Kendal Castle

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After our visit to Abbot Hall to see the Julian Cooper exhibition we had a wander round the town centre and then, as it had turned into a pleasant afternoon, we decided to walk up to Kendal Castle. The Castle was built in the early 12th Century on a glacial hill left behind from the last ice age, to the east of the town. It was more of a fortified manor house  for the local barons, than a military stronghold, but it would have dominated the town, looking over it from it’s prominent high position. And it would have been a potent symbol of their wealth and power.

Crossing the River Kent near to Abbot Hall, it’s a short walk to Castle Hill.

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It’s then a short, if steep, climb up to the castle.

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I didn’t have my camera with me, but the good light meant I was able to get some decent shots using my phone.

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Visibility was good so there were great views over to Red Screes and the Kentmere fells.

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We could clearly see Yoke and Ill Bell that we’d climber only a few weeks before.

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We had a quick look round the interior of the ruined castle

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George Shaw: My Back to Nature at Abbot Hall

Last Saturday we drove up to Kendal to visit the latest exhibition showing at Abbot Hall. It’s devoted to the work of George Shaw, a working class artist from Coventry who was a Turner Prize nominee in 2011 for The Sly and Unseen Day, a series of paintings of Tile Hill Estate in Coventry where he grew up. As with the present exhibition, these were painted using Humbrol enamel paints, which I used to use as a young teenager to paint Airfix and Tamiya model aircraft and military vehicles.

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From a distance his paintings have a photographic quality – perhaps not surprising as he paints from photographs – but closer up it’s clear they’re not. Imperfections in the surface due to the use of his unusual medium become visible and the paint has an unusual sheen quite different from more traditional media. He doesn’t romanticise his subject, but shows it “as is”. However, they’re usually devoid of people so the scenes look deserted and a little intimidating.

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We’d seen The Sly and Unseen Day at the Baltic in 2011 and were keen to visit the current exhibition, which  was originally shown at the National Gallery where he spent two years as Associate Artist (2014-2016) The paintings are inspired by woodland scenes from the National Gallery’s collection – three of which (by Piero del Pollaiuolo, Nicolas Poussin and John Constable) are on loan to Abbot Hall and showing in another room in the Gallery.

But these are urban woods, in and around the estate where George Shaw grew up. They’re not idealised Sylvain landscapes, but clearly well used by locals who leave behind the residue of their visits – litter, beer cans, discarded mattresses, pornographic magazines and damaged and vandalised trees. The scenes are very typical of woodland bordering urban areas. There are similar scenes in some parts of the Plantations at Wigan.

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Taking the paintings by the Masters

Shaw is interested in how their stories – often featuring violence, illicit sex and drunkenness – have parallels in the way that people might behave in the woods today, when they think they are unobserved.

He considers his paintings to be modern equivalents, showing evidence of the same tyes of activities, or at least the modern equivalent. One major difference being the absence of people – except for one painting where the artist himself can be seen from the rear, clearly relieving himself against a tree.

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George Shaw was brought up as a Catholic and that certainly comes across in a number of works in the exhibition.

This is complemented by Shaw’s interest in Christian imagery, especially how landscape artists of the past often alluded to the Crucifixion in their depiction of trees.

such as this one

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one of a group of three paintings that can clearly be interpreted as a representation of the crucifixion.

There’s a series of 14 charcoal drawings – The Loneliness of the Middle‑Aged Life Model  – which are self portraits showing the artist in various poses – reaching, stretching, kneeling , and crucified. They are clearly  inspired by the fourteen stations of the cross.

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There’s also a series of drawings of the head of Christ

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It was also interesting to see the selection the three of the artist’s sketchbooks from his residency which give a further insight to his inspiration and technique.

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There’s a video accompanying the exhibition where George Shaw talks about his  work, his development as an artist and his residency at the National Gallery. He comes across as a very engaging, pleasant, unpretentious and humorous individual. We spoke to a some of the Gallery staff who had talked to him when he visited the Gallery with his family and they all had nothing but good words for him.

People on Paper at Abbot Hall

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To finish off our short break in the Lakes we drove over to Kendal to visit the latest exhibition at Abbot Hall. People on Paper , as the title implies, features drawings of people by British artists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries from the Arts Council Collection with loans from the British Council Collection.

