Were I to have any regular followers on social media they might be forgiven for thinking I’d stepped off the planet of late! However it has simply been a case of the long awaited fortnight in Cornwall at the lovely Brisons Veor finally coming to pass. Its not that one cannot get online there (actually there was a decent BT ‘hotspot’ one could purchase) but simply that other things took precedence.
So a self imposed ‘media exile’ then. An opportunity to reflect and enjoy this most magical of locations. I’m sitting at a small desk that faces south from Cape Cornwall towards Sennen and beyond to Lands End. Through the window is nothing but the heaving swell of the ocean as it makes the shore in Priests Cove, below me and away to my left. It is the kind of cool, windy, misty and dank early evening in late autumn that this most westerly part of England excels in and from the vantage point of this small and warm cottage completely blissful.
Today we took a trip out, away from our immediate surroundings that we have come to know pretty well. We took in the Terry Frost centenary exhibition that is taking place across the Newlyn Art Gallery and The Exchange in Penzance. It was organised between Tate St. Ives and Leeds City Gallery and in truth the whole enterprise seems a little off kilter, maybe the product of too many hands on the tiller or just as possibly not just one with a firm grip on it.
Then again I should confess from the get go that I’m not a massive fan of the artist whose work has always seemed to me to be either a little too hesitant or overly designed…and whose exuberant use of strong primaries is a little too much ‘in one’s face’ for my taste. That said the early work, focussed mainly on the space at The Exchange is very solid and does contain enough strong paintings to put him into the premiership in fifties British painting. For me it is the pictures towards the back half of the decade that really hit the mark.
In these the handling is freer, the gestures less forced and the colour is turned down a few notches. Force 8 is a pretty fitting encapsulation of what it seems to me that the best of Frost is all about. The ground is wristy and provisonal, the marks positive and yet unforced, and there’s a really intriguing landscape/figure dichotomy that hovers around the composition that keeps the viewer guessing…and looking which of course is ultimately what its all about. I guess that the sixties were a busy time for the artist, he seems to have been whizzing about all over the place, not least the States, and the influences from here, coupled with a move to acrylics, clearly impacted on him. Not for the best in my view as the paintings are overtaken by the intensity of the colour, what the gallery handout calls “its presence as a character in itself”…and the works correspondingly have a strong designed element. Now in the hands of a hard headed and unsentimental character like Frank Stella this ‘character’ was wrangled and rail roaded into submission in the 1960’s to make convincing pictures but with his adherence to forms and feelings from outside the rectangle of the painting there is often a falling back on earlier ‘boats’ or suchlike in Frost’s work that seems rather formulaic and a tad repetitive. The addition of a couple sausage like constructions do little to suggest a sustained engagement in seeking out new forms or invention.
All that said overall it was a show of warmth and delight in the sheer physicality of the act of painting…and given the confines of the two venues and the absence of several key works perhaps shouldn’t be raked over as grudgingly as I have! In any event from my brief acquaintance with him I doubt Frost would have given a toss what I think!
Its worth mentioning in passing that the little display of monoprints by Ben Sanderson in the picture room at Newlyn were a delight…there’s something of the spirit of Kevin Coyne at work here.
They have a lightness of touch and a spontaneous wit that is, if you’ve ever tried it, much harder to pull off than might be imagined.