Magazine article The Spectator

Exhibitions: Spring Round-Up

Magazine article The Spectator

Exhibitions: Spring Round-Up

Article excerpt

Credit: Andrew Lambirth

Jankel Adler (1895-1949), a Polish Jew who arrived in Glasgow in 1941, was invalided out of the Polish army, and moved to London two years later. A distinguished artist in his own right, he turns out to have been a hidden presence on the English art scene, a secret influence on indigenous artists. He is usually cited as a crucial inspiration for Robert Colquhoun, but as his work grows more familiar, it becomes clear that a whole host of other artists must have been aware of him, from S.W. Hayter to Cecil Collins. Interestingly, the sculptors who were coming to maturity in the 1950s (just after Adler's death) also seem to owe him a debt: the so-called 'Geometry of Fear' generation of Armitage, Butler and Chadwick, to which I'd add Robert Adams and George Fullard. Picasso is often named as the chief influence on Adler himself, but actually Klee emerges as the key inspiration, the two artists becoming friends in the 1930s at the Düsseldorf Academy of Arts.

Adler's distinctive line, at once loopy and angular, questing and rhythmically enfolding, explores an essentially tragic and anarchic view of the human condition. Many of the figures in this remarkable exhibition of 100 paintings and drawings at Goldmark Gallery (14 Orange Street, Uppingham, Rutland, 17 May - 25 July) are solitary if not lonely (Adler lost all his family in the Holocaust). Some are brushy yet ghostly, as if emerging from a coloured fog, lit by oddness and humour, but with visual wit to combat the bleakness. Other images move towards the abstract: decorative, even jewelled, still-lifes, and stacked forms. His friend Josef Herman quoted him writing in a letter: 'In the 20th century a new aristocracy came into being, an "aristocracy of the spirit". It is here that the modern artist belongs.' There is hope then in his work: the caged bird at last flies free.

Adler was both a painter and printmaker, and Norman Stevens (1937-88) also operated in both media, beginning as a painter, but making his most innovative work in prints. He was one of a talented group of students at Bradford College of Art, of whom the best known is David Hockney. Stevens died tragically early (like Adler) and his work is not now as well remembered as it should be. The current exhibition at the Royal Academy, in the Tennant Gallery and Council Room (until 25 May, but check opening hours), does something to bring his achievement back into focus. In the Gallery Guide, William Packer remembers him with deep affection as 'cantankerous, generous, funny and, above all, loyal', and as 'one of the foremost printmakers of his generation'.

An immensely gifted draughtsman, Stevens was largely self-taught as a printmaker, concentrating to begin with on black and white etching, to which he added aquatint and mezzotint, before exploring colour screenprints in the 1980s. His compositions never contain figures, though there is nearly always an implied human presence, and his subjects were chosen for their formal, rather than narrative, values. His principal theme was the fall of light on foliage and architecture -- clapboard houses with slatted shutters, the louvered blinds of hotel windows, palms, lilies, topiary. The Tennant Room shows his early development through etchings of American and English subjects ('Painswick, Moonlight', 1979, is especially memorable), with four flat cabinets of small works in the middle of the room (note the very beautiful, hand-coloured Stonehenge series), and larger prints on the walls. In the Council Room are the later screenprints, including 'Black Walnut Tree' and the wonderfully vivid 'Fallen Tree, Kensington Gardens', both commemorating the great gale of 1987. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.