Christopher Cook, Simon Lewty, Bridget Macdonald, Will Maclean, Jack Milroy & Simon Morley
11 May – 2 June 2017
Art First looks forward to welcoming our regular visitors and supporters as well as meeting new friends in this exciting residency, generously hosted by the legendary Eagle Gallery, where we will exhibit important and interesting works sharing a debt to the use of paper, books and literature.
Several of the participants are published writers: Cook and Lewty with poetry, and Morley as an historian. Maclean, Lewty and Milroy have recently collaborated in publications which will be available during the show. Meanwhile Macdonald’s drawing practice constantly takes imagery and inspiration from her interest in ancient civilizations and the poetry and writing of the Romantic and 20th Century eras.
Christopher Cook includes pieces from his series a chance encounter on the way down executed at the Bogliasco Foundation on the hilly coastline of the Italian Riviera. The teetering location gives a dreamlike quality lodged between topography and abstraction, rendered in the liquid monochrome of his signature graphite technique. His more recent Reaper and Bowl of Ink suggests a disjointed narrative colliding rococo with ‘now’.
Vigilant in Light and Air (1989) by Simon Lewty is rare and significant. Art First has recently featured re-discovered examples from this period when he combined borrowings from medieval bestiaries and colophons with his interest in modern re-creations of manuscripts, texts and calligraphy. Edward Lucie-Smith wrote in 1988: ‘Lewty’s palimpsests in code language of dreams and childhood . . . are maps of lunar journeys toward self-recognition’. Now eschewing figurative elements, the latest text-drawings employ an elegant secretary hand for the expression of biblical love-poetry, and a secret code of hidden meaning.
Bridget Macdonald contributes two sumptuous charcoal drawings demonstrating her fierce process of visual analysis applied to subjects that could only be treated lightly by others. Her inhabiting and understanding of landscape lead to unexpected highlights making associations we would ordinarily never encounter: a pair of wood pigeons which we have to squint at against the flurried cliff-face of the Isle of Wight’s Undercliff, and the enigmatic field animal countering the distant city outline in The Prague Hare.
Will Maclean has worked in association with poet and writer John Burnside on several occasions, notably with Art First’s publication A Catechism of the Laws of Storms. The book contains a dozen collaged images each of which Burnside has responded with a poem reflecting a shared understanding, with sombre and beautiful evocations of love, loss and loyalty from the community of the sea-farers and their dependants. Maclean has taken each pairing a step further with a compelling series of colour screenprints, examples of which will be on view.
Jack Milroy’s new work, Pieces of Eight by Six, is a consummate example of his pioneering treatment of the printed page. Copies of the new publication Cut Out (Black Dog, 2016) will be available. This charts his artistic evolution from art school rebel of the late 1950s to the continuing heretical ‘evisceration’ of books and printed matter from the 1970s to this day. Milroy emerges as a gentle and wry surrealist commentator. There is often a genuine astonishment factor resulting from his virtuosic facility–one that is underpinned by a steady intellect and purpose.
Simon Morley’s most significant publication as an academic deals with ‘word and image in modern art’ and this literary field is also the area of his own work as an artist. His interests lie in recent cultural and political history and as such Age of Extremes is a significant ‘book-page’ example with its melancholy slabs of colour making their own commentary as they obscure the text on the pages of Eric Hobsbawm’s masterwork. Another choice work is a book cover painting Piero della Francesca, epitomizing a rueful salute to the past in publishing practice.
We considered the title Bookish for this gathering of works, and indeed it is an adjective that can be readily applied to all six artists in different ways. Art and Literature is another category for the group. Perhaps the underlying common denominator is the implication of narrative, for every piece tells a story of some kind, leaving it wide open for our interpretation, the way poetry does.
A further shared feature is that every participant has taught art in national art schools (Morley and Cook are still actively in post) and all have work in distinguished museum public collections. Over two decades they have formed connections and enjoyed dialogues while exhibiting at Art First, and we strongly commend this body of work to collectors and newcomers alike.