British Surrealism at Abbot Hall

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There’s No Time Like The Future, (1957) by Desmond Morris

Last Saturday we drove up the M6 to Abbot Hall in Kendal to see the British Surrealist exhibition which has been on for a little while now. In fact it was the last day, so our last chance to see it. I’m not a great fan of Surrealism, but, as has been the case with other Surrealist exhibitions I’ve seen I found I liked some of the works on display, finding some others interesting, even if they didn’t move me, with others I didn’t like.

There were other works included in the exhibition that were not really Surrealist and others that had a connection with the movement and had some Surrealist features or elements, including work by Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson, John Piper and the sculptor, F E McWilliam. As the Gallery’s publicity for the exhibition pointed out

unlike other key artistic movements, surrealism has never had a single overriding visual aesthetic, and has constantly reinvented its means of poetic expression.

The main works were by British Surrealists, many I’d not heard of before and there were some interesting discoveries. So I came away feeling quite satisfied as it’s good to make such discoveries. The works in the exhibition were all collected by a Leeds G.P. who was also a Tory Councillor in Leeds andin that capacity was heavily involved in the Leeds City Art Gallery. Ironic that he was a Tory, really, as the majority of the artists he collected were on the left politically.

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Twilight Symphony, (1954) by John Banting

My favourite works were a couple of large sculpture by F E McWilliam – Spanish Head and The Long Arm, both inspired by the Spanish Revolution, the latter representing the clenched fist salute of the Republican side. I was also fascinated by some paintings and small sculptures by Desmond Morris – the author of the “Naked Ape”, who was also one of the presenters on “Zoo Time” which was a children’s TV programme when I was a boy. The paintings in particular were very good. One was used as the main image for publicising the exhibition.

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An interesting collection and well worth the trip up to Kendal, which is a pleasant place to visit, especially on a sunny Saturday. The next exhibition at Abbot Hall will be devoted to Barbara Hepworth and, like the Lynn Chadwick exhibition last year, will also include some larger works on display in the grounds of Blackwell. That’s something I’m looking forward to.

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