade and the thoroughness of that training is evident in all the prints here. I think one faculty they did value was memory. It wasn't just that they considered draughtsmanship to be important but they taught students both to look and to remember what they had seen.

What Claughton Pellew saw were subjects underpinned by lyricism and faith. Like a number of British artists before the first war, he had become a Roman Catholic and this had led him to register as a conscientious objector after general conscription in 1916 and this in turn led him to prison, the final one almost unbelievably being the notorious Dartmoor. John Nash believed that Pellew never recovered from his experiences and left him with a permanent sense of isolation. Be that as it may, Pellew and his wife, the artist Emma Tennant, went to live on the north-east coast of Norfolk and never left there. As for me, I think his conscientiousness was played out beautifully in his wood-engravings. He also painted and only began engraving in 1923 but as you see here, he approached almost every print with a subtle originality that makes many of his contemporaries look basically complacent. Unlike Bernard Rice, whose experiments didn't always come off, Pellew took on a range of subjects and designs that belie the visionary Romantic manner.

Look at how different these prints are, how varied the cutting is, see how well he handles a tremendous range of blacks, white and greys and take it from me that the impression of his cutting when you see it in front of you, is considerable. In exactly the same way that it is easy to compare engravings like these to the ink and sepia drawings Samuel Palmer made in the 1820s, it is equally true that, like Palmer's drawings, these prints by Pellew are highly skilled. The images are so appealling, we tend to forget just how well-made they are. He approached everything he did with seriousness. And, as so often, with truly serious people, he was shy and self-effacing. He might have designed the cover for the 1930 Christmas number of the Radio Times (it was carol singers) but these beautifully considered images are about as far from our television times as you can get.

Wednesday 23 March 2011

William Giles: modern printmaker

It was 1976. I had just bought my first colour woodcut, John Hall Thorpe's bland and beautiful Marigolds, which I was very pleased with untill a friend came round who had done a course in printmaking and damned it with one cruel word 'misregistered'. By that point in the C2oth most printmakers had achieved a professional cleanliness and a sin such as misregistration had been consigned to the dim & dirty past. Fortunately for him, the later work of William Giles (1872 - 1939) like Rainbow, Island of Jura (Hebrides), above, is in some ways, more 1976 than 1922. (I need to credit William P Carl Fine Prints for this one + one of the others). If it weren't for the Arts & Crafts WG, at first glance it would be hard to tell apart from the innumerable colourful nonentites that were churned out from around 1976 onwards. He differs from all that tosh in the claims that he makes: for all the vividness of the colours he employs, this was something he experienced, and that he is presenting us with the facts about the light you can find on the isle of Jura.

It certainly says something about his constant experimentation, first with woodcut in the Japanese manner, then with a combination of etched zinc plates and wood without a keyblock, before he finally left tonality behind and returned to pure woodcut in the mid twenties, that he achieved something that looks both like Romantic watercolour and the iridescence of contemporary etching. His exact titles of course owe a good deal to JMW Turner who also insisted that what he was representing were 'stern facts', albeit not the kind of facts that many of us are used to.

He was born in Reading, studied at the local art school before moving on, first to the Royal College of Art and then Paris. He then came home to Reading to learn the art of the colour woodcut from Frank Morley Fletcher in 1901. His subjects, or rather his excuses, were of the nymphs and shepherds variety, but as you see from Midsummer Night (1919) what he really wanted to do was improve the standards of British printmaking and show exactly how colour prints could convey both light and experience in ways that monochrome could not. This was a man with a mission that led him and his wife, Ada Shrimpton, to give many fine prints to the British Museum.

September Moon from 1901 must be one of his first colour woodcuts and although the sheep and poplar trees and general atmospherics are in line with Fletcher and the French school, and even though in many ways his imagery remains much the same for 25 years, he is already on a bold course of his own that led to he and his wife taking up metal plates from 1912. He wasn't content to find a craft that he could excell in, he wanted to achieve the best effect that he could. I would certainly think that this was the attitude that led an artist with the skill that Ada Collier possessed to go to him for instruction when she wanted to take up woodcut.

