Magazine article The Spectator

Dual Purpose

Magazine article The Spectator

Dual Purpose

Article excerpt

Exhibitions 3

Dual purpose

William Packer

Piers Freetham Gallery, until 12 June

For 30 years, William Packer has been the principal art critic of the Financial Times. Less well known is the fact that he is a painter. He studied at art schools for about five years before 1964. By 1963 he had already exhibited at the Royal Academy. His current one-man exhibition, Still Life, is the third to be held in the Piers Freetham Gallery at 475 Fulham Road.

When he was on the Radio Four programme Midweek recently, Libby Purves divulged that she found Bill Packer's criticism somewhat benevolent and his paintings 'very satisfying'. Packer replied that he had always seen his journalistic role more as educator than as firebrand. It emerged in discussion, however, that he had encountered resistance to the notion that a person may take on the dual role of art critic and painter. This prejudice carries Adam Smith's notion of the benefits arising from the specialisation of functions to a ridiculous conclusion. There is absolutely nothing unusual about a critic being a painter or vice versa. It is true that both Clement Greenberg in New York and David Sylvester in London deserted the practice of painting for writing about art. Perhaps their critical faculties outweighed and inhibited their capacities with the brush; but just as Vasari, a painter, became the first art historian, so Roger Fry became the painter/critic who shocked a stuffy, backward London into appreciating Post-Impressionism before the first world war. Fry's own paintings may be a bit on the dull side and somewhat Pre-Impressionist, but they are competent - and numerous enough to indicate a high level of commitment to the practice of the art. Wyndham Lewis, by contrast, was excitingly an artist of his own era and equally dynamic as painter, writer and co-inventor of Vorticism, incontestably the most avant-garde movement ever inaugurated in England. The exhibition reviews that Lewis wrote in later life still make lively reading today. Paul Nash reviewed exhibitions under an assumed name - including his own work on one humorous occasion. John Piper, too, wrote art criticism before the second world war and Patrick Heron was the art critic of the New Statesman after it. …

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