I called in to the Manchester City Art Gallery yesterday to have a look at the latest temporary exhibitions. I wasn’t particularly taken by the main exhibition featuring works by Raqib Shaw, an Indian-born, London-based artist.
His opulent paintings and sculptures evoke the work of Old Masters such as Holbein and Bosch in their treatment of often unsettling subjects. But they also reflect the ornate style of Persian miniatures and Kashmiri and Japanese textiles. Beneath their beautiful jewel-like surface is a collection of dark and violent images inspired by ancient myths and religious tales from both East and Western tradition.
But, in the main, they didn’t appeal to me.
There was also a small exhibition – Radical Figures: Post-war British Figurative Painting – which
explores the pioneering role that painters such as Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud and David Hockney played in the reinvention of figurative art in the second half of the 20th century.
that I found more interesting.
My favourite painting from the small selection on display was a nude by Euan Uglow, the curiously titled The Quarry Pignano (1979)
I found the pose and his use of colour, in relatively large blocks, very interesting. Looking closely guide marks that the artist used while painting are clearly visible. This is very characteristic of his work. He worked slowly, usually taking several years to create a painting and adopted a mathematical approach. He used a large number of carefully positioned markings in the studio and on his canvas to ensure that the model maintained the exact same position during the many sessions she (and it was usually a woman) would have to pose. And he didn’t make any effort to erase the marks from his canvas, as he wanted his method to be apparent in the finished work.
I’d first come across his work last year during a visit to the Victoria Gallery in Liverpool where I saw his painting Nude, from Twelve Regular Vertical Positions from the Eye, (1967)
This work won the John Moores prize in 1972, but, unlike most prize winners, it isn’t owned by the Walker Gallery. The model portrayed in the painting is Daphne Todd, who was a student at the Slade school of art at the time and who became a portrait painter herself and President of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. She sat for 8 hours a week over the 18 month period that it took to complete the painting.
The wall is divided into twelve segments by dark coloured horizontal bands. These bands, together with marks made on the model’s body, were used to make sure she adopted the same position and pose during the numerous sittings needed to complete the painting.
The body is elongated as the artist wanted to eliminate the distortion caused by a single ﬁxed view point. To achieve this he worked of scaffolding that allowed him to observe the model from different positions.
Uglow is best known for his studies of nudes, often in unusual poses, which were not always comfortable for the models concerned. But this practice certainly led to some interesting paintings. There’s some telling observations from a couple of his models here.
A Catalogue Raisonnâe of his work has been produced and a significant extract can be viewed on Google Books here.