NO SET RULES SARAH MACDOUGALL
EXTRACT FROM This is the full original essay. DATE 2015 SOURCE Published in Sarah MacDougall, ed., No Set Rules: A Century of Selected Works on Paper, from the Schlee Collection Southampton and the Ben Uri Collection London (London: Ben Uri Gallery and Museum, 2015), pp. 8–9.
Preface: No Set Rules Ben Uri is delighted to introduce No Set Rules, a collaborative exhibition with Southampton City Art Gallery, which explores the limitless possibilities of working (primarily) on paper and the range, splendour and inventiveness of twentieth-century artistic practice. The exhibition brings together selected works from the Schlee collection of drawings, prints and paintings, by artists working in Britain between 1920 and 2004, with resonant works on paper from Ben Uri’s own collection celebrating the richness and diversity of each. No Set Rules covers a wide range of subject matter and techniques, suggesting contrasts and comparisons and moving freely between figuration and abstraction to explore 100 years of expression on paper. Reflecting both the century in which it was formed and the Jewish diaspora, the Ben Uri collection is particularly strong in twentieth-century works (two-thirds of them by émigrés), and relates to the contribution by artists from two major waves of migration: from the first of which arose the group known as the ‘Whitechapel Boys’, including David Bomberg, Mark Gertler and Jacob Kramer, who all made a distinct contribution to British modernism; the second including many forced to migrate during the Nazi era, among them designer Elisabeth Tomalin and Holocaust survivor Arnold Daghani. Bomberg is one of seven artists (the others are Frank Auerbach, Jane Joseph, Leon Kossoff, Glenn Sujo and Edward Toledano) common to both the Schlee and Ben Uri collections, providing just one of many contexts in which works by these distinct artists can nonetheless be rewardingly viewed together. Bomberg can also be seen as an influencing figure behind many of the artists on show here: Auerbach and Kossoff, while studying at St Martin’s and the Royal College of Art, also famously attended Bomberg’s classes at the Borough Polytechnic. So too did Dennis Creffield and Leslie Marr; Marr joined the classes in 1946 and was one of the founder members of the Borough Group in 1948, while Creffield, elected to the Group in 1949, went on to study at Bomberg’s old school, the Slade in 1957. Mario Dubsky was also mentored by Dorothy Mead – another former Borough Group member – and was himself an inspirational teacher at Wimbledon and Camberwell Schools and the Royal College of Art. A still later generation of Slade students, Sarah Lightman, Jane Millican
and Adriana Swierszczek were also inspired by Bomberg’s vigorous approach, participating in the exhibition Bomberg’s Relevance at Ben Uri in 2008. Millican even reworks the concept of a theatre audience explored in Bomberg’s Ghetto Theatre study in her own Daytime Audience; her layered, dynamic pencil strokes meticulously creating the illusion of freshly squeezed pigment. Similarly, though to very different effect, Alfred Daniels with pen and ink and white paint on paper and board evokes the illusion of a woodcut. The Slade also produced Craigie Aitchison, a devotee of pure, concentrated colour within a spare composition, and, following St Martins, abstractionist Bernard Cohen, while St Martins and the Royal College nurtured colourist Sandra Blow, who later taught at the RCA. Fellow abstractionist Gillian Ayres, who studied at Camberwell School of Art, shared a vision with Roger Hilton, whose work is often informed by a vibrant palette although his last works (produced while bed-ridden) revert to the figurative. Another St Ives artist, Peter Lanyon, is here represented by one of a number of powerful life drawings, draped, like those by Frink and Kinley in dramatic horizontals. Bold, vibrant animal forms inhabit the imagination and landscape of Michael Rothenstein’s garden; Peter Kinley sets his red cow against a lush green background; Hilton’s Mouse spills a colourful trail across the page. Christopher Le Brun’s striking Wagnerian series capturing mood and substance are set against Adriana Swierszczek’s imagined Abduction of Europa. No Set Rules aims to initiate such dialogues between teachers and pupils, collaborators, and strangers, and those who, by example, stimulated and motivated others. Marr recorded in a fragment of autobiography how he had been inspired by the work of (among others) Graham Sutherland and Henry Moore, key figures and influencers in twentieth-century British art, both represented here by some of their most enduring motifs: from Moore’s seated nude to his beautifully observed animal skull to Sutherland’s eloquent natural forms. Others, like Howard Hodgkin, celebrated for his use of colour is here represented by five shades of black, re-invigorating assumptions of monochrome. Marr’s heavily worked charcoal conjures up a brooding Scottish sea. Cragg, in dialogue with his materials, uses loose ink lines to play with our spatial
perceptions; Paolozzi exercises incredible control using a complex combination of etching and photogravure to produce a complex triangular design. Unexpected dialogues occur – on one wall, charcoaled, etched and pencil-and-crayoned portrait heads by Bomberg, Auerbach and Hockney confront one another; as do etchings and graphic work by John Lessore and Sarah Lightman respectively, on another. C Adler’s olive tree is paired with Sutherland’s fruit trees; the mauve background of Jackowski’s portrait head is set against the pure vibrant colour of that by Bauhaustrained émigré designer Elisabeth Tomalin. Other works share a rootedness in place: Auerbach’s Mornington Crescent; Kossoff’s Christ Church; Creffield’s windmill; Beattie’s Ziggurat. Visions can be surreal, like Edward Toledano’s imaginative compositions; observed with skilful delicacy, like Sujo’s Architectural Drawing and Jane Joseph’s etched landmarks; observed and then transformed like John Virtue’s landscape variations.
No Set Rules aims to invigorate, suggest, surprise, and inspire, illustrating that drawing doesn’t necessarily begin or end with a pencil, and proving, as David Hockney once said that ‘There are no set rules in drawing’.
© Sarah MacDougall 2015 Printed: in entirety Published in Sarah MacDougall, ed., No Set Rules: A Century of Selected Works on Paper, from the Schlee Collection Southampton and the Ben Uri Collection London (London: Ben Uri Gallery and Museum, 2015), pp. 8–9.