The show includes drawings by nearly 50 artists,  from the early twentieth century, including Gwen John (with the earliest drawing in the exhibition), Augustus John and Walter Sickert, right through to more modern artists such as Euan Uglow, Lucien Freud, David Hockney and Antony Gormley.

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Drawing of a Girl, Alice (1974) by Lucien Freud

Drawing people is inevitably figurative but there were some more abstract approaches, particularly this sketch by Mimei Thomson (Liquid Portrait 4, 2008)

Mimei Thompson, Liquid Portrait 4, Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist

The works included simple sketches (some unfinished), more complex drawings, watercolours and even some incorporation of multi-media as in Kate Davis’ drawing Partners Study (Figure 1) from 2005 which incorporates a ceramic “telephone” made from small slabs of white clay.

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Walking into the exhibition, the first drawing I saw, almost facing the door, was a rather creepy sketch by L S Lowry Woman With Long Hair (1964). The other drawings in the first room, from the early part of the 20th Century were a little more “normal”, including Gwen John’s simple sketch of the head of a young woman

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Head of a Woman (c 1910)

and this drawing by Harold Gilman,

Harold Gilman. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London

Woman Combing Her Hair (1911)

although there was also an early work by Antony Gorman.

The second room brought us forward in time and included works by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth, Reconstruction, Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © Bowness, Hepworth Estate

Reconstruction (1947)

The third room included some later works, including this simple sketch by Euan Uglow

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Girl Close To (1968)

Another enjoyable exhibition at one of our favourite Galleries. A good selection of artists with works encompassing a wide range of styles and approaches.

“Taking Flight” at Abbot Hall

I’ve been looking forward to the latest exhibition at Abbot Hall focusing on 5 artists from the St Ives school. We went up to Kendal on Saturday to see it and I wasn’t disappointed.

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The show will concentrate on five ‘middle generation’ (or, more accurately, second generation) St Ives artists who used light, space and colour to create dazzling paintings of huge power and presence.

These artists are Patrick Heron, Terry Frost, Roger Hilton, Bryan Winter and Peter Lanyon. All five produced abstract works and were influenced by the landscape and human environment in and around St Ives. But their individual styles and approaches were quite different and distinctive. They are less well known than the major “stars” of the St Ives school – Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth – but there are usually a sample of their paintings in most Modern Art galleries which have a collection featuring works from St Ives artists. But this was a chance to see a larger number of works from these five artists.

Patrick Heron was born in Leeds but his family moved to Cornwall as a boy, so he grew up there. His paintings are typically composed of large areas of bright colour. This one is very typical

Patrick Heron, Red Painting October 1959, 1959

Red Painting (1959) by Patrick Heron

He is also known for his paintings composed of horizontal bands of colour

Patrick Heron ‘Horizontal Stripe Painting : November 1957 - January 1958’, 1957–8 © The estate of Patrick Heron

Horizontal Stripe Painting (November 1957 – January 1958) Patrick Heron (Picture source: Tate website)

There are stripes in some of Terry Frost’s paintings. Vertical in this case, less colurful and only one element in the composition.

Terry Frost, Straw and Purple Visage, 1958

Straw and purple visage (1959) by Terry Frost

The paintings by Bryan Winter on display were similar and typical of those of his works I’ve seen previously. Complicated patterns of colourful squiggles.

Bryan Wynter, Torrid Zone Region, 1958

Torrid Zone Region (1958) Bryan Winter

Peter Lanyon was the only native-born Cornishman of the post-war St Ives group of artists and used to claim that this gave him a connection with the landscape that the other members of the St Ives school could only aspire to.

I haven’t particularly likes paintings by Lanyon I’ve seen previously. They have tended to be painted in dark, muddy colours which is not to my taste. The Yellow Runner on display at Abbot Hall is typical of this. The sky is a pale blue and the figure of the running horse on the hillside that gives the painting its name is bright yellow. And although there is a splash of yellow and white a good two thirds of the painting is composed of dark, muddy colours which merge into each other and make it difficult to see the shapes and structure of the composition.

Peter Lanyon, The Yellow Runner, 1946

The yellow runner (1946) Peter Lanyon

However, with a significant number of Lanyon’s paintings included in the exhibition I could see that this wasn’t the case with many of his works. He used brighter colours and strong blues to represent the landscape and the sea.

