Overnight stop just outside Sunderland…my friend and companion (and on this trip, driver) Simon runs a jolly good blog that often features material from these various jaunts – readers might want to take a look. My room is situated just above the car park where Simon’s Merc is surrounded by white vans that says a lot about the regular clientele of PremierInn!
Travelling south we make a detour through Seaham…some bracing sea air and a chance for me to revisit my friend Paul Mason‘s public art scheme there. A part of which were Susan Disley‘s mosaics and it was good to see them withstanding the battering they must take from the North Sea coast.
Also in Seaham…on Cutting Road…this Vets special offer of the month…some things my mate & myself agree, you just couldnt make up!
But back to business…our destination is MIMA and a show entitled International Exchanges: Modern Art and St Ives 1915–1965. Is there some kind of Tate charm offensive going on I wonder? This show is substantially comprised of loans and there were further Tate loans aplenty back in Newcastle and, as I will write in my next post, more to come elsewhere. I’m not complaining (quite the opposite) but I don’t recall them being so open about such things in the past. Maybe it’s that some of the newer regional venues (like MIMA) have better environmental conditions or perhaps it’s that international modern works have been rather squeezed out of it between the curatorial demands of Tate Britain and Modern but whatever the reasons it’s heartening to see a work like Around The Blues by Sam Francis getting a good airing in a big generously proportioned space that MIMA can do.
I saw my first Sam Francis work in Basel after a frantic dash across town from a school trip rail stopover as a thirteen year old and fell in love with his work then. The Tate picture I saw in the old Tate (Britain) in the early 70’s and if it’s been out of the store since I doubt it’s been for long. Here in Middlesbrough it was flanked by Peter Lanyon’s Thermal, a glider pilot’s view of Cornwall set against a WW2 pilot’s view of the Pacific (i’m not sure he ever got out of training flights in California though?)…well hardly… but I like to think of Sam cruising the Monet’s Garden pictures in the Orangerie in Paris in the fifties with those wartime experiences in his mind. Around The Blues is big…I reckon around 9 ft by 20…but the Basel Mural was bigger (and the trptych that it was intended to be part of even larger still – go here for the story). Now size isn’t important really its all about scale…at least thats what I was taught…but when you bring the two together like these then it makes a hell of a statement. I was made up being able to reacquaint myself with such a great painter and the show contains another super example of the earlier fifties more monochrome pictures.
There is plenty of supporting material…for example the cabinet recording correspondence around the Hepworth sculpture at the UN including her typewritten list of personal invitees to the launch lunch, that includes Sam Francis. Or in another room the photograph of Rothko lunching with the Feiler’s, Frost’s and Lanyon’s in West Penwith – with a Rothko painting (that smallish yellow and pink one that I’m not that fond of to be honest) and a Gorky facing off across the room from a couple Patrick Heron‘s. There’s plenty more to see…two great Braque’s (are there any other kind?) a Poliakoff (what a superb colourist) and that sumptuous Clyfford Still they have…that looks so fresh in this context. If you care about abstract painting this is really a bit of a must see I reckon! I refer you to Simon’s blog again as to why I’ve no shots of the works in context.
After this visual feast Simon came up with the splendid suggestion that we head down country and stop off at the Hepworth for a late lunch. This is one of our favourite contemporary art venues and never disappoints. The lunch special – an excellent fish pie – arrives in a classic William Scott style skillet.
and the art wasn’t bad either. I was rather taken with Folkert de Jong‘s The Holy Land though the central part of this substantial installation was to my mind over elaborated. Nonetheless when the casts were left unadorned there was quite a deal of poetry in these objects chosen from Leeds Armoury Museum. Glancing through a catalogue it seems the artist is retreating away from the over theatrical…and for my money this will be for best!