The last glow, central Corsica and particularly The last glint of a summer's day, Vejle Fiord, Denmark (1920/21) see him stretching the medium as far as it will go before he returned to colour woodcut, pure and simple, after about 1927. The pink and purple strain our credibilty but only perhaps because we are now so well-used to the outlandishness of so many 1920's colour schemes. But then we have to remind ourselves how far he travelled - to Jura, to Denmark and Corsica - to see just how peculiar light could be. He is no Engelbert Lap with his technicolour Tirol; what we see here is not so much the last glint of a summer's day but a man of very considerable energy and intensity seeing just how far that energy would go.

Sunday 20 March 2011

Ada Collier's four bronze horses

Unfortunately, Clive's contribution to the Ada Collier effort arrived too late to be included in the revised post. But I think her fine colour woodcut of the horses on the facade of St Mark's in Venice deserves its own post anyway. This image isn't as pale as I remember it. Although the horses are described as being bronze, they are 97% copper and the verdigris works well against the mauve shadows and sunlit buildings beyond. I wouldn't be at all surprised to find Collier knew Mabel Royd's Indian pieces. The whole image has an oriental feel, accentuated by the strict and very clever organisation of the perspective. It also employs the Japanese method in a more conventional way than the prints in the previous post. I think this woodcut dates from 1924, the year Collier was included in the group exhibit at the Venice Biennale. Every time I see another of her prints, I become more bemused by her lack of recognition. I have to put this down to the fact that her woodcuts are few and far between. With the help I've received from fellow bloggers, lotusgreen, Gerrie and Clive, hopefully these two posts might begin to put matters right for this scandalously neglected printmaker. For anyone interested in the history of the horse themselves, I include this mock-up of the Hippodrome in Constantinople. (I particularly like the addition of Haghia Sophia without its minarets). The horses may not have started out pulling a chariot above the starting gate (I think they are generally considered to be late Roman because of the casting technique) and were looted during the disastrous sack of the city in 1204 by western troops taking part in the Fourth Crusade. The doge had them shipped back to Venice. Some shopping list he had.

Thursday 17 March 2011

Ada Collier, ancient & modern

It is never easy to say something useful about an artist when you have seen very little of their work but the British printmaker Ada Collier (1870 - 1948) is worth the try. I first came across a colour woodcut by her in the mid 1980s, a memorable, misty image of the four horses taken by the Venetians from Constantinople and placed on the facade of St Mark's. It had been bought by a friend from Collier's great niece and was a neat summary of two of Alan's passions, Venice and Byzantium. I tell you this because I think it says something about the way Collier chose her images. Of the seven that I have seen, she depicts the quaysides of the Mediterranean or subjects that are very near to that ancient coastline - St Mark's Cathedral or the sweet market at Tangier, which you can see below. Even so, along with Ian Cheyne, she is the only other British colour woodcut artist, who was anything like a modernist in the end.

I don't want to exaggerate this claim. The three colour images here extend from the rather indeterminate feeling of Edwardian aestheticism in 'Sweet Market, Tangier' (I have Bill Carl at William P Carl Fine Prints to thank for this photo - it is sold) to decorative symbolism equal to Carl Thiemann's in 'Venetian Boat' through to the fauve tendency of 'Martigues Boats'. Keep in mind that she was Cheyne's senior by 25 years and it's more telling to compare her to a contemporary like Ethel Kirkpatrick. She must have started out on her career as a painter of oils and gouache before Batten and Morley Fletcher began to experiment with colour woodcut in the late 1890s and well before the Post Impressionist exhibition that brought the modern movement to Britain. Even so, I think the differences between these three images show an artist learning from prevailing trends. Kirkpatrick could do stupendous reflections but the firm objectivity of Collier's 'Martigues Boats' would have been a step too far. Kirkpatrick descended into craftsmanship. Collier became modern instead. For her, the image, and only the image, counted.