I particularly liked his Sky Deep

Shy Deep (1959) by Peter Lanyon (Picture source: The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge)

and Silent Coast

I also learned that Lanyon had been influenced by Nuam Gabo, who was friends with Nicholson and Hepworth and had spent  some time in St Ives. There were examples of Lanyon’s constructivist sculptures included in the exhibition

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Porthleven boats (1950-1) Peter Lanyon (Picture source:Tate website)

By being able to see a good selection of Lanyon’s works all together I was able to appreciate just why Lanyon is considered to have been a major talent. The Courtauld in London are going to be holding an exhibition in London this autumn featuring15 major paintings by Lanyon from public and private collections. This, no doubt, will bring him more attention. On the basis of what I saw in Kendal, I certainly intent to try to see it.

Boyle Family: Contemporary Archaeology

Boyle Family: the Barcelona Site, World Series Artists tend to be solitary creatures but, in reality, many works of art require collaboration and team work. The named artist has the inspiration and designs the work, but often they are supported by “assistants” and others to create the work. This is certainly the case with sculptures where larger works would remain as ideas or small maquettes without the support of assistants (usually skilled artists themselves) and,  artisan craftsmen (e.g. specialist foundries). These people who are vital to the creation of the work remain anonymous wile the headline artist laps up the fame and glory. The Boyle Family are an exception to this in that they really are a family – parents and children – who work as a collective. Their website gives details on how this evolved. They are particularly well known for their recreations of random squares of ground, realistically recreated from fibreglass together with sand, stones, bits of metal and other objects representative of the setting. Abbot Hall are currently showing a selection of their works in the exhibition – Boyle Family: Contemporary Archaeology. The main focus of the exhibition are works created for The World Series Lazio Site, from 2013, the most recent of their on-going World Series project. It includes

earth studies, electron microphotographs and video that provide a compelling and arresting visual record of the surface of the land, the plant life, insect life and the presence of the artists themselves. Accompanying this work will be earth studies from the previous decade, including the first public showing of their Coral Quarry Triptych from 2001-2

Their landscape works are incredible in the detail and look so real. Looking at the comments in the guest book for the exhibition it’s quite clear that I’m not the only person who wants to touch them (forbidden, of course!). This is a reproduction of a rusting metal plate

Boyle Family, Study of Rusting Metal Plate, 2001-2

and this is an example of one of their works featuring a section of beach. Boyle Family, Coral Quarry Triptych (3 of 3), 2001-2

There’s a tremendous amount of detail too which illustrates just how much we don’t “see” when we look at the ground. Taken in isolation and divorced from their location and environment we can really start to observe how much there is to see. These works are realistic  – but taken out of their environmental context they’re like abstract patterns. Their work concentrates on the landscape,but not just that of the Earth. They also explore the biological landscape – plants, animals and humans. To do this they use electron micrographs – massively enlarged pictures of insects, plants and human hairs and cells that reveal complex and interesting forms and patterns otherwise invisible to the human eye. There were some examples in the exhibition. I found them fascinating – like their geographical works they are, to me, at the interface of art and science. Given my scientific education, work and interests in both of CP Snow’s “two cultures”. CA full “catalogue” of the works shown from the Lazio site can be viewed here. There was a documentary showing on a loop. It provided good background and context to their work and was well worth watching. Mark Boyle, the father, who died in 2005, was certainly a character. I couldn’t find a copy online but di locate a short video from their exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in 2010. Part of the TateShots Edinburgh Special, August 2010.

Kendal

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We went up to Kendal on Saturday to take another look at the current exhibitions at Abbot Hall. It was a fine winter’s day so we had a stroll up to the castle and round the town centre. Here’s a few photographs I took.

Black Hall

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We were up in Kendal last weekend primarily to visit the latest exhibitions at Abbot Hall and Blackwell. But we also had a wander through Kendal town centre.

There’s lots of interesting buildings in the small market town, from various periods. This is one that we spotted on Saturday in the main shopping street.

Black Hall is an old stone building with many features typical of the South Lakes. Particularly the large, cylindrical chimneys.

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It wars built in 1575 and modernised in 1801, which probably accounts for the Georgian look of the windows on the top two floors.

In 1869 it was converted into a brush factory, and this is commemorated with the original shop sign above the front door – a bristly hog.

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A feature on the building on the BBC Cumbria website tells us

“Kendals first alderman lived here …….. Before the town had the market charter in 1636, they weren’t permitted to have a mayor. Between 1575 and 1636, Kendal had an alderman who functioned as the mayor.”