Sunday, 20 November 2016

Review of In Focus: Stanley Spencer – A Panorama of Life at the Jerwood Gallery, Hastings

In Focus: Stanley Spencer – A Panorama of Life
Jerwood Gallery, Hastings
15 October 2016 – 8 January 2017

“The small man with twinkling eyes and shaggy grey hair (often wearing his pyjamas under his suit if it was cold) became a familiar sight wandering the lanes of Cookham pushing the old pram in which he carried his canvas and easel.”

Today, more than half a century after his death, the Berkshire village of Cookham remains synonymous with its best-known former inhabitant, Stanley Spencer (1891-1959), an artist so dedicated to home that he earned the village’s name as his nickname while studying at the Slade (1908-12). Born the eighth of nine surviving children (two further siblings died in infancy) into a close-knit family, Spencer was educated early on at a school set up by his father in their back garden, focusing on reading, music and nature, as well as Bible stories. Spencer attended the local Wesleyan Methodist chapel with his family, and remained enthralled by the Bible throughout his life: much of his painting unites the religious with the secular, the miraculous with the everyday. In 1947, he wrote to his first wife Hilda: “I want to show the relations of the religious life in the secular life, how that all is one religious life.” Another time he said: “I approach heaven through what I find on Earth.”

Spencer’s works are often described as “visionary”, for their placing of religious events in a contemporary Cookham setting, but this is a common artistic trope dating back to early Italian painters, known as the Italian primitives, such as Giotto, Fra Angelico and Botticelli, whose paintings Spencer saw at the National Gallery when he was a student. By the time he had finished his studies, Spencer was one of a number of artists to have become known as the neo-primitives because of their enthusiasm for this style. With a career spanning the first half of the 20th century, Spencer is respected as one of the greatest British artists, and, to mark the 125th anniversary of his birth, a number of international celebrations of his life and work have been taking place throughout 2016. This small, one-room “In Focus” exhibition at the Jerwood Gallery, Hastings, forms part of these events and brings together paintings, drawings and archival material from the Stanley Spencer Gallery in Cookham, with works by Spencer and an artist friend and collaborator, Daphne Charlton (1909-91), from the Jerwood’s own collection. Called A Panorama of Life, it offers a concise but surprisingly thorough overview of Spencer’s life in, and love for, Cookham; his complex personal relationships and marriages; and his dedication to depicting everyday domestic life through a spiritual lens.

Read the rest of this review here

No comments:

Post a Comment