She learned the technique of colour woodcut from that arch Edwardian, William Giles. Certainly a good artist to have as a teacher, she had produced the glorious 'Venetian Boat' by 1917. It combines everything that is good about her: the muted colours, the powerful sense of line, the exact image set off against amorphous and shifting shapes. But even in the Tangier image, the tented structure shading the stalls stands in for masts and sails and the Moroccans in their djellabas become shapes of pure colour. Kandinsky it isn't but she knew what she wanted to do. And this is what I like about her. She has motifs and interests that you can recognise but the complex of colour and form draw you in. For instance, I particularly like the way the furled sails appear to flat above the boats. She plays the realism of her figures and the painted sides of the boats against the irradiating patterns.

As one of her early images of Martigues ( 'Nocturne - Martigues', not shown here) dates from 1918, she must have visited the Provencal town before commercialism set in during the 1920s. Augustus John had arrived in 1910 and this does perhaps place her with some of the more forward-looking artists of the period. By 1924 she was not only making prints of Venice but her work was part of the British exhibit for the Biennale. It's a pity no good image of her horses at St Marks' is available. It's a fine, original and rather odd print - so pale you at first think it might be faded. The great swoop of sail in 'Venetian Boat' reminds me of the mass and line of the horses, which are viewed with complete realism from below. But then the Venetian lugger could just as easily be ferrying an embalmed pharoah down the river Nile. In the same way, the horses lift their hooves with an astonishing sense of both style and history, stepping directly and deliberately across our vision.

Tuesday 15 March 2011

Anna Findlay

I wish that I could have posted more work by the coolly beautiful Scots printmaker Anna Findlay (1885 - 1968) but these three linocuts are all that I could find. You will not be surprised to learn that Findlay studied under Claude Flight at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art in London but probably will be surprised to find out that she also exhibited in St Ives between 1928 and 1936. Her father Colonel James Findlay was a great supporter of the Arts Club there. Even so, his daughter moved on to Glasgow about 1938. (As ever, I am indebted to the excellent Cornwall Artists Index for the St Ives info.)

As you see, she was far from being standard-issue Grosvenor School. The usual overly energetic linocutting is absent and in its place we have a cool analysis of line and tone that puts me in mind of her near contemporary William Roberts (1895 - 1980) and of our contemporary Bridget Riley (b 1931). We are lucky enough to have a date for 'The paper mill'. It comes from 1934 and typifies, so far as I can see, the complex of architecture and reflection she made her own. Unfortunately I was unable to track down a single wood-engraving by her. But I very much hope this post is only a humble beginning and that we will soon see more work by this elegant and desirable printmaker.

Monday 14 March 2011

CW Taylor : the road to Sussex

It's always the same. I post on an artist and almost straightaway come across fresh material. This time it comes from Valerie Martin and her website and I sincerely hope she will forgive me lifting material. (My webmail won't work with the contact link on the site). Valerie has done a good deal of useful research on Taylor. It turns out that he lived in the village (I assume he retired there) and the first image is of a lane nearby. Even more interesting, in a way, is the second image of Smeston watermill near Wolverhampton. Taylor came from the town and began his working life drawing bath-taps for trade journals (and also taking art classes). It appears from what Valerie says he left this work in 1905 and was living in West Kensington, London, in 1908. Presumably he was attending the RCA - no mean feat for someone who started out on bath fittings. He then taught at Dover for two years, married, and moved to Westcliffe on Sea when he began teaching at the Southend School of Art. Interesting all this because other artist arrivals in West Sussex were working not so far away as I noted in the post on Arthur Rigden Read. Also interesting that he went back to make engravings of an area he knew as a boy. And the work on taps paid off because the lower print has a tremendous sense of both depth and structure. Valerie's site also has a number of watercolours by Taylor. (I was relieved to find that here was one printmaker who could at least turn out a decent if conventional watercolour). My thanks are due to her.

