Thursday, 16 June 2011


The last time I visited Walsall Art Gallery it was housed in an uninspiring building above the town's library. Today I visited the New Art Gallery (though it celebrated its tenth birthday last year) mainly to see the Samuel Palmer exhibition.

The gallery is showing its age a little, just some wear and tear here and there, but it's still a striking place, the solid building towering grandly over the slightly run down surroundings of Walsall town (though there are plenty of shops and coffee shops, Walsall isn't taking the recession lying down).

Samuel Palmer's tiny jewel like work worships and romanticises a rural world far removed from the industrial setting that surrounds it. His self-portrait is out of this world. Astonishingly lucidly real, stand in front of it and you look back across almost 200 years into the youthful, intense features of a young man with a life of inspiration and disappointment ahead of him. It's such a moving picture, technically superb. The splodges of what look like spilled water that scar the bottom right hand corner are so poignant. These marks make me think of the neglect that Samuel Palmer's work suffered in his own day, yet at the same time, these flaws in the perfection make the work fresh, utterly free from the confines of contemporaneous time. Flaws like these, like David Cox's freewheeling birds born of flaws in cheap paper, make us realise that art is made of the most fleeting impulses, and comes about through the most precarious of coincidences. True art is both enduring and fragile.

On rainy, grim Sunday just gone G and I went to see my 2 pictures in the RBSA Prize Exhibition. I enjoyed the exhibition, but was embarrassed by my pictures. I didn't think they deserved to hang there this year. Despite the fact that I'd been pleased with them both when they were in the safe cocoon of my box room studio.

Afterwards we went to the Ikon, another beautifully rendered building, modern architecture really does suit the art gallery. Cavernous, clean spaces are ideal to show all manner of artwork, and the light that modern architecture seems to love is ideal for illuminating works of art. The Birmingham artist John Salt is the opposite to Samuel Palmer in many ways - Palmer is a ruralist who's imagination flourished in the rural landscape of his youth, while Salt travelled to America to find his muse - the vanitas symbol of the abandoned car and run down trailer park. He produces immaculate paintings done in airbrush of these mostly unpeopled spaces. Ironically, the thing that I really loved in Salt's paintings however, are the things he has in common with Palmer - the treatment of light - light bleeding through the branches of an autumnal tree, or diffused in the wintry air of big open spaces. And like Palmer, Salt was a teacher. Unlike Samuel Palmer however, Salt has achieved success, he has seen his work praised and cherished, hung on the walls of galleries, his art has been deemed saleable and valuable in his lifetime. Something which Samuel Palmer did not experience.

A couple of sketches I've managed to do this week in the garden of our remaining Poplar tree (which I love) and our decrepit old shed (which I don't love).

I need to work from life more. Working from photographs constantly is making me lazy.

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