August is a quiet — not to say comatose — month in the art world. The whirligig of international art fairs slows to a halt and, for several weeks the art world puts in some serious time on its tan. As far as shows are concerned there isn’t, frankly much: it’s all to play for in September.
The art world is an odd, rather relentless place: reputations flower when an artist is at the beginning of his career and often wither mid-career for one reason or another — only to be resuscitated after death. Artists come and then go, and sadly some of them vanish permanently. William Gear, luckily, is not one of them. William Gear: The painter that Britain forgot traces the influence and output of one of the leading abstract British painters of his generation, who was associated with CoBrA in the 1940’s and who produced some of the most radical and controversial compositions of the 1950’s.
William Gear, Autumn Landscape, 1950. ©The Artist's Estate. Image courtesy of Tyne & Wear Archives & and Museums, Laing Art Gallery
But, thanks to Towner, in Eastbourne on the south coast of England, he hasn't been forgotten. Until 27 September, the gallery is presenting two exhibitions: one which explores Gear’s successful tenure as the Towner’s curator, where he built up an important collection of works by British abstract artists of the 1950s and 60s, and another featuring around 100 of Gear’s own works — covering his original works in pen and ink, to his early experiments in colour in the 1930s and 40s, produced after a period spent with Fernand Léger in Paris.
Gear had settled in the French capital after the war, and met many of the city's leading Post-war artists, including Appel, Constant , Corneille, and Jorn — founding members of the avant-garde CoBrA group, which Gear joined. CoBrA was Europe’s most important avant-garde movement of the mid-twentieth century, its name is an acronym based on Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam, from whence the three founders hailed. They emphasised spontaneity — believing an image should appear on the canvas as naturally and quickly as a sudden change of weather in the world beyond the window. Gear exhibited with the group in Amsterdam and Copenhagen in 1949.
Central to this show about an artist who did not deserve to vanish is the work Autumn Landscape, which caused a public outcry when awarded the Festival of Britain Purchase Prize in 1951. William Gear, a new book about the artist's life by Andrew Lambirth, comes out in September, whilst William Gear: A Centenary Exhibition is at Redfern Gallery Redfern Gallery until the beginning of September.
William Gear: The painter that Britain forgot. Towner, Eastbourne, UK. On show until 27 September 2015
At Blain|Southern, the dog days of August produced an interesting show called Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain — a group exhibition featuring nine artists who have worked for the gallery as support staff behind the scenes at exhibitions, on installations and in administration. Now Blain|Southern has given them the chance to be part of a group show in a major international gallery for a few days. Many of these artists are alumni of prestigious art schools such as the Royal College of Art and have impressive CVs, studded with renowned residencies, awards, scholarships and critically-acclaimed exhibitions. The exhibition includes textiles, paintings, illustrations, sculptures and conceptual pieces.
Benjamin Brett, Untitled (Red lodge), 2015. Oil on canvas, 220 x 170 cm. Courtesy the artist and Blain|Southern
Paint is well represented by ex-RCA Benjamin Brett; Untitled (Red lodge) is a Bratby-esque oil which treads the line between the abstract and figurative. Jonny Green is in mid-career mode: born in 1966, he took a break from painting for nearly ten years to write, record and release five major label albums, touring the world with bands. Mistress hints at this time away from art, the amorphous shape suggesting something that could have been a recording machine.
Jonny Green, Mistress, 2015. Oil on canvas. Courtesy the artist and Blain|Southern
I like Deklan Kilfeather's finely delineated biro, oil, ink and charcoal on paper drawing Zephyr — and indeed, would like to see much more of the artist’s work. The same goes for textile pieces by Leon Matis Robin Monies
Main image top: Leon Matis Robin Monies, Comfort 13 and Comfort 9, 2014. Mixed media. Courtesy the artist and Blain|Southern.
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