Sunday 13 March 2011

Emma Schlangenhausen

After more research on the highways & byways of the web, I am finally going to completely update on the Austrian printmaker Emma Schlangenhausen (1882 - 1947). This first image alone I think was worth the effort. As I suspected, she has turned out to be a varied printmaker, with a long and varied career. I am also going to delete the old posts to try and avoid any confusion.

She was born at Hall in the Tirol and the first facts about her training relate to her time at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna. She was there between 1900 and 1905, first studying under Alfred Roller (1864 - 1935) before he took up the position of designer at the Vienna Court Opera in 1903 where he was responsible for sets and costumes untill 1909. I say this because I think Roller's teaching helps to explain the stage-set atmosphere of a number of her prints.

She then studied under Kolo Moser who was experimenting with monochrome woodcut as early as 1902. I assume it was the teaching of both men that led her towards woodcut but as you can see by the time she made these animal prints, she had left the Secessionist style well behind her and developped an approach that combines expressionism with art deco.

She then went on to teach in Vienna and exhibited at the Kunstschau in 1908. This puts her in the midst of the Secessionists. Even so, two years later, she and her student, Helene von Taussig (1879 - 1942), left for Paris. Looking at her later work, this certainly suggests a desire for wider training and experience - and perhaps also to escape the confines of Austria. Once in Paris she studied under the French Symbolist Maurice Denis at the Academie Ranson. Surprising this, and I have to assume she studied painting but I have yet to turn up any work I can reproduce. Both women left Paris on the outbreak of war and went to study in Switzerland with the painter and printmaker Cuno Amiet. (Von Taussig had already studied with him in 1910 before the move to Paris).

As for the prints themselves, this woodcut of Salzburg is a perfect example of the bold style she usually employed. Although I had originally thought these were bi-colour woodcuts, the sepia tones were in fact achieved by heavy inking. The paper around the printed area was unevenly stained to modify what might otherwise have seemed rather crude designs.

In this far more deco and stagey print you can see the uneveness of the seepage quite clearly. I think this work comes fromn the series she made of European cities that were published in 1920. I take it they were also exhibited at the Vienna Kunstschau in the same year. Her series 'The emotion' were also published around that time and show that she was still aware of the work of her old teacher. I've included a costume design of Roller's from 1919. I think it shows very well how Schlangenhausen both simplified and intensified Roller's idea. And is so doing, she made it look more modern.

You will have noticed by now that many of her figure subjects are female. I have no doubt that she did see things from a feminist perspective but it is also worth adding that many of her male contemporaries from Klimt to Moser to Jungnickel produced work depicting women. They are given prominence in her harvesting scene where she notes the way women stacked sheaves alongside men - and also swigged from clay bottles. (Unfortunately, you can't see the seeping of the ink in this reproduction but it is there).

Another series she made after the war were these flower prints. There was also a series of Biblical images. The range of her imagery was considerable. What you don't see here is the other side to her work. The prints, being small and portable, have survived. The same can't be said of her paintings.

By the early thirties she was back in Salzburg working on a cycle of frescoes between 1932 and 1933 at the Franciscan monastery there. This does sound more like Maurice Denis but unless photos were taken soon after, we will never know. The buildings were used as headquarters by the Nazis after 1938 and the paintings were destroyed. Looking at the images here of flowers and figures and animals, it sounds like the sort of culmination that wide-ranging artists are in need of.

Hers were expressive cities not the analytical ones of Emma Bormann. A bullet-headed death presides over one of them. It is a remarkably coherent and attention-seeking poster for an exhibition by a printmaker of such poetic strength and subtlety. I have to add that having destroyed her frescoes, the Nazis were then responsible for the death of her friend Helene von Taussig in 1942.

