• Press release
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  • For immediate release
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  • 28 September 2020

RELEASE: The Leaping Light


London - Taking its title from Auden’s poem, The Leaping Light draws together six artists who – in various ways – were inspired by the light of the British Isles. The exhibition places emphasis on how these artists explored light. Many were informed by the distinctive luminosity they observed in various corners of England: from Cornwall – a touchstone for Hepworth, Nicholson and Riley – to Yorkshire, where Hockney found new inspiration after years on the sunlit Californian coastline. Moore, raised in the same county, placed his sculptural figures in direct dialogue with the landscape, allowing natural daylight to funnel through their forms. In London, meanwhile, Auerbach applied the lessons of the Old Masters to exquisite chiaroscuro depictions of his friends and neighbourhood.

Like Auden himself, Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson were uprooted by the onset of war, taking up residence in Cornwall with their young children. Hepworth, for her part, compared it to the light of the Mediterranean, claiming that it provided her with ‘one of my greatest needs for carving: a strong sunlight and a radiance from the sea…’. The abstract form of Coré, 1960, (illustrated page two, bottom right) loosely emulates that of a figure, with its vertical upright form and soft undulating curves, the concave circle and crescent seen as signifiers of a face. While this luminous clarity fuelled her explorations of space and volume, Nicholson drew more specific inspiration from the Cornish landscape, integrating figurative motifs with the abstract language of his earlier reliefs. Painting, 1935 (illustrated page one, right) exemplifies the purity of Nicholson’s work from the mid-1930s. The circular motif in the centre is undoubtedly influenced by the power of light, alluding to the sun, moon, or even the famed pierced forms of Hepworth and Moore that allowed the light to directly interact with their work.

Born a generation later, Bridget Riley also spent her wartime years in Cornwall. As a child, the landscape had a lasting impact upon her psyche, and came to inform her interrogations of colour, form and perception. ‘I don’t paint light’, she remarked; ‘I present a colour situation which releases light as you look at it.’ Ablaze with fiery tones, Cupid’s Quiver (illustrated above, left) is a vivid large-scale work that demonstrates Bridget Riley’s progressive expansion of her iconic ‘Egyptian palette’. Executed in 1985, it marks the grand culmination of her celebrated stripe paintings after more than two decades: the following year, the artist would begin her series of diagonal rhomboids, or ‘zigs’, that shattered her thin ribbons of colour into prismatic chaos.

Frank Auerbach made North London his home in 1939, having fled Nazi Germany, and devoted much of his career to sealing its qualities in paint. Like the Impressionists before him, he captured the well-trodden streets of his neighbourhood at different times of the day and year, relishing the urban glow of the city as it slowly rebuilt itself. Reclining Head of Gerda Boehm, 1980-81 (illustrated below, right) among his last portraits of his older cousin Gerda Boehm. Between 1960 and 1982 she became one of his most significant muses. sculpted from thick swathes of impasto, Gerda appears simultaneously restless and at peace, infused with living, breathing vitality.

Where others had taken the play of light upon the landscape as a subject, Henry Moore embraced it as a means of display, encouraging dialogue between his undulating forms and the rhythms of the natural world. Conceived in 1972, Four Piece Reclining Figure (illustrated page two, top right) stands as one of Henry Moore’s most dynamic explorations of the fragmented, abstracted human body, demonstrating his continued fascination with the sculptural potentialities of one of his favourite leitmotifs – the sinuous curving outlines of the reclining figure.

Like Moore and Hepworth, David Hockney also spent his childhood in Yorkshire, and was fascinated by its elemental theatre. Painted two years after David Hockney’s pivotal return from California, Track and Hedgerow, January 2006 (illustrated page one, left) is a radiant love letter to his native Yorkshire landscape. With loose, impressionistic, brushstrokes, the artist pays tribute to the unspoiled beauty of his homeland: its lonely paths, atmospheric light and undulating fields, each as bright and vivid as his childhood memories.

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