Friday 11 March 2011

Full many a glorious morning : CW Taylor

I wouldn't normally associate the British artists Willam Blake (1757 - 1827) and CW Taylor (1878 - 1960) but both men began their working life as commerical line engravers but went on to make poetic relief prints, Blake's original and important, Taylor's assured and distinctive. This places them in a small but distinguished group of artists, along with the likes of Wim Zwiers and Emil Orlik, who mastered both intalgio and relief methods.

Looking at the first two prints, a wood engraving, probably of Kent, and a line engraving, certainly of Essex, there is little to choose between them in style and nothing really to say why he has chosen one technique rather than the other. So, he is not so much the self-conscious artist as the accomplished practitioner. But engraving produces a cooler, sharper image, perhaps suited to the marshland near the sunniest coast in Britain.

Taylor came from neither of the counties that he went on to describe in his prints. He was brought up in Wolverhampton and proved himself during an apprenticeship with a commercial firm of line engravers because he went on to train at the Royal College of Art in London. Far better known for its etching class at the time, Taylor first found a job as an art teacher in Southend and from 1926 onwards produced a body of prints which are some of the most instantly recognisable in British art.

Despite almost all his prints depicting landscape during the early morning in either July or August, it is still hard to say exactly why they have such a peculiar intensity. It isn't merely that he presents the countryside at its most lush and fruitful. The fact is he employs a complex range of tone, light and shadow, perspective and detail. He also uses more than one method in some prints and it is this attention to both method and detail that somehow lifts him out of the ordinary. The effect of rediscovering lyrical and unprententious work like this after the worst of the brutalism of the avant garde in the sixties and seventies, is hard to exaggerate. It represented both a lost England and a lost clarity.

Many of the images have the immediacy of advertising and they now seem to typify one of our views of the interwar years. But he subtley disorientates us, in some ways just as much as the modernists do, tipping trees and lanes, oast-houses and fields, one way and another. This manipulation of planes and surfaces and his sharp sense of the tactile express as much the sensibility of the poet as the craftsman. Hence the opening phrase from a Shakespeare sonnet. Rosetti described the sonnet as a 'monument to a moment'. It describes the small prints of CW Taylor to a T.

Monday 7 March 2011

Zen perspectives: Okiie Hashimoto

First of all I need to say this post isn't meant to be representative of the work of Japanese printmaker Okiie Hashimoto (1899 - 1993). These 7 prints of Zen gardens in Japan are chosen simply because I like this aspect of his work and am pleased to be able to say I own one - Sand Garden Scene, above.

The idea for the post came indirectly from Lily. She said there was an inkjet version of a Bresslern Roth she had made in her own kitchen and the Hashimoto is standing on a small table in mine, propped against the wall. I bought it in the 80s, for very little, probably seven or eight years before post-war modernism came back into fashion.

In those days its semi abstraction looked dated. Figurative prints had made a strong come-back from the late seventies and personally I was very glad to see the back of the many dreadful print abstractions made here between the mid fifties and the seventies. This says quite alot about Hashimoto's take on modernism: less may well have been more but there was alot more to his less.

He graduated from Tokyo School of Fine Art in 1924 with a training in Western oil painting. He did also study for a short while with the printmaker Haratsuka Un'ichi but it wasn't untill the 1930s that he began to make woodblocks in any great number and not untill he retired from school teaching in 1955 that the prints you see here were created.

They all date from between 1957 and 1966 so must represent a particular phase of his work, imbued with complex perspectives but drawing on aspects of Western abstraction. The kinds of artist he must have looked at (someone like Ben Shahn comes to mind) are not really on my radar because I have an aversion to that kind of post-war stylisation. So, the effect of Hashimoto is simple for me: he is redemptive.

He is redemptive because he has turned modernism round and used its abstract tendencies to present a very subtle view of reality. Probably many Westerners do not register the symbolism of oriental art like this because they don't expect to find it in post-war art. This is contemplative art. And contemplation requires if not an object than at least a symbol, to help